The next three weeks are going to be some of the biggest of the year for boxing. First, this weekend we have lightweights Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo engaging in the rubber match of one of the most exciting rivalries of the last 20 years. The following weekend, middleweight great Bernard Hopkins will move up to light heavyweight to face Antonio Tarver. The sensational fortnight ends when undefeated middleweight champion Jermain Taylor defends his title against Ronald “Winky” Wright.

All of these fights warrant our undivided attention and excitement, but which of them is worth paying $49.95 to see? The cheapskate in me says none of them. I have a huge aversion to paying that much to watch a 45 minute fight unless ten of my friends come over with five dollars apiece. However, the love of boxing makes it difficult to stick to that principle. Like all boxing fans, my decision to purchase a fight is based on two factors: significance and potential for excitement.

If Saturday’s fight has half the excitement of their first bout, Corrales/Castillo will go down as one of the greatest trilogies in boxing history. Their first bout last May was a ten-round war which culminated with Corrales coming off the canvas twice in the same round to stop Castillo. In the rematch in October, the two traded brutal shots for four rounds before Castillo knocked Corrales out. His victory was marred by the fact the he showed up three pounds overweight, turning the bout into a non-title fight. Nevertheless, their first two fights produced enough excitement and garnered sufficient attention for Showtime to be justified in making this title fight a pay-per-view event. Fortunately, the network will not be charging viewers to watch this bout.

I could also understand if HBO wanted to add Taylor/Wright to its pay-per-view line-up. This could very well be the most important fight of 2005. It is not every week that we get to see the two best fighters in one division square off, and Taylor and Wright are certainly the best middleweights out there. They are two of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters as well. Taylor is 25-0 after winning the undisputed title from Hopkins in July of last year and then defending it in December. He is arguably the most likable current champion in any division. Wright is finally receiving his just due after convincing wins over Sugar Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad. The gloves-up, defense-first style of Wright is a perfect foil to Taylor’s punishing attack. A knockout is unlikely, but their bout will shed a great deal of light on the state of the middleweight division and is a justifiable pay-per-view purchase. However, HBO also is offering this fight for free as part of its World Championship Boxing line-up.

The only one of these three fights that costs $49.95 to watch is Hopkins/Tarver, the one I would be the least interested in paying to see. Hopkins and Tarver are both great fighters, but this fight is a little anti-climatic. No titles are at stake and as much as HBO and boxing journalists describe this an opportunity for each fighter to cement his legacy, the situation is not as dire as it sounds. Hopkins is 41 years old. Tarver is 37. Whoever wins will definitely ice the cake with his legacy, and whoever loses will not have it held against him. If Tarver wins, well again, Hopkins is 41. By no means is he washed up. I would pity any middleweights other than Taylor or Wright who step into the ring with the “Executioner” today, but the two losses to Taylor showed that Hopkins is unable to go for 12 straight rounds. With that, comes Hopkins patient style that has added longevity to his career with very little excitement. The Executioner has trained harder than usual for this fight (and that is saying a lot) and has spent the extra money to hire renowned fitness guru Mackie Shilstone to help him prepare. If, by chance, he wins, it will be great capstone to his career. However, he will not hold the distinction of light heavyweight champion since no title is on the line.

In the end, two past-their-prime boxers will be fighter for pride. Why HBO thinks fight fans would choose to pay for this type of fight over Corrales/Castillo or Wright/Taylor remains a mystery. I respect the fact that Tarver and Hopkins have an opportunity to make large paychecks with this bout and I am grateful that both networks are offering the two more significant bouts for free. However, as bouts like Tarver/Hopkins are pushed as must-see pay-per-view fights, boxing aficionados will continue to shake their heads.