Can’t decide which fight to buy Saturday, huh? You’re not alone.
In the blue corner, you have the recognized light heavyweight championship of the world, between champion Antonio Tarver and challenger Bernard Hopkins, who just happens to be one of the greatest middleweight champs in boxing history. It’s a fight that features two established, well-known names, and a historical perspective: Not many ex-middleweight kings have won the light heavyweight title.
In the red corner, we give you an intriguing junior welterweight showdown between a pair of undefeated hotshots. Power-puncher Miguel Cotto, long groomed by promoter Top Rank as the heir apparent to Felix Trinidad, going up against big-talking New Yorker Paul Malignaggi. It’s a fascinating contrast in styles between slugger Cotto and cat-quick boxer Malignaggi — sort of a mini-Hagler-Leonard.
It seems the more you analyze both fights, the harder it is to make a decision.
How many times have you told yourself that, yes, you’re buying Tarver-Hopkins because, well, it’s Tarver-Hopkins? One guy, Hopkins, will be making an acceptance speech at the Boxing Hall-of-Fame one day, after making 20 defenses of his middleweight title.
And another, Tarver, is well on his way to Canastota after doing the world a favor and dropping Roy Jones Jr. on his behind.
Decision made. It’s unanimous. Tarver-Hopkins it is.
Then, in the next breath, you think, “Who am I kidding? I’ll be comatose by round four.”
Anyone who saw either of the Hopkins-Jermain Taylor fights has to be wondering why they’re wrestling with this decision in the first place. Both epics rank alongside Larry Holmes-Lucien Rodrigues and Fernando Montiel-Jhonny Gonzalez as great snoozers of the past.
“Fight to the Finish (to stay awake).”
Once a seek-and-destroy bully, Hopkins, somewhere along the line, became a cutie who prefers to counte punch and feint and slip punches. And Tarver? His rubber match with Roy Jones Jr. will make Stallone-Mason Dixon look like Ali-Frazier 3.
His two fights with Glen Johnson weren’t bad, but neither will be confused with Hagler-Hearns.
So, what you might have are two guys probing and poking and strategizing for 12 rounds instead of actually fighting.
Boxing fans may see more posing from these two than Daytona Beach on spring break.
At the end of it, you’ll be exasperated as you listen to Larry Merchant take his standard 12-second intervals between questions
(“Antonio……how….much….weight…..did…..you….have….have…..to…..lose….heading…..into….this….fight?) and think, “I’m a moron for buying this. Where’s Jorge Barrios so he can dig a terrific left to my liver?” So no doubt about it. It’s Cotto-Malignaggi for sure, right?
What doesn’t this fight have, afterall? A great contrast in styles. A big mouth underdog who you love to hate in Malignaggi. An exciting brawler who loves to make pretty boys like Malignaggi squeal in Cotto. Puerto Ricans. Italians. New York City.
Then you think, “Does Malignaggi really have a chance?” Afterall, the guy hasn’t fought anyone near the quality of Cotto. He’s got a history of fragile hands. And his chin has never really been tested.
Could we be in for Cotto-Gianluca Branco 2?
Not only that, but there’s no historical significance to this one at all. No prefight buildup that includes Sugar Ray Robinson fainting in the heat against Joey Maxim. Just a pair of non-titlists in a fight that would have been on NBC in 1988 (no, the WBO title doesn’t count).
Back to square one.
But, thesweetscience is here to help. And we say Cotto-Malignaggi is the best way to go.
Not necessarily because of the main event, which could either solidify Cotto’s reputation as a rising Puerto Rican god, or give boxing a new “Prince” Naseem Hamed-style star in Malignaggi.
But because of the undercard.
It’s surprising that notorious server of crappy boxing prelims, Bob Arum, is serving up a good all-around evening at Madison Square Garden Saturday. (Actually, it’s not. “Bottom Line Bob”, who prefaced Hagler-Hearns with the Willie DeWitt-Alex Williamson classic in 1985, was shrewd enough to know that the better the undercard, the better his chances at victory Saturday).
Check it out: Kevin Kelley vs. Bobby Pacquiao (“Flushing Flash” still flashing fists against “Pac-Man’s” little bro).
John Duddy vs. Freddy Cuevas (The second coming of Barry McGuigan vs. Pipino Cuevas’ nephew. We’re kidding about the nephew part).
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. TBA (TBA should put up more resistance than some of Chavez’s opponents).
Tommy Zbikowski vs. TBA (Notre Dame football player Tommy Z hopes to carry on the proud traditions of pigskinners-turned-fighters Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Alonzo Highsmith and, of course, Mark Gastinaeu).
Not exactly the undercard of Chavez Sr.-Greg Haugen or those marathon productions of the 1970s. And not a legitimate title on the whole card. But a fun night of boxing nonetheless, whether Malignaggi pulls the upset or not.
Meanwhile, the undercard of Tarver-Hopkins features Israel Vazquez vs. Ivan Hernandez, and Hector Camacho Jr. (yes, to the boxing world’s dismay, he’s still around). Vazquez-Hernandez is certainly not a bad fight, and it’s for a world title — Vazquez’s WBC super bantamweight title. But, come on, Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing and Golden Boy Promotions! That’s it? You can’t do better than a pair of unknowns and Camacho Jr. (we’d rather watch a test pattern, frankly) for $49.95, or whatever the “suggested” retail price is?
DeGuardia has taken the mantle away from Arum for worthless undercards. At least for a night.
So there it is, boys and girls. It’s unanimous: Buy Cotto-Malignaggi. Think of it as poetic justice. Arum did reserve June 10 for his show long before did Star Boxing and Golden Boy. Couldn’t they have put it on a Friday instead? Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield I happened on a Friday. That turned out pretty good.
Besides, if Tarver and Hopkins make funny faces for 12 rounds, and all you have is Vazquez-Hernandez and Camacho Jr. in his dad’s ridiculous matador trunks to fall back on, you may be on suicide watch the remainder of the weekend.
Matthew Aguilar may be reached at email@example.com