The Little Guy needed to come up big at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday night. Ivan Calderon is 34, and has labored skillfully but in near anonymity even though he is one of the very best pugilists on the planet. He has the misfortune of being born with a truly petite frame, one better suited for whipping and riding horses rather than punishing prizefighters, so he hasn’t obtained the acclaim of the money he’d like and is perhaps due to him. HBO promised him a TV date in the future if he looked exciting against foe Rodel Mayol, and there were pockets of excitement in their title scrap. But the finale was profoundly anticlimactic, as the ring doctor Robert Polofsky stopped the bout in the sixth because of a cut on Calderon’s forehead, from butts. The Little Guy is leaving New York with his WBO mini flyweight title, because the judges scored the bout a draw to that point, but did he come up big, big enough to get that golden slot? Didn’t look like it in TSS Land.

“I came in slow,” the Puerto Rican said afterwards. “I was starting to get more action in the fight. The fight was going the way I wanted it, back-and-forth. I was getting hot and trading more punches. After the second butt, the referee [Benjy Esteves] saw a lot of blood, and he told me that he was going to stop the fight. I told him that was his decision. Every time he came in, he was coming in really fast and low.”

Calderon (age 34; 33-0, just 6 KOs; 106 1/4) of Puerto Rico has been clamoring for appreciation, from the public and the moneymen, so he wanted and needed to make mighty statement against Rodel Mayol (age 27; 25-4; 106 1/2) of the Philippines in a mini flyweight title scrap. The WBO titlist has a steep hill to climb, as he asks HBO execs to take a chance on him, in a nation obsessed with all things supersized. He could counter, hey, Americans like their models small, so what about that? But in a sport in which the athletes who can readily render their foes unconscious are the most revered, again, it ain’t easy for a jockey sized guy with below-average pop to enter the ranks of the mad-moneyed hitters. This bout with Mayol was his third title defense, and he’d held the mimum-weight title from 2003-2007.

Not sure any fighter in the game gets in and gets out as stealthily as Calderon on a good night, but Mayol pressed him in round one, and landed a few solid thrusts. Mayol loaded up too much against the lefty, and didn’t cut off the ring on him in the second. The Puerto Rican didn’t look to be fighting really any differently because HBO wants him to show more firepower in order for him to get on on-TV gig early on. A  cut on Calderon’s forehead in the fourth and fifth emboldened Mayol, and the fifth round featured solid trading. But things came to a close in the sixth. The men traded, clinched and then were pulled apart by the ref. The doctor, Robert Polofsky, looked at the cut, and said the bout should be stopped. At 1:56 of the sixth round it was over, so we went to the cards: 58-56 (Calderon, Tony Paollilo), 58-56 (Mayol, Tom Schreck) and a tiebreaker 57-57 by Steve Weisfeld. TSS liked Paolillo’s card and doesn’t get Schreck’s at all.  Calderon retains his belt with the technical draw. Did he do enough to land a coveted HBO slot? Time will tell; but the crowd didn’t care for the anti-climatic ending.

The crowd liked what they saw of Matt Korobov (6-0, 5 KOs), a Russian prospect signed by Cameron Dunkin, Kelly Pavlik’s manager. He met Loren Myers of California in a middleweight clash, and came off as a smart banger. The lefty has superb ring generalship; he lands from a distance, and steps away, tucks his chin, doesn’t mind taking one every now and again. Put him on your list of ones to watch for 2010-2011, I’d suggest. He won a UD4, winnign the rounds against Myers, who’d been stopped once before four losses.

Rafael Guzman (22-1, 17 KOs) of Guadalajara, Mexico got the nod in a featherweight bout scheduled for six, over Juan Carlos Martinez (14-10-1) of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The 23-year-old Guzman has a record fattened up on Mexican home cooking; this was his first bout on US soil. He is a bit of a free swinger, and needs a good deal more seasoning before he could swim with the sharks of the division. The bout went to the cards, and the judges gave it to Guzman, split decision. The crowd booed, for what it’s worth. TSS thought the deciders got it right.

SPEEDBAG Some dude got his gal to accept a ring and a marriage proposal after the Guzman fight. The crowd clapped as the organist fired up “Here Comes The Bride…”

—The emcee Joe Antonacci announced the Sept. 25 NYPD vs FDNY bouts, “The Battle of the Badges.” Proceeds go to worthy causes. The NYPD heard plenty o’ boos, it must be said, when Anto gave ‘em a shoutout.
—The BWAA dinner on Friday night at Capitale in NTC was a screaming success. Manny Pacquiao, who’d threatened to go on a family vacay instead of picking up his second BWAA Fighter of the Year award, showed up, and blew the crowd away with his acceptance speech. He assured the assembled that the award is quite meaningful to him, and that wild horses couldn’t have prevented him from coming. I’m quite sure the stern release from the BWAA, and pleas from promoter Bob Arum has nothing to do with it. (Cough, cough). Joe Calzaghe also attended to pick up his Manager of the Year award, and check back for a video of JC, who wasn’t real pleased that he didn’t pick up FOY. No, for those curious, he isn’t coming back. He says he likes spending the time with family and doesn’t miss the boxing grind a’tall. The class factor went through the roof when Pete Hamill (“A Drinking Life”), the lit legend, took to the stage, and  introed Liebling winners Leonard Gardner (“Fat City), John Lardner (a giant among sports/boxing columnists in the 50s) and Larry Merchant (HBO analyst). My wife gushed to him during a break, and I think he may have blushed as she told him what she meant to him. She ate up his reminisces of his pal RFK in NY Magazine (http://nymag.com/news/politics/47041/). Larry Merchant had everyone, attendees, waiters, everyone, in the palm of his hand when he shared how he’d like his burial to go; our own George Kimball made sense when he suggested he and fellow Crawford winner Genaro Hernandez were more victims of fate than anything, both being afflicted with cancer, as he accepted an award for courage;  Norm Fraunheim, who won the 2008 Fleischer for “Excellence In Boxing Journalism,” was passionate and fiery as he talked about the demise of newspapers, and the disdain for boxing on the part of editors. And maybe best of all, no one threw dinner roles at each other! The HBO crew, led by Ross Greenburg, and Tom Hauser didn’t rumble, which wasn’t a given, considering that investigative ace Hauser dug up sources who informed him that Greenburg had confiscated computers and BlackBerrys of employees he suspected of leaking information to the writer, in order to ascertain the ID of the leakers. And TSS and Ring didn’t rumble either, after our back and forth last week, which one promoter told me he enjoyed immensely! Mostly love was in the air on this evening, which reminded me of a bunch of reasons why I am attracted to the sport of kings, the red light district of athletics, the sport to which all others aspire, boxing.