Boxing is back, baby.
Wishful thinking when I say that, when I write that?
Excessively optimistic? Blinders on, because I seek the resurgence of the entity I've tethered myself and my professional success to?
Or a viable storyline buffeted by ample evidence? I think the jury's still out…But certainly the re-introduction to boxing on primetime network TV, which comes on March 7, can't be a bad thing in the big picture. I mean, it could be, if indeed Al Haymon's grand plan results in a monopoly which crowds out the little guys, and the mid tier guys, and after a couple years, his sharp elbows and stellar big-picture thinking acumen have resulted in his gaining the majority of market share. But so far, I'm liking much of what I'm seeing. There seems to be a re-branding going on, or an attempt at it, anyway. Part of that will occur when we all remember, or learn for the first time, that storylines and marketing campaigns can be built around the best traits and attributes of these marvelous physical specimens, who can inspire and lead the way to masses who seek role models to look up to, physically, morally, spiritually.
However…I do worry when I see some “business as usual” issues pop up, that in fact the re-brand will fail, because we don't scrub out some of the unnecessary foolishness which has plagued our sport in the last 25 years or so. I think we can all agree that the excess of titles, and weight classes, falls under the heading of “foolish,” because it dilutes the import of the titles, it confuses casual fans we need to lure to our milieu to grow. So when I see that two 140 pound champions will be fighting in Brooklyn on April 11, on NBC prime time, and that they won't be fighting with their titles on the line, and they will be fighting at a “catchweight” limit of 143 pounds or less, I confess, my optimism in sharing the “boxing is back” narrative wanes slightly.
The wise guy in me wants to suggest that we should just say hell with it, and have a title belt for every single poundage then. If Danny Garcia (age 26; 29-0 with 17 KOs) and Lamont Peterson are fighting a ten rounder on April 11 with their titles not on the line, why don't we just tweak the rules, give in to the continuing dilution of the product, and commission a 143 pound title?
I checked in with Peterson, the 31-year-old DC native with a 33-2-1 (17 Kos) record, to get his take on the catchweight aspect of his clash with the Philly-based boxer Garcia. He came off as resigned to the 143 or less, non-title status of the clash.
“People can't always make weight, and if Danny can't make the weight, I don't want to not fight because of that. The fans want to see this fight,” he said in a Wednesday evening phoner.
Agreed…they do. But can't we all agree that they will want to see it more if Garcia's WBA and WBC crowns and Peterson's IBF crown are up for grabs? With this lone chance to make this first impression on potential boat-loads of new converts, shouldn't all involved push themselves to be the best version of themselves, so we do the most we can to insure success? Rhetorical question, my friends…
“I wanted to make sure it happens, regardless of the weights,” said Peterson, who said he's craved a Garcia clash for a year and a half. He told me he likes Garcia, but to him, “If I fight at a weight class, that's the weight I make. It comes down to being a professional, doing your job.”
Word is Garcia has had a hard time making 140 for a spell, but thus far, he's resisted doing the logical thing, and jumping to 147. I have called his dad a couple times to ask him about the subject but haven't heard back as yet.
“If you're the junior welterweight champion, the very first part of your job is to make weight,” said Peterson, who went 2-for-2 last year, beating Dierry Jean and Edgar Santana, the Jean fight coming after being stopped out by Lucas Matthysse in 2013.
He admitted he wanted bolder faced names than Santana, but that bout was part of the purgatorial nature of the sport from the Haymon side, as he plotted out his takeover in 2015. “I want big names, of course, that's why I'm in the sport,” he said. “I don't want to feel like a champion, I want to BE a champion, really feel it.” Peterson is one of the crew who jetted from Golden Boy, and is working without a promoter, but just with advisor Haymon. He's been asking for a clash with Garcia for a long spell, and is happy to be granted the opp. He'd like to fight at least three times this year, and would prefer four, he said.
And how does he beat Garcia, who owns a crackerjack left hook, and is one of those sorts who just wins, baby, even if he doesn't do any one thing in truly majestic fashion. “I think skills wise, technically, I have everything it takes to win. I can fight in different ways. I see myself playing at the beginning, and then doing whatever works best to win.”
And what about that Garcia left hook? “I won't be doing too much thinking about it,” he said, with a rare chuckle. “I'm pretty sure I will see it coming. Garcia is a solid fighter, nothing he does stands out. He's not weak. His best thing is maybe he takes a good punch. And he has good timing.”
Peterson tells me he's still reaching his athletic prime, and has been training like a beast. He did 20 round of sparring with trainer Barry Hunter on Wednesday, with seven sparring partners, guys ranging from 147 up to 175 pounds. “With no breaks, it was like 22 rounds. On Monday, I did 19 rounds. I'm in excellent shape.” That extra three pounds, he says, could actually aid him more than Garcia, as he thinks he's added muscle which will come in handy April 11.
Hunter too is jazzed about the NBC angle. He doesn't love the catchweight element, not at all. I read in between the lines that the 143 catch was the only way Team Garcia was going to do the bout…
“Why 143? I can't speak for them. Lamont has always been able to make 140. If three pounds is what makes the fight makable, then whatever it takes to make the fight,” the trainer, age 52, a boxing lifer, told me.
Hunter cracked up when I suggested, sort of mockingly, that a “Junior Welterweight Plus A Little” belt be made for the April 11 clash. But probably rightly, he understands that rigidity is a prescription for pain in this sport, and that if Team Peterson didn't give on this issue, then the fight they wanted would be exploded.
Peterson ended with a sensible take on the April 11 clash, and bolsters my “boxing is back” push. “I think being on NBC will bring a bigger fan base. There will be a lot of older people, people who don't watch HBO or Showtime. Hopefully, they will fall in love with us.” Amen, son…
May I close with a polite but firm note that the love could shower down more freely if the right thing were done, and this fight was re-set to what it should be, a showdown between two junior lightweight titlists. There is still time to right the wrongs in the sport as a whole, and rectify some of the ills we've brought upon ourselves for the last 25 years. And there's still time to admit that this catchweight bout is a throwback to the things that occur in the sport which benefit a select few, but at a cost more considerable than some might think.
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