Expectations can be a heckuva thing. How many times have you heard about a blockbuster flick, read up on it, seen tons of Tweets on it, heard friends and neighbors making plans to watch it.
You make your plans, brain buzzing, waiting to be blown away…and end the night thinking, Ho hum.
That wasn't all that.
You grumble some and vow to be more efficient in fending off the noise, in making up your own mind for yourself, in not falling for the hype.
The expectations bug bit all associated with #MayPac, and you see the winner of the bout to this day defending his part in the event.
You the press bear blame, he tells people, because we built up Pacman. And I do not, actually, summarily dismiss his line of thinking, although that is a markedly simplistic and muchly erroneous take, being that he built up Pacman as a capable foe, at times, while at other times promising he'd be easy work…and the armies of people tasked with convincing you to fly to Vegas and buy a ticket, or pony up the money to buy it on PPV, told you this one was one for the ages, a sure classic…
But I digress; all in all, the expectations set for that bout insured, virtually, that they would not be met. And they most certainly were not, we all agree.
Expectations for the Saturday Leo Santa Cruz vs. Abner Mares bout weren't in that same ballpark, they were minor league compared to that. But you did have some folks asking if the winner, or maybe both of em, would be anointed as a Mexican marvel…you had folks plumbing the depths of the brains of historians to get some apt comparisons…
The Battle of the Z Boys, Carlos Zarate and Alfonso Zamora, was brought up. I held my tongue when I read that, not wanting to be a nattering nabob of negativity, and had to refresh my memory. Zarate was a legit bomber, was 38-0 with 37 KOs entering, while Zamora was 29-0 with, yikes, 29 KOs. Man, it ain't a given to knock down an assemblage of cabbies and burger flippers and junkies paid to find a soft spot to lay down…and that wasn't the case with Zamora.
Don't know about you, but I didn't and don't consider Santa Cruz or Mares any sort of bomber. Their KO ratios (Mares' is 47%, Leo's is 53%) told you that, and thus, I think that lessened my expectations entering. To be honest, this fight to me felt like a big deal on the West Coast, not as much on the East Coast.
So, anyway, LSC and Mares fought. Maybe a year or even two later than they should have, some pondered in the leadup, being that LSC's rep really started boiling in the fall of 2012 or so. Mares at that time was hot stuff, too, but then felt the need to jump up in weight…so he had to wait for LSC to come join him at 126…and for some managerial and promotional stuff to get right, before they could tangle. LSC jumped ship, from the Cameron Dunkin/Top Rank plank, to uber advisor Al Haymon…and then Mares made the leap, after Golden Boy imploded, with Oscar brandishing a cutlass and requesting Richard Schaefer walk the plank for perceived disloyalty. Last summer, Mares joined the Haymon family. And the time became right, after Mares got stopped out against Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013…and then needed a few more bouts to collect his confidence. LSC was also in a pattern of activity which left heads scratching, and sent his profile into a depth, as a Twitter laughing-stock, with the Mockingbird Gang dismissing his foes as a jokers and journeymen. Anyway, all that stuff melted away–as it should, I think–as they finally got on that parallel track and then re-positioned themselves for a faceoff.
So yeah, they faced off…and threw a ton of punches. And it was a solid fight.
But…were my eyes lying to me? I didn't recall watching, and having an “Oh s–t!” reaction, during a crazy exchange, or otherworldly round…
And then I noted some of the after the fact analysis. Fight of the Year candidate…comparisons to Vazquez-Marquez and…wait, what??…Barrera vs. Morales 1!?
I had to think, maybe my mood wasn't right…but I saw a high volume fight, that had no real massive ebbs and flows and dips and bursts which make for a FOY candidate.
Yeah, there were some clean, hard shots landed. But no knockdowns…no one had to clamber back from the edge…no one had to collect their senses, gather their marbles in order to stop from drowning. Nah, this wasn't the Z Boys sniping…neither LSC nor Mares is anything resembling a one-punch power hitter, and besides, LSC especially was boxing smart and winning rounds, and I didn't see him all that much gunning for a stoppage. Yeah, you didn't see any sort of Duran-type fury in there. And gosh, was Mares missing a lot. Not to be the heavy critiquer, but when I'm seeing and hearing people gush over a decent bout, I have to take that second look and analysis. And I'm not alone, here. I saw some other dissenters out there.
Manager Vince Caruso reached out and touched base and processed what he saw, as well.
“I should make note that I am on that of a different level than the average spectator, as I was a part of two out of three Barrera/Morales bouts, and the classic Barrera/Hamed clash, standing by my brother, Marco Barrera. So, please forgive me if my pulse remains dormant while I discuss the Santa Cruz/Mares tilt,” he said. “First off, Leo Santa Cruz did not in any way, shape or form, put himself into a discussion with Morales, Barrera, Marquez or Vazquez. Leo did however manage to gain respect for himself as a fighter and shake off the “mariquita” tag he was deemed by a majority of not only in boxing circles, but south of the border as well,” Caruso told me.
“The problem here stems from this, when Gonzalez faced Carbajal, Morales with Barrera, and Marquez with Vazquez, just to name a few, all of the participants had been in, and defeated, several former or then current world champions. Their resumes were built with calculation, not padded for cosmetic need. This was solely due to the excellent matchmaking machines of gentleman such as Bruce Trampler and Antonio Curtis. The fighters rose in the ranks with stiffer competition and received heavier purses as the fights became more intriguing. To me, this is where the PBC vehicle has failed,” he continued, adding some context to his contention. “The resumes of Mares and Santa Cruz combined looks more along the lines of the absentee list of Montebello High School than that of a professional fighter's ledger. However, that is still not the nucleus of the problem we are looking at today. It lies with the eye of the beholder. The fan. Or, in this case, the misguided fan. The Sunday boxing fan, the Johnny-come-lately if you will. An incredible system of a marginal product, marketed in a very sizable capacity, guided by at-best marginal boxing savvy people, covered by unaccredited media outlets, presented to the “5-year fan.” The finished product? Comments filling up social media timelines reflecting sentiments of the Santa Cruz/Mares tilt as “an instant classic” or “as good (or better than) Barrera/Morales.” As in shock that I was, I mustered the energy to arise from the floor in disbelief. I thought it was a bad LSD flashback to 1990, when we were all fooled by Milli Vanilli,” the unfiltered Caruso stated.
“A classic?!?! Better than Morales/Barrera!?! Were this comments from pro-marijuana states like Colorado or Washington? No. It was from the true cancer of this great sport….unaccredited media outlets. Yes, those dreaded little $10 a month godaddy.com website trolls who wake up every morning and prove that idiots still do breed in abundance.
“Look. Santa Cruz vs Mares, at best, was compatible to a late 90's Boxing After Dark type of scrap. To be honest, I did give the fight a grade of B, however, at times it looked like the quality of Art Dore's old “Toughman” boxing series, where Average Joes would slug it out, throwing 100 punches and landing at most 10. Lots of sloppy action. That is what Santa Cruz/Mares was. Two fighters who had feeble resumes and had little, if no, war experience between them.”
Caruso wrapped it up: “So let us show support for PBC's product, which I believe is improving with every card, without selling out any credibility here. Santa Cruz/Mares was a very good fight. Had they been tested a little more before they hit that stage last Saturday, I do believe we would have seen a barn burner. That burden falls on matchmaking. My suggestion? Bring in fresh blood for a fresh product. But whatever the future fights that may come, might I suggest relaying on credible sources to form and construct an opinion that will be respected, not ridiculed. That is of course if you do love the sport as I do.”
I think he touches on a bunch of points here which we could riff on for awhile. For instance, so much of perception of events now is formed on social media, and instant analysis informs perception mightily. Often our guts speak insta-truth, and sometimes we get swayed by a mob mentality.
Another thing: this boxing age has fans and media picking sides to an amazing extent. You have your PBC guys, your Top Rank guys, your HBO guys, etc. And people are often not invested in the product as a whole, but in one segment of the product. So you often see “Al guys” on social media being very gentle in their grading…and then they use a harsher set of eyes when critiquing an Arum show. And the opposite occurs as well. I think we all need to, as Caruso says, be very careful when accepting POVs, and we must consider what if any filters people are looking through.
Another thing…is it possible peoples' expectations have been lowered, because we are in the post-concussion-comprehension era, and fewer boxers now employ a fan friendly, take two to give one style? Has the influence of Floyd Mayweathers' masterful brand of defense first pugilism changed how many folks watch and analyze a fight. Some food for thought, I hope..
All in all, bottom line, Santa Cruz-Mares was a solid fight. But nah, not a classic or near classic. Good fight, for sure. But let us not employ the word “classic” without maybe first re-acquainting ourselves with Barrera-Morales I, or Corrales-Castillo I, or fights of that ilk. Those warriors deserve that respect.