THE HAUSER REPORT: We live in an age when spectacle is often valued more highly than substance. Thus, it’s not surprising that boxing is careening toward the farce that is Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor. That became clear on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), when Irish Olympian Michael Conlan made his professional debut in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Conlon had a solid amateur career and won a bronze medal as a flyweight at the 2012 London Olympics. He’s best known for flashing a middle finger at the judges after losing a controversial decision in the quarter-finals of the bantamweight competition at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Conlan is managed by former middleweight contender Matthew Macklin, trained by Manny Robles, and now fights out of Los Angeles. His debut opponent was Tim Ibarra (4-4, 1 KO, 2 KOs by), who was knocked out in the first round by Robles’s son in 2012, after which Ibarra took three years off from boxing.
Against Conlan, Ibarra threw weak jabs and not much else. Conlan threw a lot of wild right hands that landed in a different zip code from Ibarra’s chin. Then, in round three, Conlan slowed Ibarra down with body shots which enabled him to start landing right hands up top. At that point, referee Benjy Esteves stopped the fight.
Given the way boxing works, Conlan is likely to have the opportunity to fight an ordinary opponent for an alphabet soup belt as his career unfolds. But he has a long way to go if he’s to become an elite fighter.
Meanwhile, prior to fighting Ibarra, Conlan had told the media that UFC star Conor McGregor would walk him to the ring. That eventuality came to pass and suggested something more.
There has been talk lately regarding a boxing match between McGregor and Floyd Mayweather, possibly in June. That has been coupled with reports that UFC has agreed to cede control of the pay-per-view production to Showtime and might even steer clear of the promotion in exchange for a provision of services contract with regard to McGregor.
After Conlan-Ibarra, McGregor met with reporters at ringside and proclaimed, “Watch me take over boxing. Trust me on that. No one in this boxing game knows what’s coming. I’m going to shock the whole goddamn world. Look me in the eyes. Twenty-eight years of age, confident as a mother—-er. You’re all gonna eat your words. The whole world is gonna eat their words. It’s getting close. You’ll hear about it. I am boxing.”
McGregor has as much chance of beating Mayweather in a boxing match as Mayweather has of submitting McGregor with an armbar. If they meet in a boxing ring, Mayweather will play with McGregor and knock him out when he wants to. Not only would Floyd be an astronomical betting favorite, he could safely augment his purse by betting on a knockout in a given round. Go to YouTube and watch videos of McGregor sparring as a boxer.
It’s a sad commentary on the state of boxing that the biggest boxing event of the year might be Mayweather vs. McGregor. Maybe Michael Conlan can carry McGregor’s belt to the ring when he fights Mayweather and help carry Conor out of the ring afterward.
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I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But I think one reason pay-per-view shows have engendered poor buy-numbers lately is that boxing fans feel cheated by, and have grown weary of, colossally boring undercard fights. It’s hard to remember the last time a pay-per-view undercard gave fans a “water-cooler fight.”
That changed on March 18, when Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez defended his WBC 115-pound title against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (a/k/a Wisaksil Wangek) on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin vs. Danny Jacobs at Madison Square Garden.
Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KOs) was at or near the top of most pound-for-pound lists.
Rungvisai (41-4-1, 38 KOs, 2 KOs by) had fought four times since 2015. His two most recent opponents were making their pro debut when he fought them and, according to BoxRec.com, hadn’t fought since. His other two opponents last year had records of 12-and-19 and 3-and-5 (with 14 losses by knockout between them).
Chocolatito was a step up in competition for Rungvisai (which was thought to be like saying the iceberg The Titanic hit was a step up in competition from an ice cube in the vessel’s cocktail lounge).
Gonzalez vs. Rungvisai turned out to be an enthralling savage brutal fight.
Boxing fans knew they were in for the unexpected when Rungvisai dropped Gonzalez with a hard right to the body in round one. An accidental clash of heads in round three opened a horrific gash on Gonzalez’s right eyebrow. Chocolatito appeared shaken by another clash of heads in round six, after which referee Steve Willis deducted a point from Rungvisai.
Blood streamed down the right side of Gonzalez’s face throughout the bout, leaving him at a significant disadvantage.
Round after round, the two men traded blows with abandon, fighting as though it would be an affront to their honor to slip a punch. A purist might have quibbled that defense is also part of boxing. But there were twelve rounds of non-stop ”oohs” and “aahs.” Each man fought beyond what can be reasonably expected of a professional fighter.
Imagine Arturo Gatti versus Arturo Gatti, and you have Gonzalez versus Rungvisai.
At the final bell, the crowd rose and paid tribute with a standing ovation. Both fighters were taken to the hospital afterward. In addition to the many blows that they took to the head, Gonzalez had possible eye damage and there was considerable blood in Rungvisai’s urine.
Most members of the media (including this writer) thought that Gonzalez won the fight, many by a comfortable margin. The judges saw things differently, giving the nod to Rungvisai on a 114-112, 114-112, 113-113 majority decision that elicited vociferous boos from the crowd.
According to CompuBox, Gonzalez outlanded Rungvisai by a 441 to 284 margin with a 372-to-277 edge in “power punches.” The judges might have been scoring blood rather than punches landed.
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Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published recently by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.