THREE PUNCH COMBO — Last week was a slow week in the sport but there were two significant fights. On Saturday, Sept. 2, Antonio Margarito (41-8, 27 KO’s) scored a somewhat controversial technical decision win against veteran Carson Jones (40-11-3, 30 KO’s) in a 154-pound contest. Also, Daniel Roman (23-2-1, 9 KO’s) captured a 122-pound belt scoring an impressive ninth round stoppage of the previously unbeaten Shun Kubo (12-1, 9 KO’s).
What’s next for Margarito (pictured on the right) and Roman?
Margarito, who retired from the sport in 2011 following a stoppage loss to Miguel Cotto, has now scored three straight wins in his comeback bid that began in 2016. However, none of those wins were all that impressive and Margarito has appeared to have faded significantly. Still, he is a name and is clamoring for a big fight. The fight he wants, a third bout against Cotto, appears unrealistic. Margarito was dominated by Cotto in their 2011 rematch and since then Cotto has continued to fight at a high level. There would be no public demand for such a fight that would be widely viewed as a mismatch.
If Margarito wants a big fight, it would need to be against someone who has a name, is at a crossroads in his career and stylistically would make for an exciting fight. There is one fighter that fits the bill and that is James Kirkland.
Kirkland has not fought since getting KO’d by Canelo Alvarez in 2015. A scheduled fight earlier this year with Cotto fell apart. If Kirkland does want to restart his career, a fight with Margarito would make sense. It is a bout that would draw fan interest as it is evenly matched and the aggressive styles of both would no doubt make for an all action, fan friendly bout. The winner would also be positioned for something bigger at 154 or 160. It is a fight that just makes too much sense not to happen and I suspect it will unfold sometime in the first half of 2018.
With his victory against Kubo, Roman captured the WBA’s “regular” 122-pound belt. The WBA “super” champion for that weight class is Guillermo Rigondeaux. In June, Rigondeaux faced Moises Flores and scored what initially was ruled a knockout. However, the Nevada State Athletic Commission overturned that ruling to a no contest and the WBA ordered a rematch. But rumors have Rigondeaux going in another direction and facing 130-pound champion Vasyl Lomachenko in December.
If the WBA allows Roman to make an optional defense, there are several possibilities. Roman could look to face a lower level opponent and make a homecoming type defense in his native California, or he could seek out a name opponent to continue the momentum he has going in his career at the moment. One such name fighter that could be a possibility is Nonito Donaire. Now campaigning at 122, Donaire is a former pound for pound entrant and is seeking another crack at a belt. Roman would represent a high risk for Donaire, but at age 34 Donaire does not have time on his side and may be very open to facing Roman next. A fight with Donaire would certainly represent a career high payday for Roman and a chance to add a name to his resume.
The Future of the PBC Model
This week it was announced that Leo Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KO’s) and Abner Mares (30-2-1, 15 KO’s) would appear in separate bouts on October 14th in a nationally televised card on Fox. They will be facing opponents they will be heavily favored to defeat in anticipation of facing off against each other at some point next year. The fact that these showcase bouts are being featured on a big platform such as Fox raised a lot of eyebrows as typically such a platform would be used for more significant and more evenly matched fights. That these mismatches are being featured prominently on a network such as Fox shows the direction the PBC model is headed.
Let’s take a step back for a second and examine some recent TV deals held by various factions in the sport including PBC. From 2012 to 2014, Main Events had a deal with the NBC Sports Network. Main Events put on some quality cards during this deal. However, the quality wavered as the last two shows were primarily showcase bouts for fighters in their stable. Main Events knew the deal with NBCSN was coming to an end and did not want to spend major resources on fight cards when they knew there was no hope going forward of broadcasting more events on that network.
In November of last year on Spike, PBC featured a card headlined by Danny Garcia facing Samuel Vargas, a tune up bout for Garcia. The bout was a mismatch and played out as such in the ring. Two months later, Erislandy Lara faced Yuri Foreman in a Spike headliner. Again, it was a bout viewed as a total mismatch in favor of Lara and played out as such. Shortly after that card, it was announced that the PBC and Spike were ending their relationship. Clearly, when PBC knew the deal was coming to an end the quality of the cards deteriorated.
Why would PBC put on a card on major network like Fox that features two contests that are clearly tune up bouts for its star fighters? Look at the examples above and the reason becomes very apparent. The deal with Fox is clearly coming to an end for PBC. There is no reason for quality control.
If I am correct, what does this mean for the future of PBC?
When the PBC began, they had TV deals with NBC/NBCSN, Spike, ESPN, Bounce TV, and Fox/FS1 (CBS to some extent as well). The deals with Spike and ESPN are no longer in place. No official announcement has been made on NBC/NBCSN but with no bouts having taken place on those networks for over a year and nothing on the schedule at this time it can be reasonably assumed that deal has also come to an end. There is nothing on the current schedule for Bounce TV which broadcast three PBC shows this year with the last being in June. Only Fox/FS1 currently has PBC cards on the schedule in September and October but who knows how much longer this deal will last?
Clearly change is in the air for PBC. Showtime has picked up several PBC branded cards of late and has another PBC show in store on October 14th (a show which in the past may have been better suited for another PBC outlet). As I wrote last week, Top Rank’s move away from HBO to ESPN will leave a void at HBO. The door is cracked open now for the PBC brand to find a place on HBO out of necessity for both parties. As much as PBC tried to get away from doing things on premium cable, it appears that PBC is headed back to the old model it once tried to get away from. Showtime is already a PBC partner and if the Fox deal is lost HBO may come back to the fold.
Under the Radar Fights
After a bit of a hiatus, next week will be busy, kicking off a busy month.
Showtime is televising a card on Friday from Las Vegas that will be headlined by rising star David Benavidez (18-0, 17 KO’s) facing off against Ronald Gavril (18-1, 14 KO’s) for a 168-pound title belt. There is a lot of buzz surrounding Benavidez among boxing insiders and the potential for this young man who has not even reached legal drinking age in the United States seems to be through the roof. But Gavril is no slouch and should provide an interesting test.
Gavril has a solid amateur pedigree and with that has solid skills inside the ring. He is an excellent body puncher with his best punch being a sneaky quick left hook to liver and looks to break his opponents down during the course of a bout. He is also very technically sound. This is no easy out for Benavidez and Gavril’s commitment to body punching could push Benavidez some if the fight goes late.
As part of HBO’s tremendous triple header on Saturday, Naoya Inoue (13-0, 11 KO’s) makes his US debut facing off against Antonio Nieves (17-1-2, 9 KO’s) for a 115-pound belt. Inoue is a special talent. A skilled aggressive boxer-puncher, he possesses a thunderous left jab, above average hand speed and ferocious power in both hands. Hard core fight fans have been longing to see him perform on a bigger stage.
One thing in particular that I have noticed watching Inouye on tape is his punch placement. He frequently finds a way to land clean precision punches with maximum effect. In Nieves, Inoue is facing a competent boxer-puncher. Nieves can fight and has shown noticeable improvement in his last few bouts though the results may not be reflective of that. Nieves is good at using his legs to set up angles to throw his combinations. But he is not a runner and is willing to stand in the pocket to exchange with his opponent. This may not be the best strategy against Inoue but should make for an exciting fight for however long it lasts.
We have two potentially very special fighters in Benavidez and Inoue facing solid tests that should make for some interesting and intriguing moments in their respective bouts.
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