What We Learned in 2011...NGUYEN
Amir Khan is Good…But Not Great
There was a lot of talk as to whether Amir Khan’s pairing with Freddie Roach would prove to be the first step toward true greatness.
The verdict appears to be in: no.
Sure, against fighters who allow him to be a combination-punching prodigy, Khan can really look impressive, as he demonstrated against Malignaggi and Judah. But against fighters who are unwilling to be accomplices, Khan doesn’t look anything like an all-time great. Marcos Maidana made him look pretty vulnerable, and Lamont Peterson made him look pretty ordinary.
A great fighter shouldn’t get walked down as easily as Khan can be. A great fighter shouldn’t hit the panic button when Plan A stops working.
Maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps the youthful Khan will learn and develop, but it’s hard to see a guy who might not be the best in his division end up being one of the best who ever did it.
Andre Ward Will Eventually Be Pound-for-Pound #1, but Will Never Be a Crossover Star
The consensus choice for Fighter of the Year, Andre Ward, has proven himself to be a special fighter throughout the Super Six Boxing Classic. By the end of the tournament, the question wasn’t really whether Ward would win, but whether he would make the type of grand statement a superstar tends to make in that type of situation.
The statement he ended up making was beautifully articulate, albeit softly spoken, which doesn’t bode well for Ward’s crossover appeal.
Let’s examine, for a moment, the blueprint for the two biggest crossover stars boxing has produced in the past generation: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.
For Pacquiao, the blueprint to stardom was simple: fight like a maniac, and eventually people will notice. Couple with that a G-rated personality and understated charm, and the final product is a lucrative one.
For Mayweather, the mock-up was a bit different. He isn’t the same high-contact fighter that Pacquiao is, so he didn’t achieve his status with blood and guts. Mayweather, though, is a genius of charisma. He realizes that controversy pays, and he’s been more than willing to embroil himself in scandalous situations. Sure he’s been booed, but he’s also converted those boos into a lot of green.
This creates quite a quandary for Andre Ward. He’s not a blood-and-guts fighter like Pacquiao; he’s a brilliantly talented technician. He’s not a comic book villain like Mayweather; he’s the epitome of a gentleman.
To put it in acting terms, Ward is the boxing equivalent of a brilliant character actor. He has the skills to play any role in any film to critical acclaim. But he’s not an action hero who does his own stunts. He’s not a controversial Hollywood star who’s always in the tabloid headlines. His type of craft and personality just doesn’t lend itself to the causal fan’s appreciation.
Don’t get me wrong; I love watching Andre Ward fight. You probably do, too. But I’m not a causal boxing fan. If you’re still reading this, you aren’t either. Crossover fighters manage to draw viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily watch a fight. They get recognized by people who aren’t sports fans.
Unfortunately, Andre Ward will never be able to do that.
Sergio Martinez May Never Get a Defining Fight
At 36-years old, Martinez is running out of time to land a career-defining fight. He’s bordering on delusional if he thinks he’ll get Pacquiao or Mayweather in the ring with him, and Miguel Cotto has nothing to gain by stepping in with him. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is still too pose the type of challenge on which Martinez can build a legacy. Smoking an unimpressive crop of middleweights does little to enhance his image. Martinez is in a very tight spot, and the urgency is showing; the usually gentlemanly Martinez has taken to trash talk to goad a big-name opponent to step up to the plate.
It might be that Martinez’ greatest opponent will be the only undefeated, undisputed champ in all weight classes: Father Time.
In His Advancing Age, Floyd Mayweather Can Actually Make for a Fun Fight
The knock on Mayweather (and it’s hard to find faults in his nearly flawless skillset) is that he almost never makes for exciting fights. Aside from a handful of mismatches (Corrales, N’dou, Gatti), Mayweather’s fights can sometimes be as exciting as watching Gary Kasparov pick apart the high school chess club champ. Mayweather’s surgical precision is supremely impressive even if not awe-inspiring.
However, that’s changed a bit in his last two fights. Against Mosley, Mayweather provided some unexpected excitement by getting drilled and very nearly KO’d in the second round. Mayweather, much to his credit, steadied the ship quickly and established his dominance for every remaining second of the fight. What gets forgotten is that Mayweather tattooed Mosley with numerous hard shots throughout the rest of those twelve rounds. Maybe Mosley couldn’t pull the trigger anymore, but he also had a good reason for being reluctant. Had Mayweather gone against his instincts and really pressed Mosley, it’s not unthinkable that he could’ve pulled a stoppage.
In Mayweather’s fight with Victor Ortiz, Mayweather was not reluctant to engage with the freakishly big Ortiz. He planted his feet and drilled the bigger man and created maybe the most exciting four rounds of his career. Sure, Ortiz’ pressure created the perfect storm for excitement, but Mayweather’s willingness to do battle was another key component.
Maybe the extended time off has allowed his notoriously brittle hands to heal. Maybe, as a fighter in his mid-thirties, Mayweather now has to be more offensively focused. Regardless of the reasons, Floyd is now a more crowd-pleasing fighter. We all win when that’s the case.
Manny Pacquiao Will Never Beat Floyd Mayweather
Please follow the logic carefully:
Manny Pacquiao + Precision Counterpuncher (e.g. Juan Manuel Marquez) = Lots of trouble for Manny
Floyd Mayweather = Elusive counterpuncher of unparalleled virtuosity
Manny Pacquiao + Floyd Mayweather = A style mismatch of epic proportions
Antonio Margarito Has Been a B-Level Fighter Since the Handwrap Scandal
Take that any way you want it.
You Can’t Make a Bad Fight at Junior Middleweight
Consider, for a moment, the marquee names at 154: Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, James Kirkland, Alfredo Angulo.
Add in lesser-known gems like Erislandy Lara and Carlos Molina. Toss in some exciting shopworn names like Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito, and Ricardo Mayorga.
Combine ingredients and stir. Await combustion.
Erik Morales is the Mexican Clint Eastwood
Not too long ago, Erik Morales was considered to be well past his expiration date as a relevant fighter. After dropping four straight fights, and looking increasingly shopworn in each, Morales looked done.
So when Morales came back after retiring, it seemed ill-advised even if it was less than surprising. When Morales signed on to fight Argentinian toughguy Marcos Maidana, many pundits were genuinely concerned about whether Morales would emerge from the fight intact.
Morales not only emerged intact, but he gave Maidana the fight of his life. You had the feeling that if Clint Eastwood was watching that fight, he’d be nodding his head in sneering approval of a fellow elderly tough guy. Even though Morales lost a razor-thin decision, it was an instance where the moral victory meant just as much as the decision victory would have.
In his most recent fight against Pablo Cesar Cano, Morales outlasted and beat down a younger, fresher foe. Erik Morales will never regain his past glory, but he is living proof that a fighter can retire, but a tough guy never really goes away.
No Boxing Fan Has Endured as Much as the British Fight Fan
At one time it was Frank Bruno on whom British hearts were dashed. More recently, it was Ricky Hatton.
With heartbreaks aplenty this year, 2011 was far from a banner year for our neighbors across the pond.
Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray were both hosed against Felix Sturm. After some of the best trash talk in years, David Haye turned in a non-effort against Wladimir Klitschko. Dereck Chisora was victim of maybe the worst decision of the year against Robert Helenius. John Murray might have earned the award for most facial discoloration during a fight in getting lumped up by Brandon Rios. Most recently, Amir Khan was on the short end of a highly controversial decision against Lamont Peterson.
Maybe 2012 will be a better year for high-profile British boxing. Until then, God save the queen.
Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. Might Actually Become a Pretty Good Fighter
Count me among the innumerable skeptics who saw Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. as an opportunistic brat who was aiming to cash in on his old man’s name. As the wins kept stacking up against tomato cans, I thought it would be a matter of time until he had his head handed to him.
Which is why I was quite surprised to see Chavez’ noticeable improvements against Peter Manfredo. Rather than employing his usual high impact, marginal skill level approach, Chavez fought intelligently, maintained appropriate distance, and won on guile rather than grit.
I’m not saying he’ll eclipse his dad, or that he’ll even come close. But Chavez might prove to be an elite level fighter in his own right.
Victor Ortiz is the New Terry Norris
In the 1990s, there weren’t too many fighters who were more physically talented than “Terrible” Terry Norris. He was a smooth boxing, hard punching, athletically gifted fighter. He holds victories over a who’s who of big names from the 80s and 90s: John Mugabi, Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry, Maurice Blocker, Meldrick Taylor, Simon Brown. Norris’ credentials were enough to land him in Canestota as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To go with his fistic aptitude, Norris was charming, well-spoken, and good-looking, making him, pretty much, any promoter’s dream. Don King hit the jackpot when he signed (and then criminally underpromoted) Terry Norris.
But why was Norris never the crossover superstar that he promised to be at so many moments during his career? Because during the moments when he was on the verge of becoming known outside the boxing faithful, one of two things failed him: his chin or his nerves.
Sound like someone in 2011?
Now, I’ll go ahead and concede that it’s more than a stretch to compare Hall of Famer Terry Norris with Victor Ortiz; the latter has a heck of a lot to prove before he’s even in a discussion of being HOF worthy. Still, the underlying parallels between the two are intriguing. (Note: Terry Norris accompanied Ortiz into the ring prior to his high-profile showdown with Floyd Mayweather.)
Norris’ chin was probably his greatest foe during his career. He was KO’d in his first world title attempt against Julian Jackson, which is forgivable considering Jackson might be one of the biggest single-shot punchers ever in the game. Another of Norris’ stoppage losses, against Laurent Boudouani in what would be his final pro fight, was also pardonable since Norris was far-removed from his prime. Still, Norris was stopped by fighters against whom he was the superior fighter: Simon Brown and Keith Mullings. Combine those with shaky moments against the likes of Troy Waters, and the verdict is simple: Norris had one of the most vulnerable chins of any Hall of Famer.
Victor Ortiz’ chin is perhaps a bit more reliable than Norris’, but his durability cost him dearly in his much-scrutinized loss to Marcos Maidana, and nearly cost him against Andre Berto. For a high-contact boxer like Ortiz, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see his jaw becoming a factor again in his career.
Along with questionable durability, another similarity Ortiz has with Norris has to do with self-control. One of the many things that separates a prizefighter from a bar-fighter is the ability to keep a cool head. During three moments in his career, Terry Norris was unable to keep his nerves in check. He was disqualified three times against fighters who he should have dusted easily. Whether it was drilling Joe Walker in the back of the head after he went down, blasting Luis Santana after the bell, or rabbit punching Santana, or (in a rematch of his previous DQ loss), Terry Norris was the classic non-example when discussing composure in the ring.
That is, until Victor Ortiz came along.
Early in Ortiz’ career, he was disqualified for hitting journeyman Corey Alarcon on a break (although replays showed that Alarcon made the most of the foul with some well-executed, agonized writhing). Maybe we could give Ortiz a break for making a dumb, immature error in the heat of the moment, but it proved not to be an isolated incident. Against Floyd Mayweather, in Ortiz’ biggest chance to shine, he came apart again when he committed the mother of all stupid fouls when he tried to rearrange Mayweather’s dental work with a flagrant headbutt to the mush (the culmination of several earlier headbutt attempts). The even more maddening part was that the headbutt punctuated what had been Ortiz’ best offensive rally of the fight, one which made Mayweather look visibly uncomfortable. Controversial ending aside, Ortiz did himself in the moment he decided to unleash the foul.
Clearly, Ortiz has a lot to prove before the comparison with Terry Norris comes full circle, but his penchant for vulnerability and chaotic in-ring behavior still makes it an interesting one. Like Norris, though, Ortiz has all the ingredients necessary to be a crossover star; that’s why Golden Boy signed him, after all. The problem is, he also has a couple of flaws that could permanently keep him from realizing that potential. Regardless, Ortiz has proven to be must-see-TV, even if it isn’t always for the reasons he’d like.
Roy Jones is the New Evander Holyfield
Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling of Moscow’s Sport Complex Krylatskoe, Roy Jones was unaware of what was taking place around him.
He was unaware of the wildly celebratory crowd.
He was unaware that his opponent, Denis Lebedev, stood across the ring, basking in what amounted to a meaningless conquest against a once great, but now shot fighter.
He was unaware that referee Steve Smoger was waving off the contest with just seconds remaining in the fight.
It was evident that in those frightening moments following Lebedev’s fight-ending right hand that Roy Jones was oblivious to the world around him.
Jones’ comments in the post-fight press conference indicated his lacking comprehension of what just took place.
"Sorry I didn’t get the victory, but Denis is a very tough competitor," Jones said.
It wasn’t that Jones came up short. It wasn’t that he didn’t come up with the victory. He either didn’t understand or didn’t want to acknowledge the frightful scene that had just taken place.
Jones’ post-fight statement was the type of anesthetized, reflexive answer a fighter offers when he doesn’t know what else to say. Truthfully, for supporters of Roy Jones, there is little else that needs saying. The image of him helplessly stretched out on the canvas, for the fourth time in seven years, was brutally articulate.
Which is why Jones’ comments since that distressingly violent ending all the more troubling. Jones has designs on challenging for a cruiserweight title, claiming maybe the only title that has eluded him during his magnificent career. It was a career that saw him reach unimaginable heights, claiming titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light heavyweight, and, at perhaps the apex of his career, heavyweight.
Then the bottom dropped out.
It wasn’t even as though Superman had been exposed to kryptonite. It was like he had it surgically implanted in his chest cavity, was receiving it intravenously, and was being fed it for breakfast. The accelerated implosion of the once-invincible Roy Jones was unlike anything the sport had ever seen. Even for Jones’ detractors, this was not the ending anyone saw coming.
Jones’ painful disintegration is not unlike that of another great fighter: Evander Holyfield.
Holyfield himself has experienced a couple of career resurrections in his career. Many wrote him off after his first professional loss in a war with Riddick Bowe. Others thought he was finished after he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition after dropping a decision to Michael Moorer. Still others thought he was washed up after losing the rubber match to Bowe. Those people grossly underestimated the greatness of The Real Deal. Evander Holyfield had yet to achieve the greatest heights of his career.
In hindsight, maybe those comebacks were curses in disguise for Holyfield. When it was evident that he no longer had the abilities that had made him an all-time great, Holyfield refused to call it a day. A strong believer that divine intervention led to his past accomplishments, Holyfield called upon the same power to help him regain the undisputed heavyweight title, a crusade Holyfield vowed to continue before he would retire. It is a crusade that the 49-year old Holyfield continues today.
Now Jones, who turns 43 in January, finds himself embarking on a no-less unlikely task to become a cruiserweight titlist. Jones no doubt bases his dogged determination on his peerless past brilliance, on the flashes of that brilliance that remain even in his advanced age, and on his own stubborn determination to do this his own way, which he has always done since the start of his career.
When Jones made a sad return this month to win a decision against clubfighter Max Alexander, he claimed that it was the start of bigger things. Of course he did. What else is he supposed to say?
Now, away from the pulverizing fists of a relentless opponent, away from the bright lights and television cameras, away from the demanding reporters asking questions for which he has few answers, Roy Jones is probably in the most dangerous situation a fighter can be.
I say probably because I don’t know Roy Jones personally. I have not been with him as he has tried to make sense of what his career has become. I have not seen firsthand the effects of what it does to a man to lose what is essentially his identity as a fighter. I won’t be with him in the days and weeks ahead as he ponders what’s next. And I certainly don’t know what the future holds for him.
But what I do know is the mentality of a prizefighter. Fighters aren’t known to be content with circumstance. Fighters don’t go quietly into the night. Fighters don’t walk away from struggles, no matter how insurmountable the obstacles or improbable the odds. There is always one more battle to fight, and one more point to prove.
This mindset so prevalent among fighters is why we love boxing. It is a more graphic, visceral demonstration of courage than is displayed in any other sport. There is a point, however, that bravery turns to foolishness, and ambition turns to delusion.
Yes, Roy Jones is in the terribly treacherous position of being a fighter with something to prove, even if the point he is trying to prove rests only in his own mind. If Jones were to walk away from boxing today, he would be remembered as one of the very best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. He would have nothing to be ashamed of or apologize for.
It’s doubtless that some, perhaps most, close to Jones have shared this with him, suggesting that his boxing career should have reached the end of the line. Logic would indicate that his skills are not what they used to be, and that the ravages of boxing have aged his body to the point that he is no longer able to compete at the elite level.
Equally doubtless, though, is the likelihood that the prizefighter mentality has planted itself firmly in the back of Roy Jones’ mind. The only question is which impulse will prove stronger, which will be more convincing. For the sake of Jones and those who hold him dear, let’s hope logic overtakes instinct.
Contrary to boxing wisdom, it isn’t speed that kills. What does is the deadly combination of a fighter with a consuming passion to prove something, but is no longer capable of proving it. If I get only one wish for 2012, it’s that Roy Jones will no longer be an ingredient in a recipe for disaster.