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UFC 118 Predictions: Roll Up, Roll Up For The Freak Show

Hype time for freak show fights aside, this is a strong if shallow card. Once you get past the big names it’s a bit of an anonymous wasteland, but there’s two huge sporting fights and one classic freak show. That’s buys to me.

Main card

* Lightweight Championship bout: Frankie Edgar (c) vs. B.J. Penn

Round 6, eh? I have seen a lot of Frankie Edgar and I have enormous respect for him, and I will say that the version of him which fought BJ the first time was easily the best version of him probably ever; but I can’t say that was the best version of BJ I’ve ever seen. I think, as do many if not most people and essentially all of the professional odds makers, that when it comes to pure talent Frankie Edgar is as good as any fighter at 155 other than Penn but that Penn is simply head and shoulders above all others. Here’s the wrinkle though: how does he beat Edgar? Lost sometimes in all the talk about BJ is the fact that other than the Grey Maynard fight in which he was simply out-sized and out-wrestled, there isn’t a blueprint out there on how to beat King Frank despite his being a blown-up featherweight with very limited finishing skills. Edgar is like an entertaining Jon Fitch if such a thing is possible, one of those hardworking relentless grinders who just keeps going and going until the last bell rings- not possessed of enough raw talent to blow through guys but far too tough and too skilled to really be finished. That’s a bad matchup for BJ, who after all these years still by his own admission doesn’t train the way he should and can be out-worked. Likewise Edgar’s quickness, in-and-out style and multi-level attack is a bad matchup for BJ who’s become virtually stationary at times in his fights, fighting downhill almost like a tiny Klitschko in taking advantage of his jab and takedown defense.

I’m still going to pick BJ however, by decision. A lot of the reasons are contextual. I think BJ will train as he should this time, or closer to it, and while his failure to do so in the vast is a historical black mark on his career it doesn’t detract from how deadly he can be when he’s focused. I think the quasi-controversy about the judging from the first fight will play a factor as the judges will, consciously or unconsciously, reevaluate the way they score what is likely to be a second similar fight and probably lean towards the person whose efforts were “underrated” the first time. I also think BJ, who has shown a strong ability to adapt and evolve in his career, will be better prepared for Edgar’s style this time and may integrate takedown attempts back into his gameplan as neither man has a position of advantage stronger than BJ Penn in top position in this fight. Expect another close, competitive fight.

* Heavyweight bout: Randy Couture vs. James Toney

What can you say? If I were a promoter I’d put this on as well, but it’s just not a serious fight in any way shape or form. Leaving aside the boxer vs. wrestler elements of it which we’ll deal with in a bit, James Toney is just all, all, ALL wrong for MMA. His style is based on limited movement, a strong jab, and great defensive movement and technique from the trunk up matched with awesome counter-punching. The entire style operates from the waist up, and there’s simply no way to re-wire it in a few months to take account of everything which happens below that point in an MMA battle from leg kicks to takedowns. The stance required for that makes takedowns impossible to defend and it offers way too many chances for an MMA opponent to clinch and smother the counter in a way that boxers simply aren’t allowed to do, and having those flaws against RANDY COUTURE is pretty much disastrous. Beyond those technical aspects Toney is an old and shot pile of steroids, was never a power puncher of great reputation even in his prime- and in his prime was probably a 168-175 pound fighter when he was in shape. That’s 30 pounds less than Couture at minimum. People say Couture has never been hit the way Toney will hit him; I say he’s been hit by 280 pound Brock Lesnar who is Toney’s match and more for raw power. Randy is old and has his own chin problems so Toney maybe has the ghost of a chance if he can catch him, but Randy would have to be an idiot to even let him try. And when is Randy ever an idiot?

Let me tell you this as a once-upon-a-time bad wrestler: if you do not know what you’re doing as a wrestler, and you face someone who maybe even 5% knows what he’s doing, you’re screwed the overwhelming majority of the time. It’s not like a striking sport where who knows, maybe a lucky shot comes; it’s a sport of technique and the imposition of will. Against someone like Brandon Vera- a decent wrestler- Couture had to use all his tricks and all his technique to compensate for his dwindling athleticism and take the fight. Against James Toney- who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing- Couture could throw an ankle pick from the dressing room and get the fight down. He could drop and buttscoot over to Toney to grab a single leg and tip him over. He could walk in behind a high guard until he’s close enough to get a body lock on the motionless Toney and heave him over that way. There’s a million safe ways for Couture to get a takedown here which wouldn’t work on a trained wrestler but absolutely will work on what is, let’s face it, the equivalent of a guy who just walked in off of the street in this respect. Toney will have as many chances to hit Randy as Randy wants him to have, which slightly less than none.

Bottom line is, Toney’s doomed. He has a 1% chance maybe and that 1% is based on Randy Couture doing something stupid like standing right in front of Toney and trading with him, which has been a losing bet for a very long time. I think Couture takes him down in the first 15 seconds, passes instantaneously, and wins with either a head and arm triangle or a D’arce choke in under 2 minutes. And what will that mean? It will mean that Couture wins, and nothing more. This result says nothing about boxing, it says nothing about MMA, it says nothing about which sport is stronger or more entertaining or “better” in some vague and general nebulous way. They’re just not the same thing. All this fight can tell us is things we already know: a wider set of rules will always give the advantage to a more well-rounded fighter and a more restricted set will advantage the specialist, and pure strikers always have trouble with pure wrestlers. That’s why Jack Dempsey never fought Strangler Lewis, why Joe Louis never fought Lou Thesz, and why Lennox Lewis pulled out of a nearly-signed match with Brock Lesnar in the early part of the last decade. It’s not a mystery. If anything, maybe this gets a few curious boxing people to watch a UFC which might hook them on the sport; if that happens it’ll be because UFC is good, not because boxing is bad, and certainly not because James Toney loses.

* Middleweight bout: Demian Maia vs. Mario Miranda

This to me is in some respects weirder than the James Toney match. Miranda got KO’d in his UFC debut by Gerald Harris- no great shame there- and got his first UFC win, of sorts, in his next fight by kicking more dirt on the grave of David Loiseau. Great, fine, dandy. How does this get him listed 3rd from the top on a major PPV against a former title challenger, I wonder? The explanation is apparently long and vague and involves like three injuries to other guys and another fight being moved off of this show to an upcoming Fight Night, but whatever- it’s still weird. Anyway, Maia is vastly more talented so far as I can tell so let’s take him by first round choke, assuming that the Anderson Silva fight didn’t do him any lasting physical or psychological damage.

* Lightweight bout: Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard

How heavy is Grey Maynard? I know he weighs in at 156 and I know through the miracle of weight cutting he may actually be 300 pounds for all we know, but that’s weight; we’re going to find out how HEAVY he is. Specifically, is he heavy enough to trap Kenny Florian under his bulk for 15 minutes, before Kenny gets up and tears his face off? Maynard has to lay and prey this one- he’s got no other hope. He’s mechanically average and straightforward as a standup fighter with no standout athletic gifts of quickness or power, while Florian is technically superior to nearly everyone at 155. Maynard got more or less out-struck by Nate Diaz; Florian would humiliate him in a kickboxing match, moving off at angles with his jab, working over Maynard’s legs with kicks, generally making him look foolish. Worse still for Maynard, against Clay Guida Florian showed once again his improving ability to create space to get up from the bottom; unless Maynard has dramatically more success than Guida did at holding Florian down and staying chest-to-chest, he’s screwed.

Bottom line is that Maynard has to walk a very, very fine line here, and I’m not betting on him doing it. He’s beaten top-level opposition like Frankie Edgar that way before, but with respect to the champ and his on-paper BJJ credentials, Edgar is a wrestler first and last and no one has ever looked at him and thought “wow, that Frankie Edgar sure does have a dynamic guard- he’s always throwing up submissions and looking to sweep.” People have thought that about Florian, because it’s true, because his first instincts and training and best area of competence is as a grappler, not a wrestler. I have a lot of respect for Maynard’s toughness and I don’t think Florian will be able to stop him, but Kenny is likely to do so much damage while they’re standing that there’s just no way Maynard’s takedowns will be able to balance it. Florian, decision, probably 29-28 in a tense and compelling fight.

* Welterweight bout: Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis

Dear God what an unlikeable pair. I mean, the Diazs are the Diazs and are amusing in their awfulness (they’re like MMA’s Hanson Brothers), but Davis is just socially reprehensible, enough so that he’s gonna make me root for Nate. Hard to pick a winner though; Davis is naturally larger, and if he’s slowing down he still has good power and enough skill in avoiding takedowns that he can sit down on his shots and try to take Nate’s head off when he throws that patented Diaz slap-boxing style. Nate can probably eat Davis’ lunch on the ground, but I don’t know if it ever gets there. I’m going to take Nate despite this, partly in hope, partly because at 37 I think Davis is really starting to slow down. I’m thinking Nate gets close enough in one of the exchanges to get Davis down with a throw, then armbars him from the top. 2nd round.

Preliminary card (Spike TV)

* Lightweight bout: Joe Lauzon vs. Gabe Ruediger

Really? I just… really? Lauzon better fuckin’ win, that’s all I have to say. Let’s say he takes a decision, but if he gasses out and loses this he’s dead to me. I worry about him never quite being the same after that knee injury; the way his battery ran down against Sam Stout really made me wonder if he was able to do much cardio training on that wheel.

* Lightweight bout: Andre Winner vs. Nik Lentz

Wrestler vs. British striker is usually a good setup for the wrestler, but TUF finalist vs. Anyone for about the first three fights is usually good for the TUFalumnus. Doesn’t matter much does it? Let’s go with Lentz- Winner has ok wrestling for a Brit but he tends to freeze when guys put it on him, and if Lentz has a decent activity level he should be able to control and grind his way to a boring decision.

Preliminary card

* Middleweight bout: Dan Miller vs. John Salter

A pair of very similar guys, with Miller just being that much more talented in all likelihood, more experienced, and desperate as well with three straight losses. Salter should put up a solid fight, but I’m thinking Miller beats him by three rounds of being a bit better.

* Welterweight bout: Nick Osipczak vs. Greg Soto

I have seen Greg Soto and there wasn’t much to see- he’s not a standout athlete, or a standout wrestler, or a standout anything really; he trains with Kurt Pellegrino and fights like a more boring version thereof. Old Ship Shack should just be a lot better in most phases of the game, and if you buy MMAth the Shack mashed up Riddle who beat Soto. Soto could lay n’ pray this one, but the Brit’s good enough off of his back for that to be difficult. Let’s say Osipczak by KO2.

* Welterweight bout: Mike Pierce vs. Amilcar Alves

“Amilcar Alves” is just a fantastic name. I wouldn’t want to fight Amilcar Alves- that’s the name of a great conqueror or dictator or potentate. I know nothing about him beyond what web research can tell, but on a flier I’ll pick him by armbar in the first. A Nova Uniao pedigree plus the semi-unpredictable funkiness of a judo background plus how hard it is to prepare for an unknown plus that name = hey, why not.

Could be the last of these I write, we shall see. Law school is good fun, but ye Gods the time commitment.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | Leave a comment

Grumble Grumble Law School Prep

Bad week for posting or paying attention to sports with classes starting Sunday of all things; may have to work a permanent solution to this. Popping up to note three things:

1. Hard Knocks is a fun show and all, but whoever decided to show the Jets’ coaching staff reading ESPN.com comments on them is out of his or her mind. DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS. If they read youtube comments sections next week, I give up. Also, the amount of product placement on that show is out of hand. It’s like watching “The Nike Swoosh Hour (Featuring Rex Ryan & His Orchestra).”

2. Give me Chad Dawson over Jean Pascal this weekend. Jab, jab, jabjabjabjab, jab, jabbity-jab-jab-jab, Jab Judah, jab, jab. UDEC12. Jab. Hopefully more than the 10,000+ Pascal supporters in the building actually watch this fight, because for a fighter as good as Dawson to have so little fan support is just tragic. A lot of it is mis-promotion and some of it is that he has a paint-drying style for anyone but a boxing purist; only one of those may be curable, but hopefully this fight raises his name recognition if nothing else.

3. Buyrates. Sonnen/Silva did approximately 800,000-1M, which shows you the value of a great talker; Marquez-Diaz did 150,000-200,000. Now, a reasonable person looks at that second number and sees several things which are likely to be feeding into it: that Marquez as the preeminent Mexican fighter of the moment is a bigger draw than realized; that a loaded undercard (of sorts) can help drive buys; and that in a summer where even vaguely respectable boxing cards have been conspicuously thin on the ground, pent-up demand can carry even a mediocre card to unexpected heights. Boxing’s response to this so far is: try to feed Marquez to Amir Khan, a nothing draw in America who has the wrong style for and a ton of size and age on the older fighter; no loaded undercard shows scheduled upcoming; and a return to HBO PPV with Shane Mosley vs. Sergio Mora, one of the worst PPV headliners of recent times and one which is guaranteed to hobble the market. Nobody learns anything in this sport. And don’t even get me started on Dirrell/Ward being postponed indefinitely and possibly canceled, Alfredo Angulo following Kelly Pavlik in turning down a shot at middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez, Alexander Povetkin fleeing into the night in terror of the Klitschkos, Luis Fucking CoFuckingLazzo demanding more money when he can’t even get a fight lined up, the sport-wide freeze-out of Celestino Caballero….

These things matter because even with relative hardcores, they affect how much you can really care about a sport. Right now I have last night’s Bellator on my DVR which I will watch, time permitting, along with tonight’s Strikeforce Challengers show; there’s also a ton of boxing on tonight on various channels featuring solid fights with under-the-radar guys, but I’m skipping all of that because it’s impossible to get emotionally invested in the careers of guys in a sport where the only guarantee is that most of the best fights won’t get made. 5 or 10 years ago I’d have been eagerly anticipating ShoBox and Friday Night Fights and I would actually know what number Telefutura was on my cable system; now, meh, whatever. I have studying to do and I should go for a run. It’s not an accident that my interest in MMA has reached the point where I can correctly preview and actually care about the results of fights like, say, Rickipedia Story vs. Dustin Hazlett but could not possibly care about the boxing equivalent thereof; and those buyrate numbers listen above should tell you that I am hardly alone on this. The biggest boxing fights are bigger than the biggest UFCs (for now) but the population of fans who care enough to pay out month by month and carry the sport isn’t even close anymore, and that is not an accident. Something needs to be done.

Instead, we get the return of Michael Grant to PPV headliners in a couple of weeks. Go read Dan Rafael’s chat and compare the number of questions about actual made fights to the questions about what-if fights which will never happen; it’s a fucking tragedy.

August 13, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, The Jets | Leave a comment

Weekend Boxing

Devon Alexander vs. Andreas Kotelnik should be a showcase for Alexander, not because Kotelnik isn’t good but because Alexander is great. In two years he’ll be a top P4P guy in all likelihood, if he can gets the fights he needs to prove it.

The fight which interests me more is Glen Johnson vs. Tavoris Cloud. Cloud is the favorite on paper, but something about this matchup says serious upset potential to me. Cloud is young and strong, but he’s also too much in love with being young and strong- he allows himself to be hit more than he ever should be, and he tends to load up on punches and swing away more than boxing to a coherent gameplan. He seems to think he can muscle his way through and impose his size and strength on everyone, and guys like that tend to do very well until they run into someone they can’t do that against. Maybe Glen Johnson is far enough gone that he’s not one of them anymore, but a prime or near-prime Johnson would have taken Cloud apart by outworking him inside, going to the body and dominating the later rounds. I have a real suspicion that even the older one is going to be able to badly frustrate Cloud by giving him angles and stepping out to the side forcing him to reach, and I could easily see him taking a hard-fought 8-4 or 7-5 kind of decision. If nothing else it should be a very fun fight.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | Boxing | 1 Comment

Weekend Thoughts

A few ramblers….

– The Golden Boy PPV ended up being pretty decent all told. JM Marquez looked in some respects the best he has in a while, reclaiming some of the defensive ability which once distinguished him before he began to slow down and move towards a more offensive style. Actually that contrast is instructive: one of the defining features which separates a great fighter from a good fighter is the capacity to adjust and excel in different fashions depending on what is required. Marquez has shown the ability to adjust in fights (getting up off the deck against Pacquiao to out-box Manny for the rest of their first fight once he had the timing) and outside of fights as he’s maintained his edge even as his physical talents have clearly begun to decline in his late 30’s. Juan Diaz has never shown that ability: he’s infamous for crumbling in fights when he’s cut, and on Saturday against Marquez he changed his style from pressure and volume to controlled aggression and a jab, an adjustment which ultimately availed him nothing as he was beaten just as badly the second time out as he was the first only being spared the KO by engaging less. Juan Diaz is a very good fighter; Juan Manuel Marquez is a great one.

– I do not understand the idea that Rocky Juarez is somehow a sad case. He’s gotten 5 bloody title shots all for good money against star fighters and legends, the kind of fights which are damn hard to get, and he’s gone 0-4-1 in those fights only to still end up featured on PPV in an important fight. If anything he’s gotten surprisingly good treatment from boxing over the years and been afforded opportunities which many superior fighters have not been. It would be sad that he’s never won a title if he were the victim of bad decisions or screwjob refereeing; but he’s not. He’s just a solid fighter who’s not good enough to beat a champion. There’s no shame in that, and it’s not as though Rocky hasn’t gotten the chances he deserves to try to prove that there’s more to him.

– That said, Rockey’s complete lack of a second gear or a sense of urgency after all these years still baffles me. He may be the most consistent fighter in the sport, and the easiest to gameplan for. You get what you get with him- no more and no less.

– Look, I’m an asshole for this, but let’s get it out there: I have no problems with humanizing fighters or, frankly, getting them over with human interest stories; but at some point when you keep beating me about the head and shoulders with a single story I’m going to get tired of the attempts to manipulate my feelings no matter how worthy or heart-string-tugging the subject matter may be. I am glad Robert Guerrero’s wife has beaten cancer, I wish her years of long life and no recurrences. But for the love of God, stop flashing to a camera shot of her after every damn round and stop mentioning her every 5 minutes.

– And that is really about all I have to say about Robert Guerrero incidentally. It’s not that he’s awful, it’s just that he fought a version of Joel Casamayor who had the big fork in his back and barely went after him, never tried to finish, got knocked down on a jab in the 10th and then popped up to hug the older man as soon as the final bell went. You know, the bell which signals the end of sparring. It was a fight so utterly blandly nothing that I can’t even be mad at it; I just don’t care. If Guerrero thinks he’s going to do anything at 140 though he’s got another thing coming- the big names there don’t play, and pretty much any of them will work him badly.

– Poor old Danny Jacobs. There’s real questions about his chin after he got crushed by that right, and real questions about the brain living behind it after the interview he cut on HBO post-fight which seems to have irked a lot of people. The recent track record of NYC prospects is really poor; if Jacobs flames out we’re pretty much down to Peter Quillin, and that is deeply no buys. Here’s hoping Jacobs comes back well. And here’s also hoping that Dmitry Pirog is there waiting for him in a rematch in a year or so; that was a darn fun fight while it went, and Pirog has this oddball charisma which makes him memorable enough to want to see again.

– Stoppages. It amazes me that the two on the UFC show are being criticized. Tyson Griffin did the dead man’s fall face-first and was unable to move his hands to a defensive position while being punched in the face on the ground. When he got up to argue the call he slumped backwards and nearly fell down again. He was done; this is not arguable. The Jones/V-mat stoppage was perhaps a bit more arguable, but I think it needs to be remembered that there’s rarely one exact perfect moment to end things- the best you can ask of a referee is to be within a reasonable area with his or her calls. I might have let that one go a bit longer, but given that Matyushenko was trapped, immobile, taking repeated hard shots to the head and unable to escape the position either physically or by letting time run down, it was a reasonable call.

– Incidentally, color me not exactly won over on Gomi yet. He hits really, really hard; but power is the last thing to go. When he beats someone who’s good in a fight that goes more than 2 minutes I’ll buy him as being back. Give him Sotiropoulos.

– Munoz vs. Okami. GUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHH. Anyone who can tell me what Munoz was doing and why he was doing it, please, please do so; I have no idea. It looked like he was trying to feint Okami into making the first move to counter with a shot early, but eventually he gave that up in favor of lunging fruitlessly at Okami’s ankles and holding on for dear life in a losing position. I recognize his style as a wrestler is to get a hold of a guy ASAP and then use subtle changes of weight and leverage to power through and get the guy down, but when you’re in, say, minute 11 of a 15 minute fight which you’re losing and this tactic has failed over and over, don’t you want to try something else? I guess not. And of course Cecil Peoples had Munoz winning this one; is anyone more of a human punchline in this sport than that guy? Is anyone even surprised? And yet he keeps getting used in California and Nevada, which should tell you exactly how much oversight they really offer for judges.

– Jon Jones. What can you say? He’s a goddamn beastlord. More than any MMA fighter he reminds me of Paul Williams the boxer: he’s got an improbable physical frame for his weight- exceptionally long without being frail- his talents are far in excess of his skills in some respects and his striking leaves a ton to be desired, but he’s so damn awkward and unorthodox and quick that he gets away with things that most fighters would be hammered on. What separates the two is that in MMA, Jones has options that Williams doesn’t have. Bones has shown a clear preference in recent fights for using his striking to get close enough to take a guy down and then blast him with elbows from top position, and as a gameplan so far it’s proven unstoppable and very effective- it allows Jones to impose his size on opponents in a way Williams hasn’t learned to do (the boxing equivalent might be for Williams to use a Klitschkoesque jab), it takes advantage of the three things Jones appears most skilled at so far in his development (elbow GnP, takedowns from clinch, guard passing) and it minimizes the risk Jones faces. Greg Jackson knows what he’s doing. Many questions remain about Jones, but he’s proven that at this point none of those are going to be answered until he’s in there with someone who can force him to do different things; guys at the Matyushenko/Vera/Hamill/Bonner/O’Brien level are just not able to hang with him or force him out of his comfort zone.

The real test for Jones now is going to be what happens when he faces a guy who he can’t put down at will and who is going to be coming after him rather than worrying about what Jones is going to do. Jones has an on-paper very impressive string of wins, but what all of his recent victims have in common is that they’re all significantly older than Jones, significantly less athletic, and in many cases significantly smaller. Before I send Jones out for a title shot I want to see him against a big, young, strong dude with real takedown defense. Rashad Evans would be perfect but isn’t in the cards for a million different reasons; Phil Davis would also be perfect but he’ll never take the fight (nor should he- that one needs to cook for a bit); failing those guys, I think Ryan Bader is the best option. Bader has something of a name from TUF, if he wins it’s not a disaster and he’s a promotable guy, and he’s the most likely guy available to show us what Jones has when he can’t get the quick takedown and maybe what he has off of his back. It’s not a prefect fit since Jones has much better standup than Bader so if the wrestling deadlocks Jones may just throw wacky kicks at Bader’s head and dance away for 15 minutes Silva-style, but it’s at least a better option than watching Jones pick off another old legend who everyone knows is doomed from the moment the contract is signed. Better Bader than Tito or Chuck or Rich Franklin or Forrest Griffin. There’s a case for Thiago Silva as well since he’s got standup of a kind (hard hooks inside) which could really bother Jones, a nasty aggressive style which Jones hasn’t seen yet and solid defense off of his back as well as being young, but he’s also had back injuries and isn’t likely to be able to stop the Bones takedown or put Jones on his back, thus limiting how much new we might see from Jones. He’s not a bad option, but I’d still go with Bader especially if he beats miniNog (which he may).

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | 1 Comment

They Will Never Get It

The Ring on (bl)undercards

Rule one before reading this piece: recognize that this PPV is being put on by Golden Boy, the owner of The Ring; as such, this article represents in effect a message- perhaps a threat- directly from the promoter. This is not journalism. That said:

As the article half-notes, the idea that the undercard can’t draw is a known fallacy in some circumstances, a story that (mostly boxing) promoters tell themselves because it’s easier to stick with familiar methods than to try something new. For a specific example of an undercard working in a related sport, try UFC 92- a show with a solid but unspectacular Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin main event that did over 1 million buys on the strength of an undercard which featured Wanderlei Silva vs. Rampage Jackson (second on the PPV) and Frank Mir vs. Big Nog (semi-main). For an additional example try UFC 101, a show with two guys who at the time were minor draws (BJ Penn, Andy Silva) and one real star in Griffin which ended up doing 850,000 (and no, it’s not just Forrest- his next fight with Tito Ortiz did less than half as many buys with him on top) This is one half of the argument for loaded undercards- the idea that depth on a card can be as much of a draw as overall star power at the top within certain constraints. Whether or not you buy that argument in general is one thing, whether you buy it as applied to boxing is another, but one thing should be very clear: no one card is going to settle the discussion to any reasonable degree, especially this one. Let’s look at this thing:

The main event is JM Marquez vs. Juan Diaz. It was a very good fight the first time, but it also had a clear and definitive result and both guys have looked badly faded in losses since then. Both are likely 1-2 fights away from retirement. This is a very weak PPV headliner, so already we’ve moved from seeing if we can enhance a good main event with a strong undercard to seeing if we can salvage a weak one. Second from the top is Daniel Jacobs vs. Dmitry Pirog. I am at this point a slightly more than casual boxing fan; I have never, ever heard of Dmitry Pirog. Perhaps that’s a failing of my knowledge, perhaps he’s a wonderful fighter, but the point is- people like me are the swing buyers you’re looking to attract with this undercard and for all I know this is Jacobs squashing another jobber. It’s not like Pirog has been featured or promoted anywhere which would convey to the ignorant who he is, exactly. I like Jacobs, think he’s a very fine prospect, but this is not an adds-buys fight. Third from the top is Rocky Juarez vs. Jorge Linares, which is an interesting fight of two guys who basically mean nothing right now. Juarez is the perpetual underachiever, while Linares is a very high level former prospect looking to come back from a brutal first round KO loss. It’s a fun fight, but it’s also a BAD opener in terms of promotional value. Minor buys. Last if not least is Joel Casamayor vs. Robert Guerrero. It’s actually a very good semi-main in some ways insofar as Casamayor is a real name and Guerrero has some recognition and a good deal of talent and it could be a competitive (if ugly) fight, but it’s hardly a massive, massive must-see. Minor buys, which may as well be the tagline for this show as it’s probably going to be the result.

In essence you have what looks at first blush like a weak main event, a solid edition of BAD, and a bonus jobber squash. Given how desperate I am for good boxing to me that’s a buy; but it’s hardly a massive, massive blow-away show, and if this card goes down it’s not going to prove that a solid undercard can’t draw. Framing it as buy-this-or-else is setting up the whole concept to fail since this lineup is easily weak enough to not pass the smell test with a substantial portion of the intended audience; that Schaefer is using this framing tells me that he doesn’t really want this concept to succeed, he wants an “example” to point to to argue that it can’t. Worse still this is a card at cross-purposes with itself, confusing badly the two very different kinds of loaded undercard in a way which serves neither purpose for which a loaded undercard is intended and thus isn’t really a fair test of either.

No one at Golden Boy seems to have more than a vague inkling of the other reason why you load undercards: to make stars. The biggest problem with boxing these days is that because fighters won’t take fights, won’t show up on undercards of bigger names and fight so rarely (among other reasons) it has become very, very difficult to ever make new stars, to grow them organically from the undercard to the main event. Mosley vs. Mayweather had Saul Alvarez on the undercard and that was a great idea. So why isn’t he fighting here, the big new Mexican prospect for Golden Boy on the undercard of two of the bigger current Mexican and Mexican-American stars? Where the hell has he been, anyway? And the answer is fighting against no one in Mexico for fast money and scheduled to face the mighty TBA in Los Angeles in September so far as I can tell, off of US TV in both cases. By the next time he gets onto US television he’ll be utterly forgotten by anyone who saw his fun fight on the Mayweather undercard and isn’t already a hardcore. Daniel Jacobs is here and that at least the start of a good idea, but Schaefer is talking as though he expects Jacobs to add buys rather than develop as a star, which shows a massive miscalculation about where Jacobs is in his development as a TV property. It’s a confusion of the two completely different kinds of loaded undercards. Jorge Linares couldn’t get on anyone’s undercard to help build him up when he was viewed much more favorably than he is now, and so with no American TV exposure to let anyone here know who he is or why they should care he’s being thrown in there- one fight removed from his first KO loss and reportedly looking bad of late- with a guy whose major asset is his power, again in a fight which is expected to add buys rather than develop a good young talent. For years the knock on Golden Boy has been that they’re wonderfully adept at maximizing return for big fighters and poaching stars, but they can’t develop any fighters of their own from scratch. The senselessness of this card shows you how true that charge is, and why.

Bottom line: there are two ways to load an undercard. One is to put several great competitive fights together from guys who are stars but not superstars, and hope that together they can add up to a superstar-level draw. This is proven to work in MMA, and I see no reason it shouldn’t in boxing. The other is to load up fights involving prospects and young contenders on the undercard of a true superstar, exposing those fighters to the widest possible audience so that they can have a chance of catching on and becoming superstars themselves. The second of these is the more important over the long haul, but it’s not even a reasonable possibility below a mediocre main event like Marquez/Diaz unless you want to do something specialized like showcase a Mexican like Saul Alvarez below two Mexican headliners to try to rub their audience off on him. The first of these is getting only the most marginal and weak of trials on this card, since the card itself is basically a half-assed hodgepodge of fights that should be used for the star-building purpose (Jacobs/Pirog), fights which appear to be wildly premature risks for prospects who don’t have the stature to be draws yet (Linares/Juarez), and fights which actually may serve as cumulative undercard draws (Casamayor/Guerrero).

What’s sad about this is that I understand why Richard Schaefer, Dan Rafael, Eric Raskin and others regard the putting together of this card as a Herculean achievement. It is hard as hell to be a boxing promoter sometimes: star fighters demand huge chunks of the budget; managers, other promoters, trainers, “advisers”, TV executives, fighters’ families, girlfriends (boyfriends?), assorted hangers-on and others all demand a say in the process and control; fighters have become so coddled that fighting twice a year is considered an active schedule; no one ever wants to fight outside their local area or comfort zone; everyone is incredibly unrealistic about their standing in the sport; star fighters disappear with “personal issues”; entire weight classes seize up as fighters wait to see if they can land a giant payday as a B-side to a true superstar and on and on and on. Putting together a single fight of any meaning is incredibly hard today, and putting together a card of meaning is exponentially harder as you try to get probably 50 or more people to all sign off on these four fights, sync up the fighters’ training schedules, bargain endlessly about revenue splits, negotiate options and future incentives, etc. I have sympathy for Richard Schaefer and Golden Boy on this- it’s epic cat-herding.

But when I read Oscar De La Hoya saying “Everybody knows these fights are exciting. Everybody knows these fights can go either way” about a card featuring Dmitry Pirog in a money slot, all I can think is that these guys are completely out of touch with the knowledge level of their fanbase. When I read Oscar saying “We didn’t think about or care about how much money we spent. We just wanted to make sure that we have great fights, that the fans are happy, because it’s good for boxing” and that’s immediately followed by Oscar’s boss Schaefer saying “This is a major financial commitment on our part, and we do hope that the fight fans, those who always complain out there — ‘Well, there wasn’t really a good card or this wasn’t good or that wasn’t good’ — are going to come out and really support that card. Because at the end of the day, who likes to lose a few million dollars? Nobody I think these guys are two-faced, can’t get their story straight AND are going out of their way to insult the very fans they claim to be trying to appeal to. When I read Schaefer saying if fight fans are going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m not really going to buy it and so on,’ then it becomes a huge loss for us. Then I really don’t want to hear any more, ‘Well, you know what? This is not good or that is not good” about a card which honestly isn’t as good on paper as UFC on Versus 2: Matyushenko vs. Jones despite coasting $50 more, I lose all my sympathy. These people are clowns who think fans owe them something, and that’s boxing’s problem in the proverbial nutshell: the arrogance of those in power to believe that everything they have is owed to them by right, that none of it has to be worked for, that things can just go on forever the way they always have. These people are living in the shadow of the volcano, chattering away about what a lovely day it is.

Here’s a reality check for Schaefer and the rest: cards like this cannot be the once-a-year exceptions in a healthy sport. MMA raised the bar: UFC shows are better than this in terms of strong talent in competitive fights month after month after month, Strikeforce shows are close, even useless tertiary dead promotions like Affliction and Elite XC were in the neighborhood. That is now the state of the art in the PPV fighting market and in large parts of the free TV market, and while the boxing and MMA fanbases are for the moment separate enough that boxing can hide from this it’s not going to be that way forever. Right now boxing is surviving on a vast pool of ingrained cultural appreciation for the sport, on ethnic appeals and on the memories of people who grew up with Leonard, Duran, Hagler, Hearns and their ilk as the leaders of the sport. The next generation of fans- people like me and those younger- are growing up with UFC, with Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez and Rampage Jackson, and with the dominant boxing story in the press being the inability of anyone to agree on even the most lucrative of fights. I’m old enough to remember George Foreman as the heavyweight champion of the world, which was the fight which made me a boxing fan at age 12 or 13; I have no clue what would make a 12 year old a boxing fan today.

Sooner or later either fighter pay and demands are going to have to come down or profit margins are going to have to be squeezed, because right now boxing can’t put together big fights, can’t put together big cards, can’t build stars consistently, and looks ever more like a clown sport to anyone who actually does watch MMA. It doesn’t have to be this way; there is no reason on earth why MMA and boxing shouldn’t be able to coexist, shouldn’t in fact be able to compete their way into mutual improvement. But so long as Richard Scheafer thinks his potential audience owes him something, so long as this card is what he thinks is a blow-away show, so long as he’s willing to write off a Jorge Linares without ever giving him a chance, boxing is going to keep shooting itself in the foot. Schaefer thinks he’s being magnanimous, doing us all a favor by being so good as to put together this show; thinks that if this doesn’t draw he can go right back to doing things the way they’ve always been done, telling us it’s all our fault for not giving him our money when we had the chance. It’s that insufferable arrogance which will ruin this sport- that belief that fans can be abused endlessly, can be sold anything, that they’ll never have standards and will never find someplace else to go.

This month you get Antonio Margarito and Richard Schaefer’s stick up show, and you’d better like it. Or you get UFC for free showcasing a guy who could be the best fighter alive in 5 years. Do they think no one’s ever going to notice?

July 29, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | 1 Comment

Pacquiao vs. Margarito

Fight is made

Rubber meets the road time now for a lot of people who have issues with Margarito. The bottom line is that his cheating has now proved a major advantage for him: it enabled him to reach a point in his career where he was considered a viable option for one of the biggest money slots in the sport. If you buy this PPV, you’re endorsing that and endorsing his use of weapons to cheat in a(t least one) fight in a way which was potentially deadly to his opponent. You’re saying that as a boxing fan you really have no interest in the safety of fighters and that you’re willing to accept anything in the name of your sport- that you have no standards whatsoever. What’s more, you’re incentivizing any number of lesser-known, struggling boxers out there watching these events to cheat the same way as Margarito did, confident that the penalties are easily paid when the potential reward is millions of dollars in life-changing money even after the cheating is discovered. If you buy Margarito vs. Pacquiao, the next loaded glove in this sport is in part your fault.

Personally I assume this fight is still going to do between 500,000 and 800,000 buys on PPV, because that’s about what I think of the combination of Pacquiao’s drawing power and the moral decency and self-respect of boxing fans at this point. I will not be one of them, and I dearly hope I’m wrong about how many will. We shall see.

July 24, 2010 Posted by | Boxing | 1 Comment

On Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

There’s been a million and six things said about this non-fight not happening (I counted… believe me), and it’s really pointless to pile on and add more. And will that stop me? Like fun it will.

– I have written many times about my fears about where boxing is going, but ironically this fight not happening doesn’t really worry me to any great degree on that account. My concerns are all about the day-in, day out business of the sport which includes 95% of all fights and fighters. This fight and these fighters are very much not part of that category, and I don’t believe that this fight not being made has much effect on the health of boxing overall at this point. There’s going to be people who look at it and think “God, this sport can’t even get this right”, and they’ll have a point, but it’s a point which has been true or assumed to be true for a very long time and the people for whom that’s enough to drive them off were driven off many years back, to be honest. This is not a revelation; hell, it’s not even the first time this particular fight has died on the negotiating table. The biggest problem with the sport is the inability to make new stars as fast as the old ones are used up, and this fight, whatever else it may have done, certainly wasn’t going to make a new star or use up an old one. Which ironically is part of why it not being made is so frustrating- it’s the kind of fight where even the loser would come out ahead.

– That said, with this fight having died twice already I strongly doubt that it’ll be made in its current form. Perhaps in time when both guys are more broken down and more in need of a payday (think Jones/Hopkins II) it may happen, but as it stands it’s fallen through twice when the pot of money involved was as big as it was going to get AND when both guys didn’t really have a credible fallback position. They just don’t want the fight. Dan Rafael’s dropping hints about it being re-made for May ’11, but why would it work then? By May, ‘Weather will be talking about how he hasn’t fought recently enough and needs a tune-up against whatever the 2011 version of Henry Bruseles is and Pacquiao will have some other excuse, and we’ll start hearing about no, really, just wait ’til November this time. As long as both guys can keep stringing this out they can maintain an artificially inflated interest in their fallback fights which the press will treat for a while as preludes to a big event, instead of mediocre money-spinning time-wasters. Don’t think this hype comes about by accident; all parties to this- Golden Boy, Top Rank, Pacquiao, Mayweather, Al Haymon, the boxing press, etc.- have an interest in keeping alive the hope of the fight without delivering. Part of the art of promotion lies in recognizing how long this can be done without driving down the value of the eventual fight; I think they’ve already missed the mark. I also think, in this case, many of the principles don’t care if they have.

– Speaking of, if Mayweather wants to fight Sergio Martinez at a reasonable weight (say, 154? Anything lower is no good) that’s a fine substitute fight in my opinion, though I’d be surprised if Floyd took the fight. Pacquiao has no good options at all: Arum wants to keep it in-house with Margarito and Cotto and both of those fights suck. Cotto is a great fighter and a warrior, but he tried his luck with Pacquiao and took a career-shortening beating which left no questions in anyone’s mind about who the better man is. Margarito is a fucking dirty cheat of the lowest order, and a fight with Pacquiao for him is all of a bad matchup, a no-buys spectacle, a sporting mis-match and a moral offense.

– As a result, I’ll say this- as great as both men have been and still could be, it’s probably best to think of them both as retired from here on out. They’re in their 30’s at relatively smaller weights, and both have reached a point where there aren’t many serious fights left for them and those that are they won’t take because the money isn’t right. Neither man has the mind of a Lennox Lewis, looking to clean out their weight range against younger contenders like Andre Berto and Tim Bradley the way Lewis did at heavyweight against David Tua, Michael Grant, Vitali Klitschko, etc. Both men have gone about as far up in weight as they can- Pacquiao might fight once at 154, but it’ll be against a guy he KO’d at 147 and not, say, Sergei Dzindziruk. Neither guy is likely to go down. So what do they do? Most likely Mayweather will fight one random easy touch a year for a bit longer to fund his “being Floyd Mayweather” habit and possibly a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya, and Pacquiao will probably get another year or so out of fighting first Cotto, than Margarito, and then maybe another 6 months out of fighting some other random Top Rank guy before he fades into politics and then eventually bankruptcy and a faintly shameful comeback over the next 5 years. The point is: I think it’s more likely than not that when we look back in 10 years, we’ll end up saying that Mayweather vs. Mosley was the last great competitive on-paper fight either guy ever took.

– The invocation of time brings the question of perspective, and that will be crueler to both men than their contemporaries and their cronies are. That both men are great, great hall-of-fame caliber talents is unquestionable; but to say that they are begs comparison of them to other fighters in that class, and by opting to not fight each other both men will always have something to apologize for in that company. This has been said better, but to put it in perspective: to me it says it all that Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta beat the fuck out of each other 6 times over 9 years for less money total than Floyd and Manny turned down to fight each other once. For all Mayweather and his fans want to talk about how he’s the greatest of all time, this is just another of the million ways in which he’ll never be able to carry Ray Robinson’s jock; and for all the boys at PacLand.com want to talk about how their man is the toughest thing around, this is another of the ways he shows he’s a step behind the LaMottas and Durans who really would fight anyone at any time at any weight, just to prove something. And not something to do with drug testing, either.

Overall I can’t say I’m upset about this really, or even disappointed exactly; even before this latest call-off I was utterly fed up with the BS around this fight, to the point where my interest was basically historical and not emotional, wanting to know what would happen rather than caring. I haven’t had that slightly-nauseated-in-a-good-way feeling in the pit of the gut you get when a really great matchup is on the table for this one since after the Pacquiao-Cotto fight, which was the time and place when things were hottest. At this point Pacquiao vs. Mayweather honestly isn’t even #1 on my personal list of boxing matches I want to see badly (that would be Alexander vs. Bradley, with Bute vs. Ward and Dirrell vs. Ward slightly behind). Mostly I just want this whole saga to be over; as great as Pacquiao and Mayweather are, at this point their sour selfishness is starting to distract from some of the good things happening in boxing, and I’m ready for them to get off stage and let someone with a real fight scheduled take their place under the lights. It’s come to this: can we please get to the Andre Dirrell fight already?

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Boxing | Leave a comment

Wow

99.9% of the time when people say a fight was fixed or someone took a dive, it’s horseshit; this Paul Briggs vs. Danny Green fight may honestly be the exception. If you’re going to work a fight that’s pretty much how you do it- have a guy go down on the first solid punch that lands. Trouble is, this time there wasn’t one. It’s a farce of some sort, anyway. Link may not work as these appear to be getting yanked off of youtube quickly- do a search, it’s worth seeing.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | Boxing | 2 Comments

Boxing’s Shadow

One of the interesting quirks you notice as a fan of both MMA and boxing is the degree to which MMA fans have never quite gotten over their fear of boxers. The fighters, yes; anyone with a wrestling background is aware of just how screwed a boxer is under rules which allow takedowns, as would have been emphatically proven if the near-miss Brock Lesnar vs. Lennox Lewis fight in 2002 had come off. Fans of MMA however still have the burden of the history of their sport, which in the early years was all about various people showing up with new styles and fighting traditions that they all claimed were the REAL unbeatable, true, best fighting style of all, from reasonable things like BJJ and wrestling to semi-reasonable things like karate to completely ludicrous things like sumo and ninjutsu to, well, SAFTA and Joe Son Do. Insofar as the UFC was established in part to promote Gracie JJ, you could almost say that was the foundational idea of the sport; and as a result, even up into this decade you’d still get the people who thought BJ Penn was a pussy and Bruce Lee would have kicked his ass, man, using secret techniques learned from 80 year old monks on mountaintops unknown to ignorant professional athletes. MMA fans still have a vague, unstated faith in the possibility of secret knowledge; It’s an idea which has since been transferred on to boxing and never seriously dispelled since boxers at the highest level make far more in boxing than they would in UFC and thus have no real incentive to try their luck under disadvantageous rules. You get the Ray Mercer crossover types, but with respect to Mercer he was far past his best when he tried MMA and was never quite a top level guy in boxing. No one considered him a definitive test, and as ridiculous as it seems his KO of Tim Sylvia actually seems to have done something to keep alive the idea that, with a bit of ground training, a top boxer would KO everyone in UFC.

As we draw closer to James Toney vs. Randy Couture, you can see this idea or fear starting to percolate up to the surface again. You have people going so far as to say that not taking Toney down instantly “is potential suicide, bad for both Couture and the UFC”, as though Randy Couture was so inept that he would be instantly KO’d if he got within 5 feet of Toney, or the UFC- fresh off of two consecutive 1,000,000+ buy PPV shows- would be somehow damaged or “exposed” by a lucky punch. This is not the sort of thing which would be written if, say, a world-class Muay Thai champion was joining the UFC, or if an Olympic wrestler was joining MMA (how many people thought King Mo couldn’t beat Mousasi? And he had experience in MMA!) or if a world-class judoka were, etc. and so on. Boxers are treated differently partially because MMA is still seen business-wise as boxing’s little brother with something to prove, and partially because world-class boxing hasn’t been seen in the octagon yet. And so, there’s worry; baseless worry, but nevertheless an undercurrent of fear about what it would “mean” or “prove” if James Toney wins and whether or not Randy Couture is so woefully outclassed on the feet that his only hope is to butt-scoot after Toney like Anonio Inoki.

Here’s the thing: the result of that fight means nothing and shows nothing other than that one of those guys was better on that night. A century of mixed matches of one kind or another have already clearly shown that, holding other things equal and providing for liberal rules, a ground fighter with takedowns almost always beat a striker without takedown defense and a well-rounded fighter more often than not beats a total specialist. That says nothing about the value of MMA or boxing as a sport; it’s just the result when you mix those two disparate disciplines. If James Toney catches Randy Couture, that doesn’t undo those 100 years of learning, doesn’t prove that Wladimir Klitschko would KO Brock Lesnar or that Floyd Mayweather would shoulder-roll his way past Frankie Edgar; it proves that Toney can punch Randy Couture in the face. The fact that this is even under discussion is a result of the fear people in the MMA world have about the perceived legitimacy of their sport and the magic powers they still seem to ascribe to boxers, ignoring in Toney’s case that A) he’s 42, B) he hasn’t been in shape for years, C) he has looked shot as hell as a fighter for a good long while, D) he’s obviously suffered neurological damage over the years and isn’t what he used to be on any level, E) the vast majority of his boxing skills don’t translate to MMA (be honest, other than Ivan Calderon could there be a safer boxing name for an MMA star to face?), F) Toney hasn’t taken his own training seriously for years and doesn’t have the athletic gifts or training habits required to pick new things up quickly anymore, and G) Randy Couture’s not fucking stupid. Toney could win this fight, sure, if he charges out and just catches Couture in the first 15-30 seconds of the fight; if it goes longer than that it’s going to go the way everyone expects it to, regardless of their half-verbalized fears. Once Couture gets under Toney’s hips, that’s it; he doesn’t have magic boxing super powers off of his back.

James Toney doesn’t have a secret weapon; he’s just an old man who got run out of his sport because he couldn’t go anymore and turned up in MMA with a big mouth, good technique on a right hand, and nothing more. He deserves a lot of respect as a promoter for talking his way into this paycheck, but as a fighter his fire burned out long ago. If he wins, it’s a hilarious and awesome upset and nothing more; if he loses, it’s an expected fun freakshow win for the legendary Randy and nothing more. MMA’s legitimacy is not on the line here any more than boxing’s is. All of the sporting questions about MMA vs. boxing were really answered a long time ago for those who look into the history, and business-wise there’s no reason the two sports can’t coexist. Sometimes a freak show is just a freak show.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | Leave a comment

Fun With Numbers

Early trending numbers have Brock vs. the other guy doing 1.25 million on PPV, which is above the Mayweather/Mosley number (1.1 M). This is a very, very early number and it may not hold up to that level (or it may be an undercount, though that’s less likely) but if it does, it may be an interesting historical mark. If Pacquiao/Mayweather is made this year it will be easily the #1 overall show by far; if not, then that’s two consecutive years that UFC will have produced the biggest show of the year and the first time they’ll have done it without a one-time-only gimmick like UFC 100. It used to be that UFC dominated the top 10 but boxing produced the top 2 or 2 of the top 3; now even that is fading away.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | 4 Comments