Walsh was not part of putting Isiah’s contract together, confirming for the last three dullards in the area who didn’t realize this that this move was all about going behind Walsh’s (and by extension, Stern’s) back and undercutting them. People are speculating now about whether or not Thomas is going to be reinstalled as GM; what they don’t realize is that that’s entirely beside the point: Thomas has Dolan’s ear and always has had it, and Dolan has now reached the point where he’s willing to humiliate his team president publicly by going behind his back to place Thomas into a position of influence unbeholden to Walsh. He’s reclaiming direct control of the team. If you’re on the outside as a player, agent, GM, executive etc. looking to deal with the Knicks, who do you call first? Thomas, who you believe can deliver the owner’s OK and has a record of being incompetently generous in trades and contract offers, or Walsh who has a reputation for competence but does not seem to have the owner’s confidence? The title each man carries is irrelevant; Thomas and Dolan will do on their own whatever they wish and leave the rest, the parts they’re too lazy or disinterested to bother with, to Walsh or whomever replaces him in a year.
What people who follow this team don’t get is that this is what matters. Signing Roger Mason or trading for Anthony Randolph, yeah, great, whatever; they’re spare parts and trade chips, potentially useful assets for achieving a plan, no more. The dance between Dolan, Thomas, Walsh and David Stern directly affects whether or not the Knicks are even capable of putting together a plan in the first place. Competent direction from upper executives is the sine qua non of success in almost every facet of major corporate activity, including professional athletics. If the Knicks are going back to being an incompetent shitstorm at the decision-making level they’re doomed, regardless of how many penny-ante trade wins they get dealing with the Golden State Warriors. it boggles my mind that after a decade of idiocy at the top, so many fans still don’t understand this.
What can you say? This is why the Knicks are Clippers East, because they have the worst owner in the entire league. Thomas has been behind the scenes causing trouble since he was semi-forced out by David Stern’s heavy hand, and now he’s starting to weasel his way back in to the point where Dolan is even willing to take the PR hit required to name him in an official capacity. He still has Dolan’s ear, still undermines D’Antoni and Walsh, still isn’t accountable for his prior actions, still has influence on the team despite being one of the worst major executives in the history of team sports. Various water-carriers in the Knicks blogosphere are trying to dress this up as reflecting Thomas’ “behind the scenes pull” in the NBA world. This is easily dismissible: if Thomas had to much pull, why couldn’t he ever use it to develop a winning team or to get himself a GM job which he plainly still wants after the Knicks dumped him? And the answer is because he has no pull, because even in a league where the same incompetents get recycled over and over Thomas was so far beyond the pale that even most NBA executives and owners knew how much of a disaster he was.
Just not Jim Dolan. And the why is the same why that kept Isiah in office for years on end, which kept Scott Layden for years, which keeps Glen Sather, which continues to result in a shitty, badly-run MSG organization ridden by cronyism and out-of-control behavior from people old enough to know better: Dolan views loyalty as the only virtue. Not competence, not decency, not excellence, not reliability, not dependability. He will stubbornly stick to a preconceived plan from a chosen confidant whether or not that plan has any hope of success, like an Arsene Wenger without any of the track record of actual production. It’s been speculated that this has psychological roots in his relationship with his father or his publicized battle with alcohol; personally, I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m sick of having to analyze the local basketball team through the prism of one man’s psychological undergrowth. I’m tired of watching the Knicks used as one man’s creepy public therapy tool.
Frankly, I’m just tired of the Knicks. I’m tired of the Rangers. I’m tired of MSG. And until this changes, I’m really tired of spending dollar one on anything coming out of that building. Back during Isiah’s run I boycotted the team, refusing to attend games until he was removed; well, he’s back, and so is the boycott. If you care at all about the Knicks or the Rangers, you’ll join me. The only difference this time around is that before I was angry; now, well… how long can you keep really caring about a team which doesn’t? So long as Jim Dolan owns and runs the Knicks and Rangers they will continue to be as much of a joke as he is, and I have better things to do with my time than pay attention to this mess. When those teams try again, I’ll be back.
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.
The best thing about this card is that it’s going to be a great, fun series of competitive fights with strong sporting implications leading up to what is likely going to be one of the most memorable fusterclucks in UFC history for the main event. Whether you come for the competition, the violence or the bizarre spectacle you are likely to walk away satisfied, if a little confused.
* Middleweight Championship bout: Anderson Silva (c) vs. Chael Sonnen
Look, the pick is Andy by 2nd round KO, though I’d love to be wrong. That said, if you know what’s going to happen in this one you’re a better man than I at this prediction thing. There’s several ways this could go:
1. Silva just kills him Forrest Griffin-style, using footwork to give Sonnen no angles to shoot off of and smashing him with counters as he comes in. Andy showed up for the pre-fight press conferences with an angry man’s beard, a neon pink sweater and death in his eyes, so this is a real possibility.
2. Sonnen gets a takedown, controls for a while, falls asleep in top position for a second and gets armbarred or triangled from the bottom. He has a habit of panicking when threatened with submissions, and 7 of his 10 career losses have come by that road. Andy’s not known for his work off of his back or a particularly active guard, but he’s hardly awful.
3. Sonnen can get the takedown, and has improved enough to be able to hold Silva down without too much danger. The fight becomes five rounds of chess where Sonnen controls the majority of the action, but after every standup (which Silva often tries to create from the bottom with a triangle bodylock and posture control), sweep or at the start of every round there’s high drama as Sonnen tries to get it down again before Andy punts his head into orbit. There’s also a variation of this where Sonnen uses Greco to hold Silva by the fence, and the drama arises as Andy tries to get the distance to throw knees.
4. A bunch of pawing around early with Andy mostly throwing jabs, then Sonnen drives in for the double and runs headlong into the knee which Andy was baiting him into. Sonnen is sent off at a right angle like a foul ball and lands with a wet smacking sound, never to rise again.
5. Complete unmitigated bullshit. Andy’s habit of total dipshittery and clownishness in every fight over the last 2 years comes up again and is matched by Sonnen’s ongoing decent into being a total pro wrestling caricature of himself, resulting in something as bizarre and unpredictable as round 3 of Kalib Starnes vs. Nate Quarry or, well, Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia. They may spend 30 seconds at a time just screaming at each other in (possibly) mutually incomprehensible languages, or trading obscene gestures, or playing to the crowd, or possibly doing any number of other things which are impossible to predict. I am actively rooting for this to be honest; as the name of this blog should suggest I love a good epic sporting disaster, and this could absolutely be one for the ages.
6. Some combination of the above. 3 minutes of mutual silliness, then Andy kills him; or three rounds of chess and two rounds of silliness; or something to that effect.
As to which of these possibilities is most likely, well, I would put money on the first two more than the others. I think Sonnen for ego and self-promotional reasons will at least try to make it a fight early, which means if he comes in direct Andy will have a chance to dodge and counter (again, watch the knees) and if he can’t finish the Oregonian quickly Chael is probably good enough to get at least one takedown since Andy’s best takedown defense is his footwork and angles, and he’ll have to plant his feet to use his best counters as Sonnen comes forward and pushes. Whether this ends up as an interesting contrast of styles or a quick KO (assuming no BS) will largely depend on Sonnen’s chin, which is in some ways a good thing especially for fans- if Sonnen fails that test we’ll get a quick and memorable fight, and if he passes it this could end up being the most competitive fight Silva’s been in for years. Instead of fighting people who were dumb enough to kickbox with him or people who wanted to roll but couldn’t force that, he’s hopefully facing a guy who’s either going to get the ground battle he wants or go out on his shield trying. After several guys who wanted to test Silva’s technique but were physically outmatched or who wanted to test Silva physically but weren’t skilled enough to make it happen, Andy faces a guy whose wrestling skill ensures that he’ll be able to pose at least some sort of physical challenge to the champion.
There is one additional intriguing possibility here. Anderson Silva has been linked for years with Roy Jones, either in terms of his desire to fight the man or the similarity of their styles which both depend on quickness, timing, reflexes and that eerie calmness in the ring or cage which only super high-level strikers posses. Roy Jones, like Silva, looked incredibly dominant for years- unbeatably so- with the minor exception of when he suffered what was considered a fluke DQ loss to Montell Griffin, similar to Silva’s loss to Yushin Okami. Jones went up in weight and dominated; so did Silva. Jones returned to his natural weight and looked shaky, beating Antonio Tarver but looking a step off of the pace in doing so; Silva returned from 205 to face Demian Maia at 185 and looked not quite his old self, losing a round late and appearing to many people to misjudge how much clowning he could get away with resulting in his gassing out. Roy Jones stepped into the ring for a second time at age 35 against Antonio Tarver, a mouthy opponent who talked shit at him for months and seemed to get in his head, and suffered a brutal and humiliating KO loss; Silva goes into the cage Saturday against mouthy shit-talker Chael Sonnen at age 35. The parallel isn’t perfect, but it plays up a real issue: Silva’s style is based, as Jones’ was, on pin-point accuracy and perfect reflexes which make up for a host of technical deficiencies; when the reflexes slip just a bit all of a sudden the punch which wizzed by an inch away from the chin a year ago connects unexpectedly and leads to unexpected results. There is a non-zero chance that Sonnen may just hit Silva with that one-in-a-million punch that Silva thinks is out of range, but isn’t. Be surprised but not shocked if that happens, because I think it’s actually Sonnen’s best chance here. Time humbles everyone.
Again, the pick is Andy KO2; but one way or another, this is going to be one of the most fascinating fights of the year.
* Welterweight bout: Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves
I previewed this one back in March, and little has changed in the interim other than Alves has suffered a brain injury, had surgery, and spent even more time out of the cage. Fitch, sigh, decision. Sigh. Might be better than most Fitch fights. Might not- you should probably drink your way through it, that’s my advice anyway.
* Lightweight bout: Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos
I hate Clay Guida and I realize I’m the only one, but boy howdy do I hate that guy. I think his fights are overrated, he’s just not that good, and he only does one thing in the cage which is mind-boggling after all this time. He has his uses however, and primarily they are to separate the real top guys at lightweight from the not-quite-top guys. He has lost to Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Gilbert Melendez and a few others of note; he has beaten Nate Diaz, Mac Danzig, Marcus Aurelio and Josh Thompson among others. Sometimes you get a false positive (does anyone think Roger Huerta is really that good anymore?), but for the most part Guida is a good test of which side of the line a guy is on. Up until his last fight I would never had thought Haffy Two Oranges had a chance to be on the bright side of things, but he took apart Terry Etim- a guy I like and who I picked in that fight- dominating him for two rounds and tapping him with a submission-of-the-night armbar. He’s a dangerous guy, athletic and very skilled on the ground and a good enough striker so that unless Guida has dramatically improved there he’s probably going to have to go to his the-one-thing-he-does-well, wrestling, which will put him in Dos Anjos’s world. Dos Anjos has to finish Guida here since no matter how good he is off of his back it’s simply impossible to get judges to respect guard work these days, but I think he’ll be slick enough to make it work. I’m going to say Dos Anjos SUB2, armbar transitioned off of a triangle. Watch for leg locks as well.
* Welterweight bout: Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida
Chuck Liddell keeps fighting and people complain and weep and cry about it, worried for his health; Tito Ortiz keeps fighting and people gnash their teeth, excited to see him catch another beating to make up for all his years of talk; Randy Couture keeps fighting and people talk about his getting one last title shot, or fighting for the honor of MMA against evil boxer James Toney; Matt Hughes keeps fighting and… really? Matt Hughes is still fighting? Huh. Didn’t he retire in ’08? He didn’t, you say? The hell, you say. In all seriousness there’s nothing wrong with Hughes fighting and it’s not like he’s shot or anything, but he’s clearly not what he was and he seems to have settled into this semi-retired half-life where he takes on fellow semi-retirees like Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie in fights which are theoretically interesting but not really meaningful- the unofficial seniors’ tour of MMA.
Almeida is something a bit different. Yes he’s old and from another era himself, but he’s looked impressive after a recent drop to 170 and UFC, in need of new welterweight contenders, clearly want him to grow into being a title challenger- and are putting him against Hughes in the hope that a win here will make his name and fame strong enough for that slot in another fight or so. Worst case scenario, Hughes wins and maybe if he keeps winning you can pull him out for a “one more time for the legend” title shot since this would be his third win in a row. I’m almost tempted to put this as no pick, since Hughes is so hard to read these days- his fight with Serra was bizarre and questionable for several different reasons, his fight with Renzo Gracie even more so, before that he was a late replacement against Thiago Alves… it’s been two years really since we saw a serious Matt Hughes in a serious fight. Nevertheless, grumbling all the way, I’m still going to take Hughes here- I think he can take Almeida down anytime and after all these years his top game is good enough that more often than not he’s not going to be badly threatened by Almeida in 3 5 minute increments. These guys met once at ADCC a decade ago with Hughes wining on points; I expect more or less the same fight now just with more of Hughes punching from the top.
* Heavyweight bout: Roy Nelson vs. Junior dos Santos
I was sitting around cooking dinner a few nights ago and watching old fights off of the DVR as is sometimes my wont, and I caught JDS vs. Gabriel Gonzaga for a second time. After the fight, I realized something: not some deep technical insight, or profound revelation about the nature of the sport, just… this guy is really, really fucking good, and I am on his bandwagon, and it’s pretty damn rare that I actually get into the engine room of the hype train for anyone. I like this guy, I like to see him fight, and I think he can be heavyweight champion of the world some day. But to get there he first has to get his shot, and to get it he has to beat Roy Nelson here in a #1 contender’s match, which I don’t think he’ll have much trouble with. JDS is a far superior athlete to Nelson, he hits at least as hard and maybe harder, he’s got a good chin which was tested by both CroCop and Gonzaga, he’s technically superior in his striking with more variety and shorter and more accurate shots, his takedown defense is solid and he has the ability to scramble up quickly, his BJJ is by reputation strong, and he’s facing a guy who once lost to Ben Rothwell and Jeff Monson. He’s 9 years younger than Roy and you can still make a case that he’s actually more experienced, since his three best opponents (Fabricio Werdum, CroCop, Gonzaga) are notably better than Roy’s best three (Andrei Arlovski, Jeff Monson, Ben Rothwell). I think it stays standing and JDS busts him up, shrugging off some takedown attempts as Roy gets desperate and eventually knocking him out with a left hook or an uppercut in the second.
* Welterweight bout: Dustin Hazelett vs. Rick “ipedia” Story
I live in Williamsburg. I’ve seen enough people who look like Dustin Hazlett to last a lifetime. I am rooting for Rick Story, and given Hazlett’s injury layoff and largely under-developed game, I think I’ll come away happy as Story uses his wrestling to keep this standing and smacks Hazlett around on the feet. Decision.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Phil Davis vs. Rodney Wallace
Phil Davis ought to completely Mack truck Wallace, who tries hard but just isn’t that good. Let’s say arm triangle 1.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Tim Boetsch vs. Todd Brown
I never trust a late replacement without good reason, and I can’t come up with one for Brown. Boetsch by KO1.
* Welterweight bout: Johny Hendricks vs. Charlie Brenneman
Brenneman does nothing but wrestle, and Hendricks is a better wrestler who hits REALLY fucking hard and has more experience against UFC level opposition. Hendricks really should win this going away, and hopefully can get his next fight back on TV. Decision.
* Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft
Struve irks me. He has the physical frame to be an unholy terror, and instead of locking himself in a room with Semmy Schilt until he knows how to use what he’s got he prefers to give up his size to do just-ok BJJ. So far this strategy has won him a few fights, but it’s also gotten him blasted and nearly finished by Denis Stojnic, blasted and nearly finished by Paul Buentello, and brutally KO’d by Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson each in a combined 93 seconds because he can’t move his damn head out of the way of anything. Yes, people punching him looks like short folks trying to touch the rim at the local basketball court, but so far it’s working for them. I know nothing of Morecraft beyond what the Sherdog fight finder can tell (6’8, 260, 6-0 with 3 KOs and 3 Subs all in the first round). I am going to pick Struve by decision mostly because of experience and because I do like his mental toughness and endurance against a guy with untested cardio, but if he gets caught cold and bomb-dropped in 30 seconds because he still won’t move his head, well, it won’t be a shock.
* Welterweight bout: Ben Saunders vs. Dennis Hallman
Saunders is young and huge and strong; Hallman is old and small and weak. Slow, too. Saunders by whateverwhatever plus knees. KO1.
I am intensely excited for this card. Expect much more on this later.
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).
…what on earth was that? Did he think Okami’s knee was sad and needed a hug to cheer it up? WHAT WAS THAT!?
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?
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.
“I lost because of what happened”- Fedor Emelianenko
Let’s see what we can do with this wonderful new linguistic tool. Let’s try it out a bit:
I was late to work because of what happened.
I parked illegally because of what happened.
I set a blender on fire because of what happened.
I cheated on you because of what happened.
I defrauded the federal government because of what happened.
I signed with the Miami Heat because of what happened.
I didn’t fight Manny Pacquiao because of what happened.
Works for all occasions! This could be my new favorite phrase, because of what happened.