Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SNB Nuggets--Sergio, Bradley, Ward, the Super Six

Sergio Martinez's story represents the promise of boxing.  From the slums of Buenos Aires to penniless on the streets of Madrid, Martinez was a Nobody.  From those meager beginnings, he has fought his way to become a world champion.  On May 6th, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America as Fighter of the Year for 2010.  To see him, or for any fighter for that matter, ascend from the bottom of the barrel to millionaire world champion is a heart-warming story.
His success reinforces the stunning sacrifices that world-class boxers have to make to reach the top.  When they are young, like so many kids, they want to be the champion of the world.  Sure, the best have supreme athletic talent, but never discount the personal dedication and perseverance it takes to make it to the sport's elite level. 

Although boxing often gets attention for its negative stories.  We should remember to rejoice in the good ones.  And Sergio Martinez’s story is a great one.  Congrats, champ.

I feel ambivalent toward Tim Bradley for passing on the Amir Khan fight.  On one hand, it’s unfortunate that he rejected an opportunity to unify junior welterweight titles.  However, he will become a free agent at the end of next month.  If he firmly believes that he could receive more lucrative options by waiting, then so be it. 

Gary Shaw, Golden Boy and Top Rank will probably all make compelling offers to Bradley.  Should he sign with Golden Boy, the Amir Khan fight is still there for him.  If he signs with Top Rank, he may be one or two fights away from Pacquiao.  With the stakes so high, it’s understandable for Bradley to exercise prudence.  Unfortunately, as boxing fans, we don’t derive much pleasure from champions sitting on the sidelines.  I hope Bradley resolves his promotional status soon and resumes his career pattern of taking on all comers.

The fact that Paul Williams’ camp has rejected Deandre Latimore, Pawel Wolak, Cornelius Bundrage and many others for the Punisher’s next fight shows how seriously they are taking his comeback.  Immediately after the Sergio Martinez fight, the Williams camp stated that they were looking for big fights as soon as possible.  Now, six months later, they have settled on Nobuhiro Ishida as their next opponent.   Ishida, who somehow won an interim title once by beating a 19-9 fighter, knocked out James Kirkland in a stunning upset earlier in the year.  Ishida (23-6-2) had never before beaten a high-profile opponent. 
Coming into the Williams fight, Ishida has a knockout percentage of 26% and has lost to a number of Japanese junior middleweights, a weight class that is not known for producing world-class Japanese fighters.   Ishida is what he is:  a soft touch.
In some respects, for Paul Williams the fighter, this is a positive development.  Williams has some obvious technical flaws that need to be addressed.  Whether it is trainer George Peterson, advisor Al Haymon, promoter Dan Goossen, or Williams himself forcing this step back, this approach may be the best way to salvage Williams' career.  He needs to be rebuilt.  If Williams wants to have a long career in boxing, these steps need to be taken.  Hopefully, he emerges well from The Drawing Board

For HBO, this fight is an insult to its subscribers.  How can the network justify booting Sergio Martinez until October and permit Paul Williams to have this walkover on its airways?  If the fight is somehow competitive, then Paul Williams is no longer an elite fighter.  Unfortunately, this is another case where Al Haymon fighters (Andre Berto, Paul Williams, Jermain Taylor, etc.) get seemingly unlimited opportunities on HBO, even though these fighters do not sell tickets or inspire fans. 

It has been suggested by more than a few that HBO boxing chief Ross Greenburg could be in danger of losing his job.  Greenburg has not distinguished himself or his network with several low-profile and low-rated telecasts that featured Haymon's fighters.  These boxers are often paid seven-figure purses for uncompetitive or non-compelling fights.  

It wouldn’t be fair of me to just flog one American premium boxing network, especially when there’s so much fun to go around.   By many measures, Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic has produced good television.  Many of the fights, specifically Froch-Kessler and Dirrell-Abraham were compelling affairs.  The Fight Camp 360 show that the network debuted for the tournament has provided many insightful moments about the fighters and promoters involved with the Super Six.

However, by perhaps the most important measure, the Super Six has failed.  Ward-Abraham and Froch-Johnson will be fought in front of fewer than 10,000 fans combined.  After two years and millions of dollars of publicity, one semifinal of the tournament will take place in a 3,000-seat theater.
Showtime has been on something of a roll recently, obtaining the last Pacquiao fight and showing several other memorable matches (Hopkins-Pascal and Rios-Acosta come to mind) over the last six months.  But Showtime has failed to build a real buzz for their two-year endeavor.  Sure, they had some misfortunes as fighters got injured and/or withdrew.  However, the tournament dragged on endlessly and the locations for the fights were often inexplicable (Abraham-Froch in Finland?  Froch-Johnson in Atlantic City?).
The network was too deferential to the individual promoters for the making of the individual fights.  They did not exercise appropriate quality control.  While Showtime is not per se a promoter, they did arrange the field in the Super Six and could have conceivably approved or denied certain locations for the fights.  

Showtime also miscalculated by not inviting Lucian Bute into the Super Six.  Instead, they have locked up perhaps the best fighter in the division to a three-fight deal outside of the tournament.  Bute would have sold tickets to Super Six events and generated additional buzz.  The inclusion of Jermain Taylor at the outset of the tournament was shortsighted.  They should have put the best six super middleweights in the tournament -- not the best five and a "name." 

Few of the Super Six fights in America garnered much interest with the ticket-buying public.  This speaks to the failure of Showtime's publicity for the tournament as well as the lack of appropriate lead time (at times less than two months) for the public to purchase tickets for the fights. 
I think it's going to be a while before you see another round-robin boxing tournament.  Bob Arum was wise to keep Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel away from Showtime’s proposed round-robin bantamweight tournament. 
Dan Goossen has one.  He promotes a dominating, undefeated super middleweight champion who is also an American Olympic gold medalist.  If Goossen can’t make Andre Ward into a bona fide star, than he needs to get out of the boxing business.
Ward is a likable person.  He’s humble, pious and represents all of the good things that boxing should signify.  With the exception of real knockout power, Ward has all of the other tools and character intangibles needed to become a long-time elite fighter in the sport.
Unlike the Olympians of previous generations, Ward’s professional career started off deliberately.  Steered by his manager and trainer, Virgil Hunter, Ward was content to grow at his own pace.  He was knocked down in his seventh fight and suffered some injuries in subsequent bouts, which further slowed his development.  By the time he entered the Super Six in 2009, he had only defeated one world-class fighter, and that was an Edison Miranda who had already suffered two knockouts. 

Ward has displayed his impressive skills throughout the tournament.  Through his nearly five years of development, Ward picked up not just a varied offensive attack but also tremendous defensive skills, ring poise and veteran moves needed for in-fighting.  During his early pro years, his progress wasn’t always clear because of the quality of his opposition, but Ward and Hunter were creating a complete fighter. 

Give credit to Goossen for being patient with his fighter.  However, now it’s time for Goossen to produce.  Ward can sell tickets in his home in the Bay Area, but he has not yet proven to be an attraction throughout the rest of the U.S.   If I were Goossen, I would take a page out of Top Rank’s book and hire a corporate marketing/branding type to get Ward some endorsements and build his profile. 

Dan, spare no expense.  Paul Williams and Chris Arreola are distractions.  Back Ward; put on the full-court media press.  Get creative.  This is why you wanted to become a boxing promoter.  Don’t just get TV dates.  Promote!

Every boxer thinks he can beat Glen Johnson.  Johnson's old.  He’s slow.  He’s one-dimensional.  Roy Jones Jr. cherry-picked him to win a title belt back.  He got starched on the ropes; so did Antonio Tarver—he got out-hustled and outworked.  Chad Dawson didn’t respect Johnson; he hasn't been the same fighter since their first fight.
Refreshingly, Carl Froch has said a lot of nice things about Johnson.  Froch realizes what Johnson has accomplished in the ring: beating a half-dozen former world champions, stopping some of the legends in the sport and fighting the best in the world on hostile territory.

Johnson-Froch should be an excellent fight.  Both fighters bring professionalism to the ring as well as offensive temperaments and knockout power.
For Johnson, a man who has been on the losing end of so many close decisions, the Super Six is a testament to his consistency and, quite frankly, his likability.  Showtime didn’t have to offer Johnson a spot in their tournament.  Prior to the Super Six, Johnson hadn’t fought at super middleweight in a decade.  Yet Showtime boxing czar Ken Hershman knew that Johnson would give a professional effort and not embarrass the integrity of the tournament. 

After some bad breaks during his career, Johnson earned this opportunity.  Because of his work ethic and good standing within the sport, his bank account is all the richer—and deservedly so. 

No comments:

Post a Comment