Friday, July 8, 2011

SNB Nuggets (Pacquiao-Marquez, Haymon, Ramos)

Manny Pacquiao's recent wave of destruction has not only captivated the boxing public but has also irreversibly changed the trajectory of many careers.  Starting with the Oscar de la Hoya victory, where Pacquiao became the megastar that he is today, he has defeated six opponents.  Since their losses to Pacquiao, two have officially retired (de la Hoya and Ricky Hatton), one will most likely retire (Shane Mosley) two have yet to fight (Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito), and one hasn't faced another elite opponent (Miguel Cotto).

During the fights themselves, Manny forced his opponents to lose their aggression and will to compete.  Mosley and Clottey barely threw any punches for 12 rounds.  Cotto went into survival mode after the 5th round.  De la Hoya retired on his stool.  Hatton was caught early and never recovered.  The only fighter who consistently tried to beat Pacquiao for 12 rounds was Margarito, who was lucky to win 3 rounds at best.  

Pacquiao, during this streak, faced a variety of offensive fighters and literally turned them into shells.  The combination of his speed and power caused these former titleholders and elite-level boxers to worry foremost about defense; they refused to throw meaningful punches.  Think about the captivating fights between Cotto-Clottey and Cotto-Mosley.  Those two fights featured impressive action and aggression.  The three demonstrated in those two fights just how good they can be.  Yet against Pacquiao, they refused to engage consistently, if at all.

Perhaps the best thing that Juan Manuel Marquez has going for him in his third fight against Pacquiao is that he is not psychologically or physically intimidated by his opponent or the big stage.  He knows that he very easily could have won both fights with Pacquiao.  

In the first two fights, Marquez had success against Pacquiao with his counter left hooks and right hands.  He also handled some of Pacquiao's best shots and kept coming forward.  Examining the two fights, Marquez won more rounds, but Pacquiao's knockdowns prevented Marquez from winning either bout.

Despite the uncompetitive nature of Pacquiao's last six fights, Marquez may have some additional things working in his favor.  Pacquiao was hit cleanly by Clottey's uppercut on a number of occasions – that is a punch that Marquez throws very well.  Pacquiao was also affected by a few of Margarito's body shots. 

Additionally, Manny may have lost a step or two.  If Manny's speed continues to deteriorate, he will become a different fighter.  He now comes forward more in straight lines instead of angles, and he has given up much of his lateral movement.  Should this pattern continue, Marquez, a master counterpuncher, will have additional opportunities to land and score.  Of course, Marquez doesn't move as well as he did in his earlier years.  However, he has adapted to his physical limitations and has learned to beat good opponents as a pocket fighter.  

Pacquiao has improved defensively over the last six fights.  He has become a much smarter fighter, taking away his opponents' strengths.  Pacquiao throws a much better right hook than he has in the past and he has also become a deadly counterpuncher.  Perhaps most importantly, Pacquiao has demonstrated that he can prevail as a welterweight, whereas Marquez has struggled the only time he moved up from lightweight (of course, that was against Floyd Mayweather, who makes everybody struggle). 

However Pacquiao-Marquez III plays out, Marquez will be there to win and won't be afraid to seize his opportunities.  He has already been in the ring with the belly of beast and has had moments of resounding success against Pacquiao.  He enters this fight having cleared many of the psychological hurdles that proved insurmountable for a number of Pacquiao's recent opponents.  

Rico Ramos is a fast-rising junior featherweight who fights for his first title on Saturday against Akifumi Shimoda, from Japan.  Managed by influential boxing powerbroker Al Haymon (more on him below), Ramos has followed the typical Haymon script in many ways with his strong amateur background, slick fighting style, relatively unknown trainer and precociousness.  Unlike some of Haymon's fighters, Ramos has been matched pretty well in his 19 bouts, appearing in a number of competitive fights against opponents with strong records.

The junior featherweight division has not had too many marquee matches since the Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez fights.  The division right now is dominated by Japanese boxers who have built their records in their home country and by Bob Arum fighters who have suffered recent notable defeats (Fernando Montiel, Wifredo Vazquez, Jr., Steve Molitor) public scorn (Guillermo Rigondeaux) or are facing the downside of their careers (Jorge Arce and Montiel).   

Ramos, with his flashy combinations, movement and accuracy has a chance to establish himself in a division with limited visibility in North America.  He doesn't have real power and his offense may be more showy than effective, but the time for him to seize momentum is now.  There is a void at 122 lbs. and he can help to fill it.  Whether he becomes another Haymon casualty remains to be seen, but the opportunity for greater things is there for the taking.


 Al Haymon's last two years in boxing have not been his best.  The influential manager/advisor has often infuriated the boxing public with his apparent Jedi mind control over HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg, convincing Greenburg to invest large sums of money to feature Haymon's fighters in non-competitive fights.  Even with his advantageous positioning in the HBO universe, many of his charges have failed.

Starting with Chris Arreola's blowout loss to Vitali Klitschko in the fall of 2009, the following Haymon fighters have suffered significant defeats: Paul Williams, Jermain Taylor, Danny Jacobs, Andre Berto, Fernando Guerrero and Andre Dirrell (who won his last fight but pulled out of the Super Six Tournament because of neurological problems).  These losses were not competitive affairs that could have gone either way: they were career-stalling results.  Taylor had to be removed from the Super Six.  Williams had to be removed from the ring in Boardwalk Hall.  Arreola had to be removed from the local taqueria.  In addition, Jacobs and Guerrero suffered stunning knockouts. 

Haymon's most popular fighter, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., has sat out large stretches of the past few years.   

The notion of remaining on the sidelines is also fairly common with Haymon's more established fighters.  Pushing his fighters very aggressively to gain titles, many remain inactive for long stretches once they become established on premium television (for instance, Williams, Taylor and Berto).  Haymon has convinced his stars to maintain their premium earning power by refusing to appear in fights that are not carried by HBO or Showtime.  The result of this philosophy has led to stagnation and regression for a number of his fighters.  They are not getting better because they are not active.  

Recently Arreola bucked this trend by insisting on fighting as often as possible.  He fights this weekend, which will be his fourth of 2011 – all of his appearances have been on undercards off TV or on ESPN Friday Night Fights, which has a minimal licensing fee when compared to HBO.  It's the right strategy for Arreola who lacks discipline when he is out of the ring. 

Frankly, it's the right approach for almost all fighters, excepting those who generate so much money that a bad loss for short money would be unrecoverable (Mayweather and Pacquiao are the only current fighters that fit in this category).  How do you get better if you don't fight?  Here is the number of fights for Andre Berto in the last five calendar years: 4, 3, 2, 2, 1. Here’s Williams: 1, 4, 2, 2, 1.  Dirrell: 3, 4, 2, 1, 0.  Jacobs: 1, 12, 5, 3, 1. 

Haymon's fighters aren't getting in the ring enough.  Yes, his approach leads to good pay days, premium cable slots and recognition by the boxing media, but the fighters aren't getting better.  They also don't become reliable ticket sellers because they don't fight frequently enough to build fan bases.  Mayweather is an exception, but he only aligned with Haymon later in his career. 

I sometimes derisively refer to Haymon as Al "Step Aside" Haymon because his fighters don't want to get in the ring too often.  Additionally, Haymon has even extracted money from networks when his boxers don't fight.  Taylor was paid some money even though he was dropping out of the Super Six.  Berto was awarded a generous stipend for giving up his fight with Mosley.

Haymon has proven that he can take talented fighters to world titles.  However, with the exception of Mayweather, who was elite before aligning with Haymon, he has not taken a fighter to the top of the sport. For the boxers themselves, his approach leads to riches but not greatness.  The philosophy of scarcity or only appearing biannually on premium cable has certainly not captivated the public.  

Nevertheless, most fighters would gladly accept Haymon's promises of title belts and seven-figure purses.  The downside of this deal is that they don't reach their peak potential and they lose some of the glory of prizefighting by not connecting with fans because they remain out of the public eye.  

It takes a special fighter to want something more than this Haymonian bargain.  The elite boxer wants to face the best, stay active and create a legacy.  He acknowledges that ultimately his supreme skills and his relationship with the fans are the reasons why he makes big money, not HBO, and not Al Haymon.  

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