Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Katsidis' Two Jobs: Gatekeeper, Brit Slayer

The perilous global economy has created uncertainty that has manifested in a variety of changed behaviors in various households.  Consumer spending has dropped.  Unemployment has remained far above the norms of previous decades.  Millions of families have used their money to pay down existing debt.  Many heads of households have taken on second or third jobs to make their mortgage payments or maintain their families' standards of living.  Others have had to learn new skills or take reduced salaries as they re-enter the job market.  For many, good work has been hard to come by.  In this respect, Michael Katsidis has been fortunate, for he has two boxing jobs, as Golden Boy's lightweight gatekeeper and Frank Warren's visiting Brit slayer, that provide him with a generous wage and a sufficient standard of living. 

Interestingly, it's tough to tell which of Katsidis' two jobs seems more personally fulfilling at this juncture of his career.  Having held the "Interim WBO Lightweight Title" on two separate occasions, he now fights for the designation a third time in November against Ricky Burns, who recently relinquished an opportunity to defend his junior lightweight title against Adrien Broner.  Katsidis has proven himself on the Commonwealth circuit, stopping British fighters Graham Earl and Kevin Mitchell in rousing fashion.  In America, he has fought on big cards against future Hall of Famers like Juan Manuel Marquez and Joel Casamayor; they both knocked him out.  In addition, handed two of Golden Boy's more promising lightweights, Juan Diaz and Robert Guerrero, Katsidis was unable to achieve victory.  In short, Katsidis has plateaued.

The upshot of Katsidis' American campaign was not an unmitigated disaster.  He was able to drop both Marquez and Casamayor – notable achievements.  (He should have also been credited with a knockdown against Guerrero, but referee Russell Mora missed it.)  His best wins were a split decision victory against lightweight prospect Vincete Escobedo and a knockout of former titlist Jesus Chavez. 

For Katsidis, the American circuit may not have worked out swimmingly from a won/loss perspective, but he made many friends along the way.  He quickly established himself as one of the sport's best action fighters and he created a strong West Coast cult following based on his grueling and unconventional training regimen.  HBO, not necessarily in the obscure Australian fighter business, opened its airwaves to him on a number of occasions, even following losses. 

Katsidis' return to the U.K. is an arrangement that ensures a healthy payday, but uncertain professional development.  His fight with Burns is an intriguing stylistic matchup that could be wildly entertaining.  Perhaps a win leads Katsidis to a rematch with Keith Mitchell or a meeting with recently deposed John Murray – two additional fighters from Frank Warren's stable.  None of these three fights guarantees that Katsidis moves any closer to becoming world champion.  But, with the aforementioned financial silver lining of these opportunities, Katsidis continues to fight quality opposition and keeps his name high in the sanctioning bodies' rankings.

Katsidis, now 31, has been in a ton of ring wars, gets cut easily and isn't getting any faster.  Even if he loses to Burns, a good, technical boxer, he won't suffer too much physical damage.  Maybe, after a good run of two or three fights in the U.K., Katsidis will finally get that elusive full title shot that has escaped him to this point. 
I wonder if Katsidis' perception of his career has changed over the last few years.  I'm sure that he still dreams of becoming champion, as all boxers do, but it seems as if his latest return engagement to the U.K. is a transition to "opponent."  The Burns fight is a good financial opportunity; however, a win does not immediately catapult his career into greater potentialities.  To me, the move strikes me as careerist, which isn't a bad thing, but, it should be acknowledged, there is a huge gulf between fighting in Vegas against some of the best talents in the sport and taking on a solid, but limited, Ricky Burns in Scotland.    

Burns is a well-schooled boxer who doesn't have the power or athleticism to become an elite talent.  Katsidis is also a limited entity, lacking the hand speed and versatility to beat upper-level fighters who refuse to engage him in ring wars.  Thus, the matchup is a good, boxer-versus brawler affair, but I think Burns (with Warren's backing) would stand to benefit significantly more from the victory than would Katsidis.  However, if Katsidis has changed his orientation, if he has come to the realization that "champion" may not be in his immediate future, than Ricky Burns is exactly the type of fighter whom he should be facing. 

Katsidis can fashion a remunerative second act for his career by taking on the second-tier talents of the European and Commonwealth circuits.  It may not be sexy, but it will certainly pay the bills.  Perhaps Katsidis will still make the occasional trek back to the United States, where he can be "an opponent" for young North American bucks like Broner, Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa.  He certainly would give each opportunity his all.

Every generation has a number of professional fighters who come to the ring in shape, put forth a game effort and lose to the elites in spirited battles.  Occasionally, one like Glen Johnson catches lightning in a bottle and really makes something of himself.  More often, they are the Jason Litzaus, Daniel Ponce de Leons, Librado Andrades, and, yes, Michael Katsidises of the world.  They will have retired making a good living.  They will have roofs over their heads and food in their refrigerators.  It's not the stuff of legend or glamour, but they will have earned their rewards with good, honest hard work.  

So Michael Katsidis will not retire a household name, but his two jobs will have provided him with a house – one  he can pay for free and clear (in today's economy, that's nothing to denigrate).  He will have earned his financial security by taking beatings and knocking out Britain's second tier.  And even if he never attains the vaunted boxing signifier of a title belt, he will leave the sport with a career that 98% of pro fighters would have loved to have had.    

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