Monday, May 11, 2015

Two Weeks - Two Fights - Two Stories

During the pre-fight circus of the Floyd Mayweather/ Manny Pacquiao match there was a moment, sometime after Jamie Fox’s free-style version of the American anthem and before Michael Buffer’s raspy/two-pack-a-day “Lets Get Read To Rumble” where Mayweather looked up to the sky. I don’t profess to know exactly what he was thinking, but he had the look of a man that had just pulled off the longest con in the world. He also looked like a man who, in 36 minutes, would get a check for $200 million.

The last two weeks of boxing have been pretty entertaining, if for entirely different reasons.  The mega-fight was all about the build-up. It was about the spectacle around the sport. Two adversaries finally meeting in the ring. Two fighters, who at one point, had been either the best or most exciting in the sport would finally meet head-to-head.  Of course it was going to be over hyped.

There was only one chance for the fight to live up to the madness.  And that was for Pacquiao to dial the clock back to the days when he was a relentless, overwhelming, barrage of combinations and knock-outs. In the fourth round there was a moment when I knew it wasn't going to happen.

Pacquiao landed a clean left, backing Mayweather up on the ropes. Manny unleashed a small flurry of punches, some landing, most blocked.  Then....he stepped back.  Was it the smart move? Was Floyd playing possum hoping to catch Pac-Man with a counter shot?  Maybe.  But, the Manny Pacquiao of old would never have worried about that. He would have kept throwing until something landed, consequences be damned.

Whether it was the shoulder or, the fact that some of that fearlessness was forever destroyed by Juan Manual Marquez’s December 2012 counterpunch, it was not to be.  Manny landed a few punches, stirred up the crowd a handful of times, but seemed content to chase Mayweather around the ring.

So it was with much amusement to listen to the casual sports fan bitch and moan about Money Mayweather and his “dancing” and “hugging” his way to an ugly victory.  Or the “I can’t believe I paid $100 for that” tweets and comments. What else did you honestly think was going to happen?  Did you really think that Floyd would engage and stand toe-to-toe with Manny in the middle of the ring?  Hell no.

There was a time when Floyd used his skills for offense. If a fighter was there to be hit, he hit him. Try and tell Ricky Hatton that all Mayweather did was run around the ring, I think you’ll get a different story.  As he’s aged though, Pretty Boy realized he could win fights without having to get into wars.  He could throw enough punches to win a round and then use his skill to evade any real damage.

I sent a text to someone during the fight saying something along the lines of “Floyd is a better boxer in slow motion”.  In real time, some of his counter right hands didn’t look like they were doing much damage, but when HBO-time slowed down the highlights between the rounds you could see they were landing flush.  While he may not have the show stopping power of Gennedy Golovkin, he still hits hard enough to make these “active” fighters think twice about barging in with abandon.

Floyd’s greatest skill of all, is making the boxing fan care.  He’s fought the same fight enough time that we should know better, but we still watch.  He doesn’t care if we watch to see him win or to see him get knocked out. As long we fork over the money and he gets a check cut he doesn’t care.

On the other hand, James Kirkland’s greatest skill is not caring about getting punched in the face.  If there was ever a polar opposite to Mayweather’s slickness in the ring, it’s Kirkland’s fierce determination to walk forward and throw a lot of punches. Thirty-two times that strategy has worked.  Unfortunately on Saturday night, it was a recipe for disaster against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

For a little while it looked like it might work.  And by little while I mean a minute or so.  Kirkland, The Mandingo Warrior” waded through a couple of big shots from Alvarez and crowded the big Mexican with some power shots of his own.  Unfortunately he wasn’t able to maintain that space and midway through the first round Alvarez landed a straight right that glazed Kirkland’s eyes and sent him stumbling to the canvas.

Kirkland was able to clear his head and got back up in plenty of time to beat the count.  He tried to keep pace with the red-haired Mexican’s flurry of power shots. The Texan survived the second round on his feet, but chances of an upset were fading as it became apparent that even the biggest shots weren‘t hurting Alvarez.  Landing just about every punch he threw, Canelo kept up a steady mix of hooks to the body and straight power shots to the head.  Still Kirkland came forward trying to smother the shots while landing an occasional blow himself.

Two and a half minutes into the third it was over.  Alvarez scored his first knock down with a huge right uppercut that landed flush on Kirkland’s jaw and dropped him.  Once again the warrior pulled himself up, but the end was near. He soon found himself against the ropes with his hands down. As Canelo pawed at his chest with a straight left, Kirkland started a left hook from his hip, but Alvarez’s right was quicker.  He hit Kirkland so flush it looked like his jaw was separated from his head.  Kirkland was out on his feet, that left hook he started still tracing it’s lazy arc through the air as his body crashed to the floor.

The ref stopped the fight before Kirkland started to move. Not that it would have mattered.  The Mandingo Warrior said something about being disappointed that the ref had ended the fight, but he should be sending him a thank-you gift. Even if he had somehow beat the 10 -count (it was at least 30 seconds before we knew he wasn‘t dead), it wasn’t like he was going to change his strategy enough to keep from being knocked down again.  Jon Schorle probably saved Kirkland a few years of dementia by stopping the fight when he did.

There has been a lot of electronic ink spilled about Kirkland dropping his long-time trainer Ann Wollfe. After this is the second time he’s fought without her and both times have ended with him getting knocked down several times.  While he is obviously a better fighter with her in the corner, he should also invest in someone who teaches him how to block a punch from time to time.

So, you want to be a boxer?  Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

If the Mayweather fight was the “Sweet Science” than the Canelo fight was the “of bruising” portion of Pierce Egan’s quote on boxing.  The brutal knockout kept him online for a match-up against Miguel Cotto and then a potential mega fight against Golovkin.

It was a nice refreshing palate cleanser to all of the negativity generated by Mayweather/Pacquiao and proof that boxing, despite reports of it’s imminent demise,  isn’t quite dead yet. Yes, the debacle two weeks ago didn’t do anything to win new fans, but boxing has been through this before.

There is always going to be another great fighter waiting in the ring.  Alvarez is proving that he’s not just a product of the Mexican hype-machine, but actually a bruising boxer who really will fight anyone at anytime. Golovkin (who fights May 16th) is probably the most exciting fighter to watch and maybe, someday someone of skill will want to step into the ring with him.

Will either one of them have the cross-over appeal that Pacquiao and Mayweather had? Will they break PPV records? Probably not.  But they are worth watching, and somewhere in a gym somewhere around the world the next Mayweather is lacing up the gloves.


Fuji said...

There's a 50/50 chance that the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight was the last live boxing match I'll ever watch again. Thank goodness MMA has entered my life.

Justin G. said...

If you get a chance watch Golovkin this weekend. He'll help restore some faith that boxing can be exciting.

Fuji said...

Yeah. Triple G puts a beating on people. I'm pretty sure his fight is on HBO this weekend. If I don't actually watch the fight... I'll at least check out the replay.

But overall... just haven't been a huge boxing fan in years. The last time I actively watched on a regular basis was the late 80's.