Monthly Archives: March 2012

Clockwise: A Preview of Morales – Garcia

As I was about to toss the chicken bones on the floor and conjure up a prediction, my fire alarm went off. There wasn’t any smoke mind you, save for the incense burning to mask the smell in the cauldron. The sharp beep was merely tolling the death of the alarm’s battery. I hadn’t changed it since I moved in, so I suppose that this lesser warning was to be expected. It was only a matter of time. As always, good luck in your predictions leagues.

 

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Less Is More: The Latest Strategy In Marketing Sergio Martinez

This isn’t really about Sergio Martinez. Martinez is one of the characters in the sport who elicits a spectrum of opinion ranging from venomous criticism to idolatrous adoration. These opinions become even more impassioned when the Prince of Culiacan is mentioned. Martinez, as recently as this past Saturday, is vanquishing the opposition without any recourse to opinion. A champion defending his title in his own idiom; his ledger and the manner in which he has compiled it, as consistent as the opinions of him are multifarious. This isn’t really about Sergio Martinez.

No, this is about the new angle spun in the promotion of the King of the Middleweight Division. This is about the Emperor’s new clothes. This new slant argues that Martinez is an undersized middleweight. Martinez, who began his career as a welterweight, didn’t invade the middleweight ranks until 2009, at the advanced age of 35. The process of aging impedes weight loss, and yet Martinez has reportedly found himself comfortably beneath the middleweight limit the week before the fight. Accepting this reasoning—which is different than establishing its truth, mind you—it can be ventured that Martinez is a small middleweight.

Some of the opposition he’s downed as he’s ascended his perch has been small by middleweight standards as well. In his last six fights—roughly the duration of Martinez’ tenure at 160lbs—he has fought Paul Williams twice, Kelly Pavlik, Serhiy Dzindzurik, Darren Barker, and recent knockout victim Matthew Macklin. Williams, himself an ex-resident of the welterweight and junior-welterweight divisions, often proclaimed that he would face anyone from 147-160. Making such a proclamation presupposes that he could indeed make the welterweight limit while retaining his puissance. It’s a dubious claim, but Williams managed to make welterweight in 2008 while fighting primarily between 154 and 160. Williams is a tall but spindly middleweight, and the physical advantages he enjoyed over Martinez would be relevant regardless of weight division. This doesn’t mean Williams was bigger than Martinez, however. Dzindzurik was an undefeated champion at 154lbs, and believed by some to be the best fighter in the division. But he was still campaigning below middleweight. The remaining three fighters were legitimate middleweights when Martinez fought them, and whatever denigrating asterisk might be inserted is either inconsequential or applicable to so many pugs it’s practically irrelevant. So if Martinez is an undersized middleweight, it’s fair to say he’s paired off against a few as well. Why then, draw attention to his size?

The end game for this marketing strategy is probably that it speaks to people who can be swayed by the charms of the pound-for-pound debate. This particular brand of collective onanism is a viable marketing tool given modernity’s preoccupation with lists and a pervading need to establish theoretical superiority. Consider the debate raging between Android, iPhone and Blackberry, or the passionate constituencies lobbying on behalf of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire. There’s a pervading zeitgeist that needs to establish, on subjective grounds, what is the best. Boxing, as another form of publicly appraised drama, has found its cast tabled for similar debate.

When the criteria for determining truth are malleable, and the consequences for being wrong are nil, the debate is self-perpetuating. In essence, what is produced is the opportunity to witness perhaps the best fighter in the world, or the third best, or one of the five best, depending on the criteria. Regardless of the criteria, there’s room for debate therein. Hitching Martinez to this pettifogging cacophony is a sound strategy: it keeps him on people’s lips in a meaningful way. But capitalizing on human inclination isn’t the sole explanation for trumpeting this line of reasoning.

Martinez has of late received criticism for his kvetching over the reticence of Mayweather and Pacquiao. There’s been a shift in ethos, and some who once admonished the sport’s two biggest earners for not stepping way up to the plate have now started complaining about Martinez’ caterwauling. By drawing the collective attention to Martinez’ size, the hope is to reduce the criticism he’s received for tirelessly seeking out fights with men who generally ply their trade two divisions south of him. If Martinez is a small middleweight—perhaps a largish junior-middleweight—then pursuing a Mayweather fight isn’t bullying. Mayweather, after all, has explicitly stated that his May tussle with Miguel Cotto is to be waged at 154lbs to ensure that the best of the Puerto Rican fighter is on display. Of course, anything Mayweather says should be downed with a chaser, but the fact remains that the fight will be fought at the junior-middleweight limit. This means that the undersized middleweight Martinez should, physically speaking, be in the running for a Mayweather fight. The size differential is negated to a large degree.

The same rationale can be applied to Pacquiao, though with less persuading results. That being said, the Mayweather fight has seemingly been the one Martinez most coveted, probably because Mayweather is the larger of the two stars and thus more likely to navigate the waters of junior-middleweight again.

The move insulates Martinez in another significant way: it protects him from the rabble demanding that he—since he’s so comfortable challenging smaller men to fight him—take the deontologist’s path north. There are a number of names at super-middleweight—Froch, Kessler, Bute—that could ensure packed houses for Martinez were he to try his low-hanging hands at 168lbs. Team Martinez has responded to suggestions of this nature before, stating that were the right deal to come along Martinez would consider the move. The right deal being as nebulous and elusive a concept as it is, it’s hard to pressure the fighter for not accepting solicitations to come upstairs. Of course, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get criticized for a perceived hypocrisy. But if the public is told forcefully or consistently enough that Martinez is a small middleweight then the move to super-middleweight becomes more unrealistic, more demanding, more dangerous, especially since the move to junior-middleweight is more in keeping with his natural build.

It must be said that this new marketing tactic for Martinez is brilliant. It’s arguably rooted in truth, bears a fruit most find delicious, and provides a thorny defence. Moreover, Martinez himself is a fine fighter, and regardless of the spin, his performances—even if their dominance is receding—are always there to salvage his merits. Were this really about Sergio Martinez it could be said that his rather fruitless promotional campaign may have finally yielded a crop. But then, this isn’t really about Sergio Martinez.

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In Word and Deed: A Defense of JuanMa Lopez

Breaths escaped as epitaphs when Lopez crumpled to the canvas. He would rise, perhaps on Promethean defiance alone, before the count reached ten. Beating the count would be his final fight however, as referee Robert Ramirez wisely waved off the proceedings. Orlando Salido had again brought a premature end to JuanMa Lopez’ evening.

The outcome however, was secondary to that which produced it. Salido and Lopez had engaged in beautiful violence for nearly ten rounds. It was a contrapuntal dialogue rich in punctuating blows and heated exchanges, with Salido bowing Lopez with a final fistic utterance that permitted no rejoinder. Ledgers—and perhaps bodies—were permanently altered. Despite the damage dignity persisted, seemingly cast in bronze by the forgers at work between the ropes. Lopez would tarnish his performance however, when the scavenging Jim Grey set upon him in the post-fight interview.

Lopez launched into a tirade against referee Robert Ramirez, slandering the man as a gambler and insinuating that this personal indulgence somehow precipitated a premature stoppage. In doing so Lopez dispensed with the comportment that had so admirably distinguished him during the fight, and he was justifiably criticized for his poor form. His conduct however, is understandable for a couple of reasons. To the extent that his conduct is understandable, it is also defensible.

Lopez responded to the culminating salvo of Salido like someone concussed. Even if the damage accrued wasn’t concussive, he was suffering from having his bell so forcefully rung. Such a mind isn’t the most reliable source of information. By insinuating some corruption might be at play Lopez became a participant in a tradition of vanquished fighters, men forced to comment on the heartbreaking, on the unthinkable, without sufficient time for reflection. This particular brand of testimony should be weighed within the context in which it’s collected. The somnambulist isn’t a reliable eye-witness. This explanation assumes that what Lopez said was patently false, but that assumption requires further investigation.

Even if he was speaking in a concussed state, it’s possible that Lopez’ comments were based in truth. Lopez can be assumed to have some knowledge of Ramirez, given that they both move within the boxing fraternity of Puerto Rico. This isn’t to say that Ramirez gambled on the fight, or that he was guilty of any corruption whatsoever: there’s been no evidence produced to that effect, and Lopez has—via his public relations team, mind you—issued an apology. But if Lopez were aware of Ramirez’ gambling practices—practices that are ubiquitous in Puerto Rico—his allegations were founded on more than shifting sand. Of course, this doesn’t justify Lopez’ allegations. The point isn’t to justify Lopez however, but to explain why he might resort to such a seemingly ridiculous explanation for the stoppage. It’s possible that Lopez was filling in the gaps of a rather devastating narrative with whatever knowledge best supported his desire to continue. In doing so he lashed out at Ramirez by using facts (like Ramirez laying the odd bet) to false ends (Ramirez’ gambling prompting a stoppage). Lopez was wrong, yes, but the process of reasoning he employed seems hard-wired into our cognition. It’s important to remember that Lopez just had his cognition bounced forcibly off his shoulder.

What underlies both explanations is Lopez’ inexorable desire to starch Salido. When his game plan shifted to one of headlong attrition Lopez fought as if the only possible outcome was a knockout. He fought to decapitate Salido—he was going for broke. It’s unlikely that Lopez was going to get over against a fighter as well-versed in hurt as Salido—but this only makes Lopez’ impassioned final onslaught more beautiful. Like his desperate strategy, his unbecoming post-fight interview was the product of a sanguinary pursuit, of his being denied that pursuit. This commitment to violence too often is lacking in fighters who look to steal rounds or do just enough to bank a victory. Lopez left it all in the ring, left it all on display, both his fistic virtues and his flaws.

Lopez then, is a paradox: his poor comportment after the fight was an extension of his fighting spirit and in this respect was actually complimentary. This doesn’t excuse his post-fight conduct, but the purpose here was to better understand him, not exonerate him. Lopez could have conducted himself better, that’s true. But were his performance to speak for itself, it would say that Juan Manuel Lopez is an imperfect fighter in word and deed, but a fighter above all else.

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