Monthly Archives: February 2012

Buried Beneath “Legitimate Grounds”

One could construct a fairly compelling argument that undefeated junior welterweight Tim Bradley is deserving of his June 9th match with Manny Pacquiao. It’s not merely that Bradley is undefeated in 28 professional bouts—prudent matchmaking can insulate even mediocre fighters from the threat of defeat—but the quality of his opposition that justifies seating Bradley in executive class. Bradley has defeated Junior Witter (in a fight many thought he wasn’t seasoned enough for), Kendall Holt, Devon Alexander, and recent Amir Khan conqueror Lamont Peterson. The Palm Springs fighter has the best resumé at 140lbs; his ledger is embossed by the fact that, while Pacquiao fights at welterweight, he has the frame of a junior welterweight. It can then be argued that Bradley has defeated the best 140lb fighters in the world, with the exception of Manny Pacquiao. This ascension via gauntlet in an era where the path of least resistance is beaten smooth, strikes as being deserving of reward. Twentieth century political philosopher John Rawls would agree.

Rawls would argue that Bradley is justified in expecting the fistic and financial opportunity of a lifetime. Having satisfied one of the criteria for reward (strength of competition) while operating according to the rules and procedures of professional boxing, Bradley has “legitimate grounds” for feeling entitled to the Pacquiao fight. This rationale would seem to be supported by the principles of professional boxing: the development of a fighter is guided by a risk/reward algorithm intended to produce maximum financial reward. Bradley’s taken the risks to justify the reward he’s been granted on June 9th.

However just the above explanation may appear, there are grounds for challenging whether that’s the rationale that delivered the fight. It’s just as likely that it was Bradley’s recent move to Top Rank—no doubt motivated by the opportunity to face Pacquiao—that made him a viable contestant for Pacquiao. The absence of any other realistic opponent probably also had more to do with the fight coming to fruition than Bradley’s “legitimate grounds.” This isn’t to say Bradley isn’t deserving, it’s just that desert isn’t the determining factor.

The role of desert appears in the other consolation bout of the summer: Cotto – Mayweather. Cotto has earned the gold watch that is his payday against Mayweather. Like Bradley, Cotto’s strength of opposition is a virtue: the Caguas fighter’s ledger boasts stronger competition than both Bradley and Mayweather. But his opposition—which has declined in deed if not name in accordance with his diminishing capacities—isn’t what delivered this fight to Miguel Cotto. Nor is it the fact that Cotto, as both the rebound relationship after the departure of Felix Trinidad and a captivating fighter in his own right, is an established draw. While it is as a draw that Cotto can set “legitimate expectations,” his devout following is much like Bradley’s strength of competition: it’s the bewitching veneer that masks the principal motivation behind the matchmaking.

Mayweather chose Cotto because, while he remains a draw, he is unquestionably an impaired menace. That Cotto recently out-boxed and stopped nemesis Antonio Margarito is more a verdict on Margarito’s deterioration than it is Cotto’s rebirth; that the victory has spawned prognostications of a competitive bout with the best fighter in the world only makes the selection of Cotto as an opponent more ideal. The gold plating that was the Margarito performance helps to conceal the reality of the swindle. At his apex, Cotto was an established gate attraction and a legitimate threat: he had both the fistic and financial justification for fighting Mayweather. Now that the threat has been deemed easily surmountable, Cotto is getting his opportunity.

With Bradley and Cotto, the notion of desert can be applied sophistically to explain their upcoming fights. But there is another potential fight that more strongly dispels the notion that desert factors into matchmaking: a fight between middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and cultural treasure Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Sergio Martinez has earned the distinction of undisputed middleweight champion, having beaten Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams, who were considered two of the best middleweights in the world at the time. Yet he is unable to get a fight with marketing phenomenon, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez has earned this fight just as Bradley has earned his, and the “legitimate expectations” are established. These expectations mean very little however, as has been shown. Martinez continuously performs before the type of sparse crowds that turn out to watch cover bands in Las Vegas casino lounges. It’s this second characteristic of the middleweight champion that undoes his fistic qualification. The risk he poses completely overwhelms the reward he promises. That he is, as sovereign, deserving of a fight with anyone in the division, is irrelevant. The same business logic that is keeping Martinez from Chavez Jr is keeping a deserving opponent like Dmitry Pirog from Martinez.

Finally, consider the rematch between Lamont Peterson and Amir Khan. Given Khan’s protracted, petulant tantrum—enabled and abetted by his promotional company—Peterson has justifiable grounds for ignoring Khan’s wailing for a rematch. Others will argue that the closeness of the affair is why Khan deserves the opportunity to regain some hardware. Ultimately, it’s the most lucrative fight available to Peterson, which is probably why it’s happening.

This is not to say that Tim Bradley doesn’t deserve the opportunity to test himself against Manny Pacquiao, and to reap the financial benefits that accompany the risk. Nor is it to say that Miguel Cotto, who has helped buoy the sport throughout his career, isn’t deserving of the opportunity to produce the only pustule on Mayweather’s record. These are deserving men, as are Martinez and Khan. But in prize fighting “legitimate grounds” stand for very little, and desert is a variable removed from the equation.

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Critical Mass: Early Questions About Gamboa – Rios

On April 14th, featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa is scheduled to face lightweight rancor Brandon Rios. At first glance this is a delectable dialectic of speed, power, size, and strength that promises drama and excitement. While the foregone conclusion becomes increasingly normative in big fights, Gamboa – Rios doesn’t lend itself particularly well to prognostication. The difficulty in predicting an outcome hinges primarily on how both fighters will respond to being lightweights. The influence of the scale betrays the fact that at 135lbs neither fighter may be operating at his optimum weight.

Gamboa will be moving up two divisions to challenge for the title Rios lost on the scales. If he chooses to bulk up to increase his strength and durability, this added mass could prove problematic. The Cuban is a dense and muscular featherweight; the question of whether he can add enough functional size to be an effective lightweight is a legitimate one. Even if he adds the weight properly, his superlative speed stands to be encumbered by the added bulk. His hands will remain blindingly fast regardless of the increase in size, he could hold ten pound dumbbells and still throw faster than Rios. But for a fighter whose defence is predicated on movement both the decrease in speed and the tax of maneuvering a heavier body about the canvas could prove his undoing. This threat is exacerbated both by Gamboa’s tendency to become increasingly skittish later in fights—when he holsters his most spectacular weapons—and Rios’ traditionally strong finish. To be stationary against Rios is suicide. If Gamboa’s intrepid first venture north is accompanied by an inability to evade a hard charging Rios, what transpired in the early rounds will probably be rendered moot by Rios’ inexorable artillery.

Of course, Gamboa may transition seamlessly into the lightweight division. Rather than focus on crafting a lightweight’s body, he may simply allow his frame to expand naturally. Instead of whittling down to 135lbs, he could approach the fight with the intention of barely surpassing the lightweight limit by the time he starts his ring walk. The threat here is that he will then be facing a fighter who is two weight divisions larger. Gamboa will retain all of his dynamism, but concede every possible size advantage to his opponent—an opponent whose style is predicated on capitalizing on those very same advantages.

Rios faces his own challenges with the lightweight division. He has profited from essentially fighting as a welterweight: his durability and power stem from his massive size and the fact that he exchanges blows with fighters he dwarfs. Rios’ body however, seems increasingly less willing to cooperate. In his last fight, when he was stripped of his title for failing to make weight, Rios looked like an achromatic adumbration of himself. He has obstinately remained at lightweight to exploit his natural advantages, but the demands of a maturing body are even more refractory. Perhaps Rios’ struggles with the scale speak more to his preparation and commitment than they do his physiology. Ultimately, determining why Rios finds making weight so challenging is a secondary matter to this enterprise. What is relevant is the fact that, regardless of the explanation, making 135lbs could have a detrimental impact on Rios’ performance.

It may be that Rios’ last fight—where he was stripped of his title for failing to make weight—was an aberration, and that the circumstances that produced his first fight of that weekend have been rectified. However, it is just as possible that those struggles were the death knell of his term at lightweight. On that weekend in April, the battle with the scale may be the only one he can fight.

The questions posed by the lightweight limit present a number of outcomes. Rios, if he makes weight without exhausting himself, seems durable enough to absorb the speed and power of a recent featherweight. However, if Rios again endures attrition on the scale the argument for a Gamboa victory becomes increasingly more plausible. If both men struggle at lightweight an even fight may break out, but the counterbalance will be negative: neither fighter will be at his best, robbing the contest of some of its appeal. Regardless of what transpires between the ropes, the scale will probably factor heavily in the outcome. (Especially if Rios fails to make weight and Gamboa walks—which is exactly what he should do under those circumstances.)

With the scale come excuses.

If Rios wins many will attribute his victory to an insurmountable size discrepancy. And how much credit does he deserve for beating a featherweight moving up two divisions to fight him? If Gamboa wins, Rios apologists will say he outgrew the division and Gamboa merely finished what the scale started. None of these narratives may prove true, but the fact that they can so easily be appropriated by the overarching storyline of the fight speaks to the complexity of the contest.

Given this myriad of questions, Gamboa – Rios is undeniably intriguing. That Gamboa has the audacity to challenge a masquerading welterweight without first acclimatizing to the lightweight division should be applauded. This is not Jones – Ruiz: Rios is arguably the best lightweight in the world if Juan Manuel Marquez campaigns at junior-welterweight. He is certainly the biggest bruiser on the block. Perhaps Gamboa sensed that his development as a draw has stagnated in its infancy and he thought it best to seize the boxing world’s imagination. It could be that he thinks Rios plays to his strengths stylistically. It’s a perilous move regardless, and his bravery should be celebrated. This is prize fighting—and Gamboa is big game hunting.

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Another Toothless Gnaw

Many a remembrance was tweeted to honour the memory of Christopher Rios last week. The rapper known as “Big Pun” died February 7th, 2000, from a heart attack and respiratory failure. At the time of his death, Rios was 698lbs. The strain his morbid obesity placed on his cardiological and respiratory systems had been evident in his music: with a delivery like an automatic weapon, Rios had become ensconced in the pantheon of modern lyricists, but his laboured breathing was as signature as his syllabic fury. That his weight threatened his life was not lost on the Bronx native. He had enrolled in a weight-loss program, but left prior to its completion. The premature loss of a father, husband and friend is always sorrowful. In the case of Rios there was an element of tragedy as well: he was brought to ruin by weakness. But this sad tragedy was anything but unforeseen. Human beings aren’t supposed to weigh 700lbs.

The writing was on the wall for Big Pun; the writing is on the wall for Shane Mosley.

This isn’t to say that Mosley, who is slated to battle crimson avenger Saul Alvarez on May 5th, is going to terminate with his latest fight. It would be tastelessly dramatic to pursue this line of reasoning with a pugilist as preserved as Mosley. Mosley may indeed suffer irrevocable damage as he pushes his career into its second decade, and he is due for a stoppage defeat, but Alvarez is unlikely to do much more than begrime Mosley’s professional ledger. That a fighter of Alvarez’ calibre is a significant betting favourite over the pride of Pamona (Alvarez -900/ Mosley +500) is significant, however. Just as Big Pun’s weight was a harbinger of his premature demise, there is substantial evidence that Mosley will enter the ring in May an empty vessel.

Mosley, once the sole practitioner of “power boxing,” no longer throws in combination. He is content to paw with his left hand, rip the occasional straight-right, and fall into the arms of the opposition. His left hook is probably still formidable, though many a calendar has been binned since he shook someone’s foundation with it. The last time he managed to catch lightning in a bottle was May of 2010, when he momentarily stunned Floyd Mayweather. Those powerful shots landed early in the second round of the fight. Mosley lost the remainder of the round. The once dynamic apex predator was handcuffed by Mayweather, and beaten so soundly over the remaining rounds that trainer Naazim Richardson threatened to stop the fight.

A dreadful draw with Sergio Mora followed, earning Mosley a shot at Manny Pacquiao. The Pacquiao fight was a glorified sparring session replete with supererogatory glove touching (Spar intr.v To make boxing or fighting motions without hitting one’s opponent). What is particularly noteworthy is that Shane shied away from combat against Pacquiao, and was dropped for only the second time in his career. Shane hadn’t suffered a knockdown since 2002, when Vernon Forrest’s uppercut almost decapitated the already concussed fighter. Moreover, against Pacquiao, Mosley contemplated giving up. The comfort in violence that typified Mosley’s career was gone. It’s unlikely that the dying embers of his combative fire can warm Mosley to the task at hand.

If there is any moral ground for opposing this fight it’s that Mosley’ tongue is becoming corpulent. He is fairly well-preserved for a first-ballot professional of 55 fights, but an erosion of motor skills is evident. As the causes and consequences of brain injuries occupy more of the sporting spotlight, concern for Mosley’s future is understandable. Perhaps there is greater concern for the future of Alvarez.

Regardless of the warning signs, if Mosley is licensed, if he is willing to endure another training camp, if he is willing to lose to someone he would’ve annihilated in his prime, he should be allowed to fight. His durability and proclivity for destroying aggressive fighters are arguments, however threadbare, that he might threaten Alvarez. Of course, that he has been chosen as an opponent for the pride of Golden Boy Promotions is a sound argument that this threat is chimerical—the most legible writing on the wall.

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