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28 NOVEMBER 2014

 

Blame 2006




By Matt Wells: Despite this fall’s array of exciting, high-profile bouts, many pundits and writers will conclude that 2007 was a rough year for boxing, given, among other developments, the surge in popularity of UFC. This assessment isn’t really accurate, though. In truth, 2006 was the year in which the sport faltered, paving the way for the rise of the mixed-martial arts leagues.

2007 witnessed some of the best action and some of the most significant match-ups in a number of years. By contrast, 2006’s fights were largely dull and insignificant, especially those that were contested between the sport’s elites.

A look at SecondsOut’s list of fan picks for 2006 fight of the year is very revealing. The winner, Jamie Moore’s scintillating KO victory over Matthew Macklin, was a terrific bout, and well worthy of the top spot on the list. But, as writer Ant Evans pointed out in his article about the match-up, it was "what is commonly referred to by die-hard fans as ’a trade fight’, meaning that anyone who knows their boxing understood what a terrific match-up it was even if casual followers of the sport did not." Both Moore and Macklin are great fighters who put on a terrific show, but they do not rank up among the sport’s international superstars.

The fans’ close second-place selection was Somsak Sithchatchawal’s tenth round KO of Mahyar Monshipour. This bout made many lists as the top fight of the year, and is another thrilling brawl. Yet the fight also took place in France, and could similarly be described as a "trade fight" involving men known only to those who closely follow the sport. As Evans described, the fight became "a cult favourite on YouTube". This means that few fans actually saw it live, and only heard about how great it was after the fact.

Third place on the list went to Tomasz Adamek second win over Paul Briggs, which was a decent fight, though hardly a classic. Fourth place went to John Duddy’s close win over Yori Boy Campas, which, while exciting, was only so because Duddy’s faults as a fighter were revealed to their fullest. The fight in fifth place, Sergei Liakhovich’s win over Lamon Brewster, was fine, though it was marred by the subsequent controversy over Brewster’s medical condition.

The point is that none of these fights involved anyone even close to being among boxing’s pound-for-pound best fighters. That is not to take anything away from these men and what they accomplished: they should be praised, in fact, for picking up the slack when the elite fighters couldn’t produce much worth watching.

2006’s most significant event involving high-profile fighters wasn’t even a fight. Rather, it was the cancellation of the long-awaited third fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. Casillo’s failure to make weight, and the inevitable cancellation of the fight (with Corrales not wanting to risk another KO such as that that he suffered in fight #2) was arguably the story of the year for the sport.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much of an embarrassment this episode was to boxing. Though the sport has been fading from the mainstream for some time, most sports fans had by then heard how terrific the first fight between the two men had been. And even the second, despite the controversy, hadn’t been a bad affair. So a rather large sporting audience was paying attention when one of boxing’s biggest shows was put on ice. Given the hype that had been spoon-fed to such fans for so many weeks and months, it probably looked like the sport had just cancelled the equivalent of the NFL’s Superbowl. With that sort of introduction, or re-introduction, to boxing, it’s hard to imagine many of the curious were eager to come back for more.

2006 also failed to produce any new potential breakout stars. One of the most hyped prospects of the previous year, Joel Julio, was dismantled with ease with Carlos Quintana. Jeff Lacy famously fell like a ton of bricks against Joe Calzaghe. Juan Diaz’s career was in limbo as he bounced between promoters. Paul Malignaggi got destroyed by Miguel Cotto. Paul Williams looked good, but didn’t get the sort of fight in which he could really shine. And once again, no new promising heavyweight prospect appeared on the horizon.

The year was also a pretty lousy one for the sport’s pound-for-pound champion, Floyd Mayweather. His fight against Zab Judah was marred both by Judah’s earlier loss to Carlos Baldomir, and by the ugly brawl that erupted inside the ring late in the fight. Floyd’s only other fight that year was against Baldomir himself. While he won with ease and earned the legitimate, linear welterweight title, the fight was a dull one, with Floyd’s brittle fists acting up once again.

Add this all up, and you have a picture of a faltering sport. Moreover, the timing for boxing could not have been worse. UFC was kicking itself into high gear, combining its "reality" television programming with numerous pay-per-view events. The door was wide open for it to step inside and fill the gap.

Luckily for fans of the sweet science, things started to pick up again this year. Arguably, and somewhat ironically, Judah helped get things going in the summer with his bruising brawl against Cotto. The fight featured just about everything you could ask for from the sport: hard hitting, intense action, and just a bit of controversy (with Cotto’s persistent low blows in the early rounds). Many of the sport’s most legendary fights are shrouded in some sort of controversy. It just seems to go hand in hand with boxing.

There were other, purer brawls as well. Kelly Pavlik – Jermain Taylor and Israel Vazquez – Rafael Marquez II both featured winners that looked to be down and out before roaring back to score TKO wins. Calzaghe matched his master class performance against Lacy with a dismantling of Mikkel Kessler, a much more dangerous opponent. Pavlik featured in another gunslingers’ match against Edison Miranda. Even the much-maligned Contender show chipped in with a fight of the year candidate of its own, with Sakio Bika besting Jaidon Cordington in an intense back and forth duel. There are other fights – many others – that could be listed here.

All of this came as a surprise to those sportswriters and other assorted opinion-givers who were predicting boxing’s demise just a short time ago. Many saw the Floyd Mayweather – Oscar De La Hoya fight in May as something of a swan song for the sport. It generated a huge amount of money, was a mildly entertaining fight, and was quickly set aside by many in the media once the next big UFC event came along. The UFC people were quick to remind us how boring the fight had been, and how their brand of combat sport was the wave of the future. Many writers and other sports fans lapped it all up.

But UFC hasn’t replaced boxing. In fact, it looks as if it may have even peaked. I’ll use a totally unscientific means to prove my case: the posters that they put up at the bar across the street from my apartment. This bar, incidentally, is one of the few places in town that will spring for pay-per-view shows. As such, it becomes a major gathering place whenever a big fight show is on.

A couple of years ago, when I first moved here, the bar featured all sorts of boxing posters in its windows. Whatever big pay-per-view events that were coming up or had recently occurred were represented. Early last summer, the boxing posters disappeared, and were replaced wholly by UFC equivalents. Now, though, boxing and UFC share the window space. It’s not a total "victory" for boxing, but it’s a sign that the two sports can and probably will co-exist. And in a world of niche markets, in which, for example, hundreds of cable television stations can live side by side, why is that so hard to believe?

2006 was a bad year for boxing. 2007 was much better. Here’s hoping that 2008 will continue the upward trend.

December 22, 2007


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