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22 AUGUST 2014

 

The Welterweights: Don’t Believe the Hype


Paul Williams (right), has already beaten Antonio Margarito
Paul Williams (right), has already beaten Antonio Margarito

By Matt Wells: Though it might not admit it, boxing has learned a thing or two since UFC and other MMA sports became a real threat. Or did you think that this fall’s string of super-fights was just a coincidence?

Boxing’s big interests have also apparently noticed the marketing skills of their rivals, who can turn unknown athletes taking part in relatively obscure sports into brand-name celebrities. Boxing promoters have always been rather talented in hyping up their events. But lately they have stepped up their efforts considerably, working hard to create new stars to replace those on their way out. Boxing’s television broadcasters, never quite as objective as they are in other sports, have followed right along.

One of the new narratives being shopped to the viewing public right now is the supposed new ‘Golden Age’ of welterweight fighters. This storyline was played up considerably during the Miguel Cotto vs. Shane Mosley pay-per-view show. Cotto, Mosley, and fellow PPV participant Antonio Margarito were among those included in the group of welters that supposedly is the deepest and most talented in years.

Hype it not an all-bad thing, and has always been an integral part of boxing. And, truth be told, there are quite a few quality welterweight fighters out there right now. But the problem with hype is that it distorts and hides the truth, often at the expense of those not included in the marketing package being presented. And the picture being depicted of the welterweight division right now needs to be corrected.

From what those in the industry are saying, it would seem as if any of the top ten welters could beat any of the others in any given fight. But that’s simply not the way things are.

Floyd Mayweather, at the top of the pile, is simply head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. Ricky Hatton might prove to be a feisty challenger when they face off in December, as was Oscar De La Hoya, but the result is likely to be the same. To suggest that Margarito, Cotto, or Mosley would have a good shot at beating Floyd is simply a lie. That’s not to say it could never happen; upsets are always a possibility in such an unpredictable sport as boxing. But those hyping up the division right now want us to believe that any of these potential opponents would have a decent shot at beating Floyd. They wouldn’t.

There’s a caveat to these claims, however: Mayweather is 30 years old, and has already gone through his first un-retirement. His enthusiasm for the sport seems to be on the wane, as he picks and chooses his opponents. This is not unusual for a fighter at the top of his game, but it’s also a sign that said fighter is not going to be hanging around forever.

The hype-makers would have us believe that someone will rise up to topple Mayweather eventually. But there’s just as good a chance that he will retire undefeated, or else move up in weight class for some mega-fights before packing it in. If he goes, he takes the linear welterweight title with him, and that’s never a good thing. It would be hard for anyone to credibly take his place, unless they could put together a particularly impressive body of work.

Do any of the other welterweights in the division look as if they could put together such a resume? The hype-makers would have us believe so. But a closer look at how things really stand reveals a slightly different story.

Cotto and Mosley are supposed to be representative of the next level of welterweight fighters. HBO’s crew was so excited after their fight that they made comparisons to Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales’ epic clashes. But such judgments are exceedingly rash, to say the least.

The Cotto vs. Mosley fight wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really beneficial for either fighter. Mosley had some good rounds, but his age showed badly at times. Cotto showed flashes of greatness but couldn’t put his opponent away, and looked downright skittish going into the final frames. Cotto’s defenders might chalk that up to ring smarts, as he put up a defensive front in order to get the decision. That explanation, however, smacks of papering over the facts of the fight.

Cotto is still something of a mystery. Promoted brilliantly by Bob Arum and Top Rank, his fame grew out of an exciting style and a persistent television presence. Shaky wins over Demarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres, however, hurt his reputation. Yet his recent outings against Carlos Quintana and Zab Judah revealed all of his best qualities: his killer instinct, his coolness under pressure and his relentless offensive style. These qualities were supposed to carry over into the fight against Mosley; but somehow, something was missing this last time out. Cotto didn’t look ordinary by any measure, but he didn’t look brilliant either.

And now Cotto’s next rumoured opponent is Oscar De La Hoya. That fight could prove to be incredibly interesting, as the determined De La Hoya sweats it out to get one last win over a possibly beatable opponent. But if Oscar wins, Cotto’s reputation comes crashing down. And since this will certainly be De La Hoya’s last fight, a gaping hole in the welterweight ladder would be left empty.

Cotto, of course, could win big over Oscar, which would inevitably lead to calls for a match-up with Mayweather. But it’s Mayweather’s upcoming opponent, Hatton, that some are tapping as the man who can finally chop down the pound-for-pound champ.

Hatton features prominently in the list of welters currently making up the “Golden Age” crop. Certainly he has enough of a fan base to stake a claim to greatness. And Ricky has had a nice career, with some solid wins over tough opponents. But he has also faced a number of questionable talents as well. And, most importantly of all, Hatton simply is not suited to the welterweight division. His last outing at that level, against Luis Collazo, ended in near-disaster.

Mayweather may not punch like Collazo, but it’s hard to imagine Hatton staying up at the 147-pound level, unless he really put on a good showing over Floyd. But his recent win over Jose Luis Castillo notwithstanding, Hatton has definitely looked a tad older and slower in recent outings. And given that Castillo is very obviously on the downside of his own career, Hatton’s win, while impressive, should not be overblown.

Of course, beyond Mayweather, Cotto, Mosley, and Hatton, is the man that folks still can’t seem to get enough of, and that would be Margarito. The HBO crew were falling all over themselves heaping praise on him following his one round KO victory over Golden Johnson, re-anointing him as the unsung hero of the welterweight division.

Come on now. Margarito beats Golden Johnson, and the HBO people go crazy? Golden Johnson? Seriously?

Don’t get me wrong. Johnson is a game fighter, and has had his moments. But he is also 33 years old, and has eight losses on his record. A little over a year ago he drew against a guy named Larry Mosley. The point is, he is hardly top-tier competition. Johnson was brought in to lose, and to make Margarito look good in the process, and that’s exactly what happened. To pretend that the win was more meaningful than that is to distort the truth.

But that’s what hype does: it distorts the truth. This benefits those that the hype-makers promote, but, at the same time, it hurts those that aren’t deemed worthy of promotion. The job of promoters, of course, it to push their own fighters, and some do it better than others. But those that are allowed a bit more objectivity, like writers and television broadcasters, should look beyond the story being sold by the big boxing interests.

One fighter in particular, being shut out of this welterweight “story”, is Paul Williams. Hearing the HBO crew talk about Margarito, you might have been forgiven for forgetting that the lanky, sharp-shooting Williams beat Margarito rather handily in their outing. In fact, apart from Mayweather, and perhaps (just perhaps) Cotto, Williams is probably the best welterweight in the world right now.

You wouldn’t know it of course, because Williams is the sort of fighter nobody wants to face. His long-distance punching keeps his opponents at bay. His power is better than you think it would be. And he can sweat out twelve rounds of action without slowing his pace to any significant degree. He is a multi-talented, exciting young prospect…yet since his win over Margarito, we’ve hardly heard a thing about him.

The welterweight division is a good division right now. That much is undeniable. But the marketers and hype-makers shouldn’t dissuade us from looking at things as they really stand. And right now, some of the fighters getting the most attention might not be as good as their promoters say they are, while others that have tremendous skills are getting lost in the shuffle. When the next big welterweight-laden pay-per-view comes around, buyer beware, as they say.


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