Title Shots Here! Getcha' Free Title Shot!, Vol. 2

Bute defends IBF title against Brian Magee
Bute defends IBF title against Brian Magee
By Derek Bonnett: What did I tell you? Last month, when I grilled world champions Sammy Gutierrez, Jan Zaveck, Felix Sturm, and Gilberto Keb Baas, I was unhappy because honest boxing fans were being served up garbage non-title bouts under the facade of world championship match-ups.

Sure, it was nothing new, but enough was enough. Too many hardworking contenders are sidestepped for easy money title matches that keep the divisional belts in place and add title defenses to glossy up a reign with mere numbers instead of substance. As predicted, Renan Trongco, Paul Delgado, Ronald Hearns, and Jose Antonio Aguirre put up little resistance in succumbing to superior champions. Of the four, none of them made it past the eight round.

Well, it’s March and boxing’s world champions are still at it. With the wave of a wand from the sanctioning bodies, non-title caliber fighters are carrying the moniker of world title challengers and getting their free title shots.

Ricky Burns earned his title the hard way. He got off the canvas in front of a home crowd to narrowly take a decision over a more highly regarded champion in Roman Martinez. It’s a shame he is going about keeping his belt the easy way. On March 12, at Braehead Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, Burns makes the second defense of his WBO 130 pound title against Joseph Laryea, 14-4 (11).

Laryea’s dossier can’t be spun any way in which a title shot would appear warranted. He owns one win over a single prospect in Paul Appleby. After that, it’s all filler. Six of Laryea’s opponents were making their professional debuts when he fought them. Outside of the split decision over Appleby, who, like Burns, happens to hail from Scotland, Laryea has only bested one fighter with a winning record. That opponent entered the ring at 1-0 for Laryea’s ninth pro bout. Yet, the WBO views this as fittingly enough to be ranked their number eleven contender.

Burns is looking to avenge his countryman plain and simple here. Had he done so in anything other than a world championship bout, I’d applaud him. However, running up your title reign against no-hopers in front of a home crowd is anything but honorable, especially to the Scottish fans who appreciated Ken Buchanan and Scott Harrison.

Now, I readily admit Lucian Bute’s career suffered due to his exclusion from the World Boxing Classic Super Six Tournament at super middleweight. In that time he has looked good stopping Librado Andrade, Edison Miranda, and Jesse Brinkley. The Andrade rematch was warranted given the late fight controversy of their first encounter; however, Miranda was barely a factor anymore and Brinkley was a low end title challenger at best. Now, with the semi-finals of the W.B.C. tournament approaching, Bute is facing Brian Magee, 34-3-1 (24), on March 19 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Although his record looks the part, Magee is graciously ranked ninth by the IBF, but does not appear in anyone else’s top ten. The thirty-five year old Magee turned in a remarkably unimpressive ledger in 2010, which included a TKO over the oft-retired Mads Larsen, who just turned thirty-eight in February, and an eighth round retirement of Roman Aramyan. The Armenian punching bag had eight losses coming into the bout with Magee and his three previous opponents boasted records of 3-5-1, 0-0, and 5-49-1.

Magee is not worth Bute’s time to begin with, but if the fight had to be made, call it what it is: a tune-up or a ten rounder. We could continue to give Bute a pardon due to his exclusion from the Super Six if things developed according to plan, but not when Robert Stieglitz is on the rise and Andre Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler have excused themselves from tournament action.

The luck of the Irish will strike twice in March. Guillermo Rigondeaux, the overhyped Cuban defector who captured the interim WBA super bantamweight title in his seventh bout with a dreadfully dull split decision over the capable Ricardo Cordoba, is trying to work backwards. Now that he is a champion, he is trying to develop into a world class professional by taking on unproven prospect Willie Casey on March 19. No disrespect to Mr. Casey; I’m sure he is a fine lad, but his world title attempt is based entirely on what the interim champion couldn’t do under his first big spotlight rather than what the challenger is expected to do underneath his.

Like Laryea, Casey, 11-0 (7), has only defeated one fellow prospect. Casey’s big win came against Patrick Hyland. It was a battle between Dublin and Limerick and Limerick came up big, but only in Ireland. Prior to beating Hyland, Casey fought guys with mostly losing records or ones just a tad above the .500 mark. Along the way he also won the Prizefighter tournament in May of 2010. Somehow, this warranted a number eleven ranking by the WBA.

Casey possesses nice credentials for a popular prospect, but not of a world title challenger. Rico Ramos, Jefferey Mathebula, and Christopher Martin all deserve their chance at Rigondeaux before Casey. Let it also be known that Rigondeaux’s manager is Gary Hyde, who resides in Cork, Ireland.

Rigondeaux was put on the fast track for a reason and he won the belt his team coveted. However, once a fighter becomes a world champion, there is no going back. Champions fight legit contenders. If Rigondeaux needed more time to develop as a professional, then he should not have taken the title opportunity against Cordoba.

Dmitry Pirog benefitted greatly from HBO’s over-inflated opinion of Danny Jacobs. Had Jacobs not been supported greatly by one of the premier boxing networks, Pirog would not have received a world title shot when he did. At the time, neither man had beaten a legitimate world class contender in his prime. Even now, Pirog should only be hailed as one of the top prospects of the 160 pound class along with Gennady Golovkin (also a belt holder now), David Lemieux, and Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. Yet, we have to stomach all the talk about how Pirog is the man to beat Sergio Martinez or how he would school Kelly Pavlik. Based off of what? A KO of an unproven fellow prospect? The weightless belt around Pirog’s waist? Or, the fact that he’s taking on Argentina’s Javier Francisco Maciel, 18-1 (12), on March 26 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, for the first defense of the title he won seven months ago.

If Sergio Martinez is the desired goal for Pirog, then it’s a clever move to match him with another Argentine fighter to build some interest in their homeland. However, Maciel’s number nine WBO ranking could be a testament to how barren the middleweight ranks truly are. Yet, the other organizing bodies do not recognize Maciel as a top contender . He has fought exclusively in Argentina against safe Argentine opposition. Pirog is guilty of the same crime as Rigondeaux. He wanted to be considered a world championship caliber fighter, but now he wants to fight safe opposition to stay recognized or until the big money fight gets put on the table.

Laryea, Magee, Casey, and Maciel stand similar chances of winning in March as Trongco, Delgado, Hearns, and Aguirre had in February. That is to say, little chance at all. Contenders need to be built off of strong opposition and champions need to be built off of strong contenders. In the game of fast tracks to world championships and free title shots, the fans lose every time.

For further boxing discussion contact Derek Bonnett on Facebook or at mabfan@comcast.net.

March 3, 2011
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