If Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is really done with boxing, and with Oscar de la Hoya on the final road of his long journey, American boxing is going to need a new headliner. There isn't a whole lot to choose from. Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Philippines, the former Soviet Union countries, etc. -- those are the nations dominating professional boxing. It'll most likely stay that way, too. And that's fine by me, I don't really care where anyone's from as long as they can fight.
But promoters and TV people and even some fans need that American boy to root for. Who better than Kelly Pavlik? What fighter better embodies the "American dream" than the humble, hard-punching, workman-like dude from the fallen midwestern steel town? (By the way, I'm as sick of hearing about the ailings of Youngstown as anyone else is, and I'm sure Pavlik is, too. Not that he's not proud of where he comes from, but you'd think it's the worst city on earth.)
Not only is Pavlik a good story, though, he's an exciting, dynamic fighter that is guaranteed good TV. He's not had a ton of television exposure, but I've never seen a Pavlik fight live that was a bore. His wins over Lenord Pierre (Vs.), Zertuche, Miranda, Taylor (HBO and PPV) and now Lockett have all been good watchin'.
He's charismatic. He's humble. He's a gracious winner. He's a knockout puncher. There isn't a whole lot more you need than what Pavlik has. He's got Top Rank behind him. Hell, he even has an interesting, loudmouth trainer to speak up and create some sparks before the fights when Kelly doesn't want to take it too far.
Honestly, even if Mayweather returns or Oscar decides to fight another three years, you're looking at the new face of American boxing. I think a lot of people are happy to welcome him as such. 100% fighter, 0% bulls--t.
Is an early KO/TKO good, bad, or neither for televised boxing, and the hope that fans will come back the next time around?
I'm no scientician, y'all, so it beats me. I do know that of the four big fights last night, we had two TKOs in the first round and one in the third that easily could have been stopped in the second. Carlos Quintana and Daniel Ponce de Leon are really good fighters that got bombed out in less than three minutes last night. Do you think that diminishes their appeal from here on out?
Of course, there are a good amount of MMA bouts that end within the first round, via TKO or submission, and that sport's popularity and appeal dwarfs boxing's right now, even though boxing has been on an upswing. While boxing's popularity has come back some, MMA's has just gotten bigger during the same time.
Most common answer from your average MMA fan on why they watch that sport but not boxing: "More exciting. More action." Hey, fair enough. Whatever floats your boat, amigos.
How much more action-packed can you get than watching Juan Manuel Lopez light up Daniel Ponce de Leon with short punches, bloodying and dazing him with two knockdowns and a stoppage in two minutes and change? Paul Williams' destruction of Quintana was much the same. And Kelly Pavlik beating the crap out of Gary Lockett may have taken a little longer, but was just as definitive.
Of course, it all adds up to a rare night for championship boxing. To try to sell this as an example of what you're going to see on any other date would be stupid. I don't even really have a point with any of this. Dudes got their asses kicked last night, though, didn't they? Jeez.
Item Number Three: Showtime versus HBO!
Forget the ratings, because I only care about the ratings in the hopes that they're good for either network or anyone else showing boxing on TV. Who wins the fan battle head-to-head last night?
With the type of night it was, hard to say, right? HBO had less than four rounds, total, of boxing. But it was exciting. Showtime's first fight went less than a round itself, then came the Forrest-Mora 12-rounder, which produced an upset that vindicated Sergio Mora, Jeff Wald, and "The Contender" as a whole. Finally, one of these guys did something on a world class level.
The production for HBO has to be taken into account, and as usual, it was stellar. Great feature on Pavlik, great hype and atmosphere from the network, which lends a lot to a card. Showtime just doesn't do that stuff. A lot of it is budget; they don't spend as much on boxing as HBO does. And I'm fine without it, but there's no denying that HBO adds a little something extra to the presentation of a fight.
So, which show produced the more significant results, since the head-to-head action is tough to call? Mora's winning of Forrest's 154-pound strap is pretty big news, and was a big upset. Williams regaining his welterweight title was also meaningful. On HBO, you had Pavlik beating Lockett, as expected, to retain, and Lopez waxing Ponce de Leon to announce his arrival -- loudly -- into the elite ranks of the 122-pound division with the WBO title around his waist.
I do believe that long-term, the most significant thing to happen last night was Juanma Lopez's win. He's going to be around a long time. Williams' win was a return to normal after four months of living with the Quintana loss, and Mora's win, while special for a lot of people...I don't see this going down in history, necessarily.
The truth is, HBO was handicapped from the first minute by a weak main event. Pavlik is a star, a legit champion, and a great guy that it would be damn hard to not like. He's must-see TV. But that fight was a joke. Lockett had absolutely no business in the ring with him. Shame on those that made him a mandatory. Advantage: Showtime, slightly.
Oh, Mr. Big Stuff. Who did you think you were?
Y'know, I'm one of...well, everybody, that thought Sergio Mora would get outclassed by Vernon Forrest. That doesn't mean that I didn't find Forrest's trash-talk leading up to the fight a little past good taste and even venturing into disgusting and totally out-of-line. Threatening to send someone home on a stretcher is all well and whatever in the world of pro wrestling, when over-the-top promos and drama are the way to sell a fight. But in boxing, or MMA, or any other sport? Imagine if Richard Seymour threatened to break Peyton Manning's neck with a sack, you know? It's just classless.
Forrest is eating his words today. He has had his mouth shut, and I don't know where he's going with his career right now, but losing to Mora, who came in with very little respect among journalists and fans and other fighters, is a big, big deal. Vernon's 37 years old. How much more working back up the ladder does he have left in him?
He gassed. He was outworked, his hand speed didn't look any sort of special against Mora as opposed to stand-and-take it guys like Baldomir and Piccirillo, and he got out-thought all night. I thought he was winning the fight early, and through eight rounds. After that, as I watched rounds nine through 11 today, he lost. He lost the fight because he wasn't good enough. Good for Mora. He understandably came in with a chip on his shoulder, and despite all the weird mistakes he's made, and despite the fact that he comes off poorly a lot of the time, he won, and he should be proud of that.
Mora will move on. His mandatory is Sergio Martinez, the Argentian myth, but apparently Mora has no plans to defend at 154. Again, I think that's lame, but whatever. It's not like I'm dying to see Mora-Martinez.
Though, picture this one: Mora-Spinks. Who's on board?! Come on!
There was really no more clear example of the fresher, better fighter last night than the start of the 12th round, when Mora looked to have reserves left in the tank, but Forrest had to be helped off his stool to start the round by trainer Buddy McGirt.
Remember when you were a kid, and a new dude would move to town in the middle of a school year, and everyone was infatuated with the new guy? All the girls found him cute and interesting, trying to jockey themselves into position as to which would get the honor of being his girlfriend for the first one-to-two weeks before relinquishing her position to another?
It didn't even matter if the guy was butt ugly and had all the personality of not just paint drying, but the sign that alerts you to the fact that there is, in fact, wet paint. He was the man for a little while. At the end of it all, when the luster wore off, that guy usually wound up where he belonged, no matter if that was popularity or secluded geekdom in the library, playing Magic: The Gathering. (If anyone thinks I'm being jock-ish and making fun of geeks or dorks or nerds, listen, I play World of Warcraft. And I do not play PvP. OK? There.)
Juan Manuel Lopez is entering Super Bantamweight High School, and he's no doubt striking some amount of fear into the hearts of the big dogs, names like Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez, and Celestino Caballero (who won last night, by the way, when Lorenzo Parra's jaw was broken in the 12th round).
The thing is, Lopez is the real deal. This is a new kid that comes to school and winds up as the starting quarterback and prom king. Even the Magic kids think this guy is cool, because -- get this -- HE PLAYS, TOO.
I'm hoping that the Puerto Rico-Mexico flames were stoked by Lopez's manhandling of Ponce de Leon, and that if we aren't going to get Vazquez-Marquez IV as a next fight for either guy, we could perhaps see Marquez-Lopez. Probably more likely for now that were he to face another Mexican next, it'd be someone along the lines of Genaro Garcia, but it's fun to dream. Sometime soon, though, one of the big dogs is going to have to face Lopez, because now Lopez is a big dog, too. BoxRec is already listing August 30 as Lopez's return date, not that that means anything concrete.
Lockett's first round went OK. He hit Pavlik a couple times. He stood his ground. If I learned one thing about Gary Lockett as a positive last night, it's that he wasn't scared of Pavlik, and if you're not scared of the best guy in your division, you've got something going for you.
But the biggest lesson learned is that Gary Lockett was a pathetic challenger forced upon Pavlik and the viewing public. I don't blame Pavlik for fighting him, he was a mandatory and Kelly didn't want to just give away a title. He was presented with an opponent he had to fight, and he fought him. And beat the crap out of him.
Pavlik was a -2000 favorite. You had to bet $200 to win ONE DOLLAR on Kelly Pavlik's victory last night. Lockett was so grossly out of his depth that by the third round, I just felt bad for him. Thankfully, Enzo Calzaghe tossed the white towel of surrender into the ring after Lockett took a knee for the third time. He was horribly discouraged, being battered, and clearly wanted no more of Pavlik's punishment.
It was a sham, and now no one can defend it. It was everything that it was supposed to be, which was worst-case scenario for Gary Lockett. He'll now return to obscurity, most likely, back to the grind of small fights in Europe, out of the public eye, probably never to really return. He seems like a really good guy, but there are lots of good guys in the sport that just aren't top-class fighters. He joins a non-exclusive club.
What made me feel sorry for him was that he looked helpless. Pavlik was non-chalantly blocking shots, picking them off, and then delivering combinations with ease. Lockett said after the fight that he "couldn't see the punches coming" and that he was surprised by Pavlik's power and speed. The latter is hard to believe, all things considered, but that's what he said.
Item Number Seven: Enzo's tough year
It was always going to be hard for Enzo Calzaghe to top his 2007. In '07, he was Trainer of the Year and was heading up his world champion son, Joe, as well as titleholders Enzo Maccarinelli and Gavin Rees, plus he had Lockett and some others on board.
Macca was thumped by David Haye in two rounds. The perennial underdog Rees' Cinderella story (of sorts) ended at the hands of Andreas Kotelnik. Now Lockett has been thoroughly debunked.
What's he got going for him right now? Joe. That's about it. And if Joe fights Kelly Pavlik, that could come to an end (again, of sorts).
It's always easy to overhype a trainer's effect, the same as a manager or coach in any sport. Tony LaRussa wins when he has good players playing well. Bill Parcells won Super Bowls when the teams were Super Bowl-caliber. It's not rocket science. Enzo Calzaghe's fighters are only as good as they can be. And if you compare them all to Joe Calzaghe, of course they look bad.
No trainer in the world could have gotten more out of Gary Lockett last night. And I dare say no trainer in the world could have gotten more out of the limited Rees than Enzo has. He's still a good trainer. That didn't end.
When Max Kellerman spoke with Kelly Pavlik after the fight about what was next, a few names popped up.
Arthur Abraham was one. Arthur has plenty on his plate with the upcoming Miranda rematch. But that would be a good fight.
Joe Calzaghe was another. And that was the name that got the reaction from the fans, to which Pavlik responded with a question to all 7,168 of them (an estimated 75% of them had travelled from Ohio): "Is that what you want to see?"
Well, yes. Bob Arum and Frank Warren have had preliminary talks, and I think now it's getting to the point where there's a real sense of anticipation going on. The fight would take place at 168 pounds, which Calzaghe has no problem with doing for the right opponent. Were Pavlik to defeat Calzaghe, he would simultaneously hold the Ring Magazine middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight championships. He would be the legitimate champion of three weight classes. That would be very, very special.
And it's win-win. It's the biggest possible fight for Pavlik, and I don't think it's any stretch to suggest that it's the biggest fight for Joe, either. Pavlik is a lot more relevant and hot than Roy Jones, Jr., or Antonio Tarver or anyone else. It would be a mega-event, either in the States or in Wales.
There's never a better fight than the one that makes the most money in a promoter's mind. And in the case where it's also the best fight, you can't go wrong. When boxing fans are given what they want, they respond with their hard earned money.
Item Number Nine: Redemption!
Paul Williams redeemed a poor February performance (which I still think was just as much a great Quintana performance that night) with his wipeout of Carlos Quintana last night. So where does HE go next?
With Floyd out of the way, there are openings at 147. He could try to wait on the Cotto-Margarito winner. He could revisit that idea he had to fight Shane Mosley.
Or, he might try to edge his way in against Oscar de la Hoya in September. What better time for Oscar to fight Paul Williams than right now, when he looks once again like a very real force in the division?
It's not like September would be too soon. Paul's in shape and fought less than a round last night. He took no real punishment. He dished out plenty, though.
Oscar's choices are pretty limited. He's set on fighting on September 20. He could fight Winky Wright or someone. If you put it as a Winky Wright v. Paul Williams scenario, both present very difficult stylistic matchups. But a fight with Williams would show Oscar willing to fight a young guy rather than a post-prime Wright. It would feel a lot more like a FIGHT than a bout with Wink would. Fighting Winky Wright would feel like an event, built around boxing. It's an interesting matchup.
Item Number Ten: Even the losers...
What's next for these guys?
Vernon Forrest is 37 and looked bad against a younger man. It's going to be hard for him to find a fight. Ricardo Mayorga is always available, as is a fight against Cory Spinks, I'd guess, another name fighter that dropped his last bout. The latter would have a hard time finding a TV home. It's tough to go back to the drawing board at Vernon's age, but he's been back to that board before.
Carlos Quintana is a 31-year old spoiler. Too good on the right nights (Julio, the first bout against Williams) for a lot of guys with reputation to lose to want to take him on. He's going to have to force himself back into the picture, which is a shame. He's going to be in the same position Luis Collazo is, probably. Outside looking in, with plenty of talent. Collazo-Quintana wouldn't bother me at all. Paul Williams sparred with Collazo to prepare for last night. Served him well.
Daniel Ponce de Leon will be back. He's too exciting to fall off just because of this loss. But he's had two shots against top-tier fighters and lost both times. That lack of technique and know-how will doom him against against guys like Lopez. I think we can now say he'd get creamed by Vazquez or Marquez, too.
Gary Lockett? Nice to meet you. Probably won't ever see you again.