In all of our praise so far for HBO this year, May 2 will mark the first time this year (and the only time scheduled) that the network has really rolled out the PPV carpet. They distributed Lightweight Lightning, but past that had nothing to do with the card.
Hatton-Pacquiao, though, is a superfight. This is the type of fight that belongs on pay-per-view, the type of fight that any boxing fan will pay to see. And the hype is there: This edition of "24/7," I noted last night, is the first one without even a shred of B.S. about it. This is two top-tier fighters, in their primes, both make good fights, both are hugely popular, with two great trainers that can't stand one another. This is for many of the marbles, if not quite all of them.
(Note: You can watch the first episode, edited for language, on HBO.com right now.)
The last time HBO boxing went to PPV, it was Pacquiao grabbing the pound-for-pound king role by the throat in an awesome dismantling of Oscar de la Hoya. But while the main event was one-sided and entertaining because of how "shock and awe" it all was, the undercard was rightly crucified by everyone in or around boxing. Three blatant mismatches were booked, the type of showcase fights that might have been good enough to headline a strong Friday Night Fights. All of them ended in quick, predictable fashion, which led to nearly an hour of PPV downtime that featured a swing fight in the background as Lampley and Co. tried their best to keep on talking up a main event we'd already paid money to see.
Has anything changed this time around? Look, we all know Hatton-Pacquiao is a great fight by just about any definition. It's a more than worthy PPV main event. But let's examine the undercard and see what we're really talking about.
Top Rank: Humberto Soto v. Benoit Gaudet
With plans for a Steven Luevano-Bernabce Concepcion title bout at featherweight scrapped, Top Rank subbed in 130-pound titlist Humberto Soto (47-7-2, 30 KO) defending his strap against French-Canadian Benoit Gaudet (20-1, 7 KO). Gaudet really has no quality wins on his record (the best might be Marco Antonio Barrera's cousin, Alejandro, who himself had built up a record fighting cab drivers and schmucks), has little power, and your average "good grip on the fundamentals." Soto last fought on March 28, when he smashed fringe pretender Antonio Davis in four rounds in Tijuana. It's nice that Soto is turning around and coming back so quickly after taking no damage, and Gaudet is about the best level opponent you're going to find on that type of notice. But the fight isn't that interesting. Soto is probably the No. 1 fighter in the now-depleted junior lightweight division, but as weak as it is, the 29-year old Gaudet really ranks somewhere in the 30s probably, maybe the late 20s. Since his absurd DQ loss to Francisco Lorenzo, Soto is 3-0, including a points win over Lorenzo in December.
Soto's a good, entertaining fighter, but during his big late-bloomer streak, he's been handled with a lot of care. Matchmakers have helped to create him, in a sense. The only time he's surprised anyone was when he took Rocky Juarez's "0," and the only other times he's been matched hard were against Jorge Solis (no-contest) and Joan Guzman (routed over 12). Otherwise you're talking a lot of guys like Davis, Lorenzo, Gamaliel Diaz, Oscar Leon, Ivan Valle, Humberto Toledo, etc. -- decent fighters, even good fighters, but very beatable and largely excellent matchups for Soto. Gaudet's style might trouble him briefly, but Soto isn't in against a guy that should really give him much grief overall. It's not the best main co-feature Top Rank could've offered, but to be fair they did try to do Luevano-Concepcion, which is a better fight.
Golden Boy: James Kirkland v. Michael Walker
25-year old Kirkland is, simply put, the most purely exciting young fighter in the sport today. It's all bull-rushing, action, and power punching from Kirkland. Walker (19-1, 12 KO) hasn't exactly been impressive since stepping up in competition in his last three fights. He drew the ghost of Antwun Echols, lost badly to David Lopez, and then won an eight-round majority decision in a rematch with the ghost of Echols. Kirkland will smash him but good. This is a showcase fight. Golden Boy's looking to put JK in with Sergei Dzinziruk in August, and that's all well and good, and I hope a lot of people see Kirkland and are impressed with him, but this would've fit the Oscar-Manny show like a glove, and that's not praise.
Top Rank: Matt Korobov v. Rodrigo Aguiar
Top Rank's top prospect Korobov is currently scheduled to face a guy we saw Erislandy Lara beat the tar out of in January. I get putting Korobov on PPV, but at the same time we're shelling out 60 bucks to see an opening bout on ESPN2.
Golden Boy: Erislandy Lara v. TBA
Lara is my favorite prospect at the moment. He'll be put in with someone he'll tear up.
So what do we have? One iffy title fight and three showcase bouts that will be over quickly.
Everyone can talk all they want -- and yes I understand that purses have to be paid and money's gotta be made -- but the flat truth is that what's on tap for this undercard is only a slight improvement to the sham we got last time out on major pay-per-view. Lara and Korobov are legit prospects, and that's great, and I get the idea (show them to the casual fans, see if they bite), but for those of us that pay attention all year, it's not worth PPV money. Kirkland is exciting, and that's great, but so is Juan Manuel Lopez and his fight against Sergio Medina stacked up a lot like this one is stacking up. Soto-Gaudet is your run-of-the-mill, mediocre title fight, and probably won't even be all that good.
But there's the rub, too: Shows like this one aren't really being sold to the diehards. We buy anyway, and we're the only ones that care what the undercard is. Hell, the building won't even be more than half-full until late in the Soto fight if that thing goes a while.
We'd complain, but who'd really listen?