It was a month late, but history, or hystory, was made on Saturday night. Showtime actually found someone less articulate than Chuck Giampa to join their broadcast team. The honorable Joe Cortez, the recently retired, fair but infirmed, referee brought his bumbling brand of incoherence to the telecast. When the always intrusive Arthur Mercante Jr. deducted points from both fighters in the sixth round of the Devon Alexander-Randall Bailey fight, Cortez was summoned to duty: "Daaah, well diss what happens...ahhh...when you get holding....hummana, hummana, hummana....dah fight's gettin' outta control...uhhh....gotta take points....ahhh....giggity, giggity, giggity....ahhhhh....referee...daaaah...um, plastics." If you ever wanted to be taken into the mind of a boxing referee, well....ah, shit.
Speaking of verbal blunders, Roy Jones Jr. hasn't exactly drawn effusive praise for his role as HBO's color commentator, but last weekend, covering the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado fight, I thought he was right on point. When he opined "Alvarado believes he may be one of the best boxers in this fight" I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement.
Rios-Alvarado was a thrilling bloodbath, at times resembling a video game in the frenetic activity of both punchers. It was an incredibly entertaining bout that confirmed Rios as a force to be reckoned with in the junior-welterweight division. However, why be satisfied with a great fight when you can use it to launch a crusade against those who value supremacy and the best fighting the best? Certain scribes wasted no time declaring that exciting brawls are what makes the sport great, so why are networks wasting air-time on fights between the so-called ‘best' fighters whose styles don't always make for scintillating television? Who cares about best vs. best? Defensive technicians are boring so we should let them wallow in obscurity and only celebrate the men who stick their chins out and take massive beatings for our enjoyment, right?
I can only suggest two things here. First, it's easy to exalt guys taking inhuman punishment from the ivory tower in mom's basement. The guys demanding explosive combustion aren't going to be there in twenty years holding the straw when these warriors are drinking their dinner. I have immense respect for Rios and Alvarado and those before them who fought in the same fearless manner. But for longevity's sake, teaching them a shoulder roll or when to invoke a dreaded clinch probably wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. My second thought is when I look back on the best fights of my lifetime, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo, Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor, Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns, to name a few, nearly every single one of them was between the two consensus best fighters in a weight class. The magnitude of an event ratchets up the drama significantly. I loved the Rios-Alvarado fight, but the most enthralling moment of the year to me was the twelfth round of Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., with a legitimate champion stumbling dazed around the ring and a stubborn challenger seemingly one punch away from a miraculous comeback.
I don't believe being great is simply being a great defender, avoiding punches and throwing pitty-pat combinations to steal rounds. Nor do I think greatness is throwing one punch and smothering a guy until the referee breaks you. There are many paths to greatness in boxing, and in my estimation, Rios may be on his way there. The savage in-fighting witnessed in Rios-Alvarado and Corrales-Castillo is very much a skill. This was not two troglodytes blindly flailing at each other until someone falls down. There was plenty of craft on display in the trenches, and I haven't seen too many people disputing that. For every Pernell Whitaker, there's an Aaron Pryor. Greatness, to me, is defined by achievement, not style. If you can take beatings and come out victorious against the highest class of opposition, then you've earned that stature regardless of the physical cost. The story of Rios has yet to be written.
Alvarado, for his part, raised his profile by fighting the way he did, especially when it seemed a safer tact of boxing from the outside would have yielded more success. In retrospect, going to war on the inside was obviously not his best strategy for winning the fight. Of course, who cares about that? What he earned was more precious than a victory, he got respect! Now try explaining that to him when Rios is getting millions of dollars to fight Manny Pacquiao in the spring and Alvarado's caught in limbo waiting for a rematch. Adding further insult to injury was a comical moment when the ring doctor asked Alvarado if he knew where he was en espanol, which apparently is not the language Alvarado prefers. Hey Doc, I got a question: English mother&@*#&, DO YOU SPEAK IT!?
Back to Saturday's card at the Barclays Center, perhaps the most disappointing element for me was the lack of Angel Garcia interviews. Angel, Danny's colorful Pops, has morphed into one of the great variety acts in the sport. Thankfully, in between rounds we were able to catch a little bit of his wisdom in the corner: "No son, I never seen a Mongolian who could fight. Never seen a Turkmenistani, Sri Lankan, or an Inuit neither...now, that's a fact." I expect Jim Lampley will excoriate him the next chance he gets.
Danny nearly knocked Erik Morales' head off in an entirely predictable farce of a rematch that probably should have been cancelled when irregularities were found in Morales' drug test last week. I found it hard to muster up any outrage on this one. This is the man who went southpaw in the twelfth against Pacquaio for Chrissake! I would have personally injected gorilla testosterone directly in his ass if he asked me to. Orally. My main take-away from the event was being thankful Morales wasn't seriously hurt, as he certainly would have been had he somehow made it to his feet, which he appeared intent on doing before his corner jumped in the ring and stopped it.
Earlier in the evening, Devon Alexander won a lopsided decision in a fight that was worse than Jay Mohr's stand-up special. Peter Quillin injected some life into the arena, knocking down Hassan N'Dam six times in a surprisingly two-sided battle considering one man visited the canvas more often than Bob Arum visits a bathroom in the middle of the night. Paul Malignaggi earned a split-decision over Pablo Cano that made me a bit queasy...of course going for seconds of the tuna casserole I baked to commemorate the hystoric night may have been the true culprit. Danny Garcia went for seconds, dipping into Morales' scalp for hopefully the last time. David Greisman of Boxing Scene jokingly suggested a rematch between Alexander and Tim Bradley and I responded ‘Thank God for the Top Rank-Golden Boy feud'. The current impossibility of a match-up between Garcia and Rios has me eating those words.