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The resurgence of matchmaking

I have talked recently about boxing's phenomenally good autumn/winter schedule, an almost unheard-of (anymore, at least) platter of prime time fights. Again, I think this is where you make money with boxing again, and get the sport back to where it deserves to be: Make the matchups. Fighters can't sell one-sided fights.

Let's start with "Undefeated," pitting Mayweather and Hatton in December. It's old hat for me to say it, but again, in all reality, I think Mayweather does to Hatton exactly what he did to Gatti and Baldomir. But it's the matchup that sells me on this fight. Ricky Hatton is a tremendous personality, so easy to root for, and I will be rooting for him. You don't get a lot more blue collar than Ricky Hatton. He's a guy you see at the local dive bar, playing pool or throwing darts with the old men.

Mayweather is absolutely the opposite. He flaunts his wealth, and good for him. He earned every cent of it. And while I think Floyd says a lot of the things he says in order to sell the fights he's in, isn't that kind of the point? He relishes playing the bad guy. Hatton couldn't play the bad guy if he tried. It's a perfect public relations matchup, and in the ring, the differences are similar in nature. Hatton is limited, to be blunt about it. He has OK power (didn't translate to 147 last time, may not this time). He works hard and sticks to his gameplan. Mayweather is the superior natural athlete, a marvel of a boxing specimen who makes his best opponents look like tomato cans in comparison at some point in every fight.

Will I buy Mayweather/Hatton? Yes.

Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto will meet at Madison Square Garden in November in a welterweight title clash that should have a huge atmosphere to it. Mosley feels almost like a rising star again, a great fighter who fell off a little bit, and is now back in the game at close to his best level ever. He's looked great in his last three fights, two wins over Fernando Vargas and a dominant performance against Luis Collazo, which was no easy bout to take.

Cotto is a machine. He's younger, he's probably physically stronger, and he makes opponents pay for fighting in close with him. As our own Matt Miller said already, though, Cotto will find bullying the slick, powerful Mosley a lot tougher than he did with Zab Judah. Simply put, Mosley's a much better fighter than Judah. Always has been, always will be.

The intrigue with this one is very basic: It's two outstanding fighters at the top of their weight class going toe-to-toe. You never lose when you pit the best against the best.

Will I buy Cotto/Mosley? Yes.

Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera will go head-to-head again in October. The first fight was good, which I think I ignore sometimes. Pacquiao dominated -- it was a star-making performance. But Marco Antonio Barrera is one of the generation's last trench warriors standing. His rival, Erik Morales, has retired. Diego Corrales has passed on. Arturo Gatti hung 'em up. Jose Luis Castillo is all but finished. Marco remains, and he can still fight. He lost to Marquez on the cards, but that was arguable. He fought a hell of a fight against a hell of a fighter.

I think Pacquiao will overwhelm Barrera in short order, because Manny is a much better fighter than he was in 2003. He's no longer just about the action. Against Jorge Solis, he even showed some restraint before he flipped the switch and closed the fight.

I think the revenge factor is a poor way to sell the fight, because it's just not that plausible. Pacquiao should be considered a huge favorite. The matchup is bad for Marco in every possible way. But, I want to see it happen, the same as I had to see Pacquiao/Morales III. Because in the back of my mind, I know that this is Marco Antonio Barrera, and that he won't stop fighting until he just can't keep going.

Will I pay for Pacquiao/Barrera II? Yes, because both fighters have more than earned my money over their careers.

The closest pay-per-view is September 8th, when Fernando Vargas fights his alleged farewell bout against Ricardo Mayorga, at a catchweight of 162 pounds. I love Mayorga, and have never cared for Vargas. There are few times I've been as thrilled with the outcome of a single fight as I was when Oscar finished Vargas off.

The appeal here is just that they're both loudmouth pricks who have proven endlessly willing to let their mouths write checks their asses can't cash. Matched up with one another, I don't expect we'll see much in the way of even a passable technical affair. What I do think you'll get are fireworks, because these are two guys for whom machismo is very, very important. Mayorga won't want to lose to a guy in his farewell bout. Vargas won't want to lose to Mayorga, because (like most fighters) he probably thinks Mayorga sucks, an idea for which you can form a good argument.

But they'll come to fight. It might be ugly, but it should be fun.

Will I buy Mayorga/Vargas? Probably.

And how about the non-PPV fights? Calzaghe/Kessler is a must-see, the one fight at 168 pounds that truly matters. Taylor/Pavlik is a must-see, the one fight at 160 pounds that truly matters, an undisputed (for all intents and purposes) champion against a guy who clearly earned his title shot with a fantastic performance in an exciting fight.

Vitali Klitschko is coming back, and I'm really rather intrigued, because I don't think I favor him terribly against Jameel McCline until we see that he's really got something left. He's been out of the ring for a good while, and he's never going to be fully healthy again. That said, at his peak, he was so much better than the other current heavyweights save for his brother that he could be the No. 2 heavyweight in the world if he's 75-80% of what he was.

I think Maskaev/Peter shapes up as a really good heavyweight title fight, too. Maskaev isn't great, but he's probably a little underrated. He's a tough son of a bitch and I expect he'll try to gain some serious credibility by slugging with the potentially overhyped Peter. Either way, the guy that wins that fight should get to fight Wladimir Klitschko, and with the way things are going, I just won't accept any more excuses from the heavyweights on why the best don't fight the best.

The Juan Diaz/Julio Diaz matchup is the best you can get at lightweight, considering Joel Casamayor's apparent exile. I favor Juan heavily, but I've never been terribly impressed with Julio. Still, who better could Juan have fought?

Soto/Guzman on November 17 is a tremendous matchup. Soto has become a dynamite fighter at 130, but Guzman is sort of the forgotten man in that division. With Pacquiao, Marquez, Barrera, and Soto generally considered the top four, and the urban myth that is Edwin Valero usually being the fifth guy mentioned, it's almost as if Guzman isn't 27-0 and really dangerous. I think of all the guys at 130, Guzman has the best shot at beating Pacquiao, because of his style. But will that apply against Soto? I really have no idea -- that's a pick-'em fight.

And, hell, let's not even ignore the Evander Holyfield Hallmark Movie of the Month on October 13. Either he wins or he goes down swinging, I know that much.

Every fight there is easy to sell. This isn't a season of Calzaghe/Manfredo, Klitschko/Austin, Pacquiao/Solis, Hatton/Urango, or some of the other crap we had to endure before the summer hit and boxing roared back in a big way. It's almost as if the promoters saw the success of Oscar/Floyd, and the great praise that Barrera/Marquez and Marquez/Vazquez received, and a light bulb went on.

We've seen Cotto and Judah, Margarito and Williams (I'd love to see a rematch there, as neither has a better opponent lined up or anything), Winky and Hopkins -- those are marquee matchups, and now more are on the way. Even Hatton/Castillo carried promise, although it didn't deliver (to no fault of Hatton's, mind you, other than that he kicked Castillo's ass).

It just feels so good to finally believe that the big fight is firmly back in style. No more pussyfooting around with this fight and that fight could lead to THE fight, which never happened for one reason or another.

And I don't worry that it'll change, because I think Top Rank, Golden Boy, and everyone else will come out of these bouts pleased with the results they see.

It's about damn time.

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