With pay-per-view boxing, or at least this big-event stuff like we had on Saturday with Pacquiao vs Marquez III, one of the keys to overall success is for the lead promoter involved to try and lock up the next Saturday's HBO slot with a fight to pair with the replay of the pay-per-view main event.
In September, Mayweather vs Ortiz ran alone the next Saturday, with some extra "24/7" stuff attached. But no fighters got "the bump" that comes with the audience that tunes in for an encore of a big fight. While the whole idea may seem silly in 2011, considering we have the internet and all, it still matters to the people in charge. That encore is a big deal.
This Saturday night on HBO, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr makes his second appearance on the network, facing Peter Manfredo Jr for Chavez's WBC middleweight belt.
Chavez, 25, has run up a record of 43-0-1 (30 KO) without having faced much legitimate competition. He had the WBC belt gift-wrapped for him this year when the WBC and HBO wound up sort of working together to make that happen. Sergio Martinez, who held the title at the time, gave it up after HBO wouldn't air a fight between Martinez and unknown Sebastian Zbik. Instead, they chose to accept a fight between Martinez and equally unknown Sergiy Dzinziruk, a quality fighter but an odd pick nonetheless, for a March 12 date.
All of three months later, Zbik was on HBO, defending the title he'd won on paper against Chavez, a popular Mexican fighter mostly thanks to his name, and a fighter HBO had turned down for years due to lack of interest in his fights or even, really, his career.
Chavez has not been taken seriously outside of Mexico, and it's easy to see why. He's been babied every step of the way, and things like failed drug tests have been treated as though it was Chavez facing some dire medical emergency that left him unable to turn down the diuretic that turned a win over Troy Rowland into a no-contest in November 2009, with the WBC vowing to find the best nutritionists to assess his situation.
He trains now under Freddie Roach, but even that seems, in some ways, to be for show. When Chavez signed up to fight in September, he did so against the wishes of all of his career advisers. There was no American TV for the fight, and Roach didn't have the time to train Chavez anyway. Strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza did fly down to Mexico to give a hand, but left quickly and dismissed the entire camp as amateurish.
Not long after, Chavez encountered a ceiling fan, reportedly, and injured his knuckle. He had to pull out of his fight with Ronald Hearns, which was a laughable title matchup in the first place. Hearns' promother Lou DiBella (who also promote Manfredo) said he figured Chavez was just out of shape and wouldn't have been able to make weight, and indeed there was a lot of speculation out of Mexico that the WBC had again put the kiddie gloves on when dealing with Chavez's 30-day weigh-in.
He's on HBO not because he's a great fighter, or even a particularly good fighter. He's on because he's worth money and there are a lot of people who will watch him fight. His bout with Zbik did strong numbers in June, comparable to that of more credible young Mexican superstar Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, proving that even if his talent doesn't belong in an HBO main event, his audience does.
His opponent on Saturday is 30-year-old Peter Manfredo Jr (37-6, 20 KO). That video can tout him as having fast hands, but there's nothing special about "The Pride of Providence" in the ring. He's a solid, tough, working class sort of a fighter. He's got a legit fanbase in his neck of the woods that comes out to see him fight, and may well travel a little bit down to Houston for what could very likely be Manfredo's last shot at the big time.
Manfredo is probably best-known for two things in boxing: His participation on the first season of the regrettable "Contender," and his 2007 title shot against Joe Calzaghe in Cardiff. Manfredo didn't deserve that shot, but he traveled and took the chance. He was stopped in the third round, as he covered up on the ropes while Calzaghe slapped away. It was a fight where there was really no rage over the fact that it was stopped, since Manfredo wasn't going to win anyway, but it did seem like he had even the chance to try ripped away from him.
Fighting at home in 2008, Manfredo faced Sakio Bika in a nationally-televised fight on the Versus network. Manfredo was mauled in the third round this time, after Bika turned into The Incredible Hulk when he started to feel his trip to Rhode Island was an attempted sabotage. There's no other way to put it: Sakio Bika put the hurt on Manfredo that night.
And while Peter hasn't lost since, his slate of opponents (Daniel Edouard, Walid Smichet, Jhon Berrio, Angel Hernandez, Matt Vanda and Ronald Weaver) hasn't exactly been much to get excited about.
Here's the upside: Chavez vs Manfredo should be a good action fight. For as much criticism as Chavez's career does deserve, I think that stuff overlooks that the kid comes to fight and can be fun to watch. There wasn't anything wrong with the tempo or action in the Zbik fight.
I do think it's a shame that we have to grin and bear the semi-farcical career of a coddled son in HBO main events, however, and I can't act like it doesn't bother me. I don't hate watching him fight, but I wish he wasn't doing it on this stage, with the rules he's always played by being adopted by America's biggest, richest and most powerful boxing network. There are a lot of better, harder-working fighters out there who deserve the spot more than he does.
We'll have more on Chavez vs Manfredo this week, leading up to live coverage of the fight on Saturday night.