In boxing, backup plans are always necessary. Fighters get hurt. Fighters get sick. Fighters pretend they got hurt and pull out of fights. Fighters lose supposed tune-ups and screw up set big fights.
But in boxing, backup plans are rarely in place. For some reason, promoters always seem to expect everything to go smoothly. And while Bob Arum says that if Juan Manuel Marquez loses his July fight, the bout in November with Manny Pacquiao is off, one has to wonder if Arum has any concrete plans for a replacement opponent. Pacquiao will fight in July. But if not Marquez, then who does he fight?
We'll get back to that, but let's talk about this specific situation. There are two recent examples that spring to mind.
Back in late 2005, then-welterweight champ Zab Judah made a deal to defend in a huge fight in April 2006 against Floyd Mayweather Jr, considered by most at that time the best in the sport, pound-for-pound. Judah was, frankly, not that good of a welterweight. His first bout at the weight saw him lose to champion Cory Spinks, but Judah dethroned Spinks in a rematch after struggling to beat Rafael Pineda and topping Wayne Martell with ease. After beating Spinks, Zab made a single lousy defense against Cosme Rivera.
But Judah had a WBC mandatory to deal with. He could have forfeited the WBC belt, since he also had the WBA and IBF titles under his control, but he didn't, and he faced an Argentine veteran named Carlos Baldomir as a supposed final tune-up, three months before facing Mayweather. Baldomir beat Judah, which sent the camps scrambling. In the end, Mayweather and Judah just had their fight anyway, but it was all but completely ruined, and was not the event it would have been otherwise.
In December 2009, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr took tune-ups that were designed to showcase them for long-awaited, well-overdue 2010 rematch of their 1993 fight. They found that TV interest wasn't there, so Hopkins fought Enrique Ornelas live on the Versus network, winning a dull fight, while earlier in the day, Jones had gone to Australia to face Danny Green. Green stopped Jones in the first round.
And again, despite the fact that one man lost, Hopkins vs Jones II went on as planned. Nobody cared -- the fight couldn't draw a crowd in Vegas or an audience on pay-per-view.
Arum says that the same case won't happen here. If Marquez loses in July -- and it still looks like David Diaz will be the opponent -- then the fight is off, period. It's the admirable stance. Unlike Judah vs Mayweather, this isn't just a really big fight, it's a serious event. Mayweather wasn't yet the household name he would become a year later. And while you might argue that this matching of old rivals is overdue and coming too late, it's certainly not in league with Hopkins vs Jones II in that respect.
Can Marquez lose in July? Diaz or any other fighter given the ring against Marquez in July will be picked carefully. Marquez isn't looking for any type of real threat, and Diaz fits the bill nicely. He's a southpaw, so Marquez can pretend he's using that to his advantage, he has little power, and at 34, he's also past his best, and had issues in January with journeyman Robert Frankel.
But here's the thing -- Marquez is going to be five weeks shy of his 38th birthday when he fights on July 16, and he'll be fighting in a division he has no experience at. I know the optimists keep saying that the weight isn't really a factor and all that, but he clearly didn't carry weight well against Mayweather when he came in at 142, and the tune-up will be at 140. If he simply can't fight over 135, there could be trouble. And even if he's OK in that regard, stupider things have happened in boxing than 38-year-old fighters, even great ones, losing to guys they shouldn't lose to.
So if Marquez falters, where does Top Rank turn? There's Miguel Cotto, who as I've said always seems like he's the reserve opponent for Pacquiao should all avenues be exhausted. That would be my number one expectation. Cotto is tentatively set to face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in September, if Chavez beats Sebastian Zbik on June 4. But Top Rank knows the score here -- Pacquaio vs Cotto II is bigger than Chavez vs Cotto, and Cotto can lose to Pacquiao again without hurting the appeal of a fight with Chavez. There's no seriously harming a rising Mexican superstar (money, money, money, don't care how he fights) against Puerto Rico's greatest name since Trinidad, especially when the loss comes to Pacquiao.
But there's also another possibility: Timothy Bradley. Bradley is nearing the end of his deal with Gary Shaw Productions, and little birdies all over the place are chirping that he will sign with Top Rank when his current contract expires on June 30. Frankly, for November, Cotto would be the "better" opponent. He's more well-known, a bigger star, and frankly, Manny needs opponents in 2012, too. It would make sense for Top Rank to try and further expose Bradley to a bigger audience. Gary Shaw is great at getting his fighters on TV. I don't know how good he is at getting many people beyond the diehard boxing audience to care that they're on TV. Top Rank is good at that part, and even though Bradley isn't an easy sell, their promotional power being greater than Shaw's will help make him at least as big as he can be.
Marquez will most likely win. But the July fight carries some intrigue if only because he's risking millions of dollars and potentially creating a mad dash by Top Rank to save their biggest date on the calendar.