Thursday, November 12, 2009

Manny Pacquiao – Miguel Cotto: The Unspectacular Undercard

by Tim Starks

Remember how it felt like there was the start of a movement afoot just a few months ago to make boxing undercards better? It is, after all, a reason some mixed martial arts fans say they prefer their sport over boxing, and it’s a long-standing gripe of boxing fans, and in some cases, it’s been the reason someone turned to an illegal stream rather than willingly paying $50 for what amounts to one fight.

The undercard for Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez in September was really put together with that in mind, with two of the undercard bouts worthy of being separated out into their own HBO main event and co-feature — and the third turning into quite a scrap. After seeing Golden Boy get a lot of love for that card, Top Rank’s Bob Arum announced that he would have a “spectacular” undercard for Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto Nov. 14 . It would feature a lightweight bout between Edwin Valero and Humberto Soto, maybe, and just that fight alone would have had the potential to continue the “good undercard” trend.

Surprise, surprise. It didn’t work out that way. Now we get… this.

* Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.-Troy Rowland, middleweight. Chavez is the son of the consensus best Mexican fighter of all time, but at this point in his career, there ain’t much to him. He’s got some decent skill and power but may never have enough to amount to anything, he’s said to be lazy, has no amateur background and so he’s learning on the job and maybe — just maybe — Arum is milking him for every pay-per-view dollar he can until the day comes that all the people who keep inexplicably paying for Chavez, Jr.-headlined event will get sick of him fighting nobodies and, at times, struggling to beat them. That day is not Saturday. Rowland has fought primarily and Michigan and hasn’t beaten anybody of note or even fought anybody of note, unless you count Epifanio Mendoza, and he’s 25-2 with seven knockouts. It may sound impressive on the surface, but it’s pretty easy to get 25-2 when you fight exclusively in the Midwest, and it’s not a good sign that he’s lost twice that way. I’m guessing it’s just a total coincidence that he can’t crack, either.
* Daniel Santos-Yuri Foreman, junior middleweight. This fight is significant, but it has approximately a 100 percent chance of sucking. I like Santos, but he gets booed in his native Puerto Rico — he sometimes stinks out the joint by keeping action to a minimum and winning in the bare minimum fashion, which doesn’t endear him to the warrior-pride set in PR. Santos is skilled and can punch when he wants to, as he showed in his highlight-reel knockout of Joachim Alcine (in his most recent fight in July of 2008) to take Alcine’s WBA strap. He’s a top-10 caliber junior middleweight, but he’s so inactive for such long stretches he can’t stay in the rankings. Foreman comes in at #10 according to Ring magazine, but he makes Santos at his worst look like Pacquiao. Foreman can’t punch a lick and circles endlessly. I give him credit for trying to be more aggressive in his last fight, a mercifully cut-shortened no contest against Cornelius Bundrage. But if Pacquiao-Cotto is a proselytizing fight that will make people love boxing, Santos-Foreman stands a great chance of making them turn off the television before that fight even starts. (My prediction: Santos by decision, a sucky one.)
* Jesus Soto Karass-Alfonso Gomez, welterweight. This fight has approximately a 100 percent chance of not sucking, but it is of nearly zero consequence. Karass is an all-volume, heavy-handed, long-armed punching machine, and defense isn’t his strong suit. Gomez won over fans of the original “The Contender” season on NBC with, among other things, his own television-friendly tendencies in the ring. Karass and Gomez are top-20 welterweights at best, both of whom would get massacred by the welterweights in the main event. Oh wait, Gomez already did get massacred by Cotto. Still, these two guys are going to punch each other and punch each other and punch each other until they can’t no more, and I’ve always said I’m more than happy to watch a meaningless fight where both men go at it like they’re trying to snatch floating dollars from one of those television game show money booths.

That’s pretty nearly as far from “spectacular” as it gets. Any time you speak the sentence “Soto Karass-Gomez is the highlight of the undercard!” you’re in dire straits, friend.

Arum has a master plan, of course. He thinks Chavez’ involvement will bring in more Mexican fans. I don’t know what kind of numbers Chavez does when he headlines his own cards, but it’s enough that Arum keeps throwing him into main events, and I’m guessing that a big segment of the audience is Mexican one that primarily follows Mexican fighters. Likewise, Karass keeps headlining smaller shows in Mexico, and Gomez may still have some leftover fans from “The Contender” who wouldn’t normally watch boxing unless they were curious what he was up to. Arum also thinks Foreman’s involvement will recruit Jewish fans back to the sport. Admittedly, Foreman’s “boxer by night/rabbi-in-training by day” story is pretty cool. But I have no idea whether Foreman sells tickets to Jews in sufficient quantities to make him worth the trouble.

Still. I refer to my very first paragraph about why crappy undercards are such a bad idea for boxing. I don’t have the energy to rant about it again, like I do every time. Bad undercards are stupid and self-defeating and piss everyone off, but they keep happening. I can’t think of another business that is so routinely short-sighted about this kind of bullshit.

(If you’re going to the show live, the highlight of the non-televised card is exciting but very green middleweight prospect Matt Korobov. I throw that out there for no real reason I can explain. Boxing’s idiocy just turns me into a dadaist sometimes, I guess.)

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