Say what you want; while some insist the belts are either “meaningless” or “worthless,” they are anything but. The bottom line is that boxers strive for them. They make more money once they have them and networks - no matter what HBO, Max Kellerman and the like try to claim- absolutely want them on their airwaves. There’s a reason why an overwhelming majority (almost all of them except those who can lean on network deals) never, ever vacate them. While these belts may come from corrupt federations, they certainly hold value within the business. You may not like it but as RUN-DMC once famously said, it’s like that and that’s the way it is.
Then again, I was taken aback when it was announced that the WBC had named Tim Bradley a “champion-in-recess” and was going to sanction a bout between their old stalwart Erik Morales and Jorge Barrios for the vacant title on September 17th in Las Vegas, as part of the Victor Ortiz-Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view bill. Here’s where this doesn’t pass the smell test: Bradley, who was last seen winning this belt against Devon Alexander back in late January (to unify the WBC and WBO titles), had recently turned down an opportunity to further consolidate the division by passing on an opportunity to face WBA titlist Amir Khan on July 23rd. Khan eventually took down IBF beltholder Zab Judah. While some were in hysterics that Bradley could turn down the most lucrative package of his career, he did not break any WBC regulations and he was not in a position where a mandatory was due. In fact, the WBC has a eliminator scheduled between number two-ranked Ajose Olusegun and number six Ali Chebah (and the 40 thieves) for September 30th.
Perhaps you can make an argument that Bradley is indeed “in-recess” or at least a hiatus, as he battles his TV packager Gary Shaw and Ken Thompson but what is head-scratching is the decision to sanction Morales-Barrios. It seems that this is nothing more than a tried-and-true ploy from Golden Boy to help push their “Star Power” pay-per-view card, which takes place on the weekend of the Mexican Independence, to basically gift Morales a title in a fourth weight class. This distinction has been so elusive for all the past Mexican greats and seemingly, this hook is being used to push sales of this particular show. So you can just hear the pitch now: “Not only do we have the pound-for-pound best (Mayweather) facing a young and hungry fighter (Ortiz), we have Mexican matinee idol (Saul Alvarez) facing a former “Contender” (Alfonso Gomez) and now, to top it off, history will be made with “El Terrible.”
Everybody in the sport does this- and will continue to foist this on a gullible public who just might not know any better. Yes, it’s shameful that the WBC has done this to Bradley and perhaps whatever shaky tradition and honor the sport has but they are only co-conspirators here. Golden Boy Promotions is also in on this subterfuge and is benefiting in every way. Do you remember when this was a nascent, young company and how Oscar De La Hoya would state to anyone who would listen that they would do things differently- unlike Don King’s and Bob Arum’s evil empires- and that they wouldn’t play these games with the sanctioning bodies and resort to such machinations?
Well, that’s exactly what Golden Boy is doing now. They aren’t just pandering to the WBC; they are participating with them. Guess what? I get it; it’s all part of the price of doing business in the boxing industry but it’s time they come clean.
In talking to Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer about this on Friday afternoon, he stated, "Well, y’ know, when you have fighters whose dream is to fight for a title and we are living in a sport, our sport doesn’t fight for Lombardi Trophies or a World Series trophy or for whatever trophies that are out there. This is a sport of belts. We’re in a sport where these young fighters are fighting; their dream is to win these belts and I think it is not fair if a fighter gets an opportunity to fight for a belt, the belt is the recognized symbol of a champion. That we say, ’Well, y’ know what? We feel because of this or that, you shouldn’t fight for it.’ How is the fighter going to look at it, ’What is wrong with you?!’ I mean, we are working for the fighters and we always said that. We are a company that was formed by fighters for the fighters and if you work for the fighters, how can you go and tell the fighters, ’Y’ know what? You really don’t deserve- Erik Morales- to fight for a world title.’ Honestly, to tell you the truth, I really do think he deserves to fight for a world title after the performance he had against Marcos Maidana, after everything he has accomplished in his career. I have to tell you something else; Morales versus Barrios, from an action point of view, it might actually steal the night."
Y’ know what, Richard? I couldn’t agree more about “El Terrible.” Based on his last outing and the overall scope of his Hall-of-Fame credentials, I have no problems with his getting another crack at the green belt (even though he earned it in a less-than-savory manner). Morales-Barrios, with or without a title attached to it, is a fun fight between two hardnosed bastards who are extremely prideful and won’t give an inch. But while Morales has perhaps earned an “emeritus” status with the WBC, Barrios is so unqualified for this shot, it’s galling. Not only has he only fought once in about two years (last October, he decisioned the 26-12-3 Wilson Alcorro in ten), he’s not even rated in the WBC top 15. There’s a good reason for that- he’s never boxed as a bona fide 140-pounder (By the way, the reason why Barrios probably “earned” this opportunity is because, like Morales, he is a Golden Boy boxer). Should Morales win this belt, it almost seems like a fait accompli that he will then take on another “Golden” client in Khan before the latter moves up to welterweight.
If Morales should win this title, it’ll be about as big a sham as Milli Vanilli’s Grammy that they lip-synced their way to in 1990. Again, it doesn’t take away from this warrior’s greatness but in that particular context, how else can you describe it?
"We are in a sport where we are in the entertainment business- boxing is an entertainment business," continued Schaefer, "and I think all of us are going to have to sit back and recognize and realize that because, I tell you what, somebody sure did- and that somebody is UFC. I mean, think about that; if the UFC would do something like that, nobody would say a word because they control the belts. They say, ’Now, you’re going to fight this guy and now you’re going to fight that guy’ and guess what? They’re growing and they’re growing. So we are getting all worked up, all worked up because we don’t agree with certain decisions of a sanctioning organization. Y’ know what; would the media and the public or the fight fans feel much better if there would be none of these titles and just say, ’Well, now we’re fighting for the Top Rank world title’ or ’We’re fighting for the Golden Boy world title’? That’s what UFC’s doing. That’s exactly what UFC’s doing!"
Uh, yeah, OK, not sure why Schaefer brought up Dana White’s ultimate fighting fiefdom but in terms of fighting for a “Top Rank” or “Golden Boy” title, well, as boxing’s “cold war” was waged the last few years, that in effect was exactly what was taking place. However, Schaefer is just doing what others have done in the past. Years ago, it was King who had a cozy- to put it delicately- relationship with Sulaiman. Arum’s sordid history with the IBF is well-documented but no longer can Golden Boy state that it’s above the fray. What’s ironic is that when Golden Boy purchased The Ring magazine a few years ago, it was speculated that one of the reasons they did so was to use their championship and their ratings as an unofficial sanctioning body. Of course, the usual screams and yells were made that somehow Golden Boy would use its undue influence to somehow manipulate the ratings for their own good. Well, I don’t think those concerns should exist anymore because in the end, it turns out that like every other major promoter, they don’t care about The Ring championship but the ones owned by the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO.
And for a simple reason: those are the ones that matter.
Like many others who came into this sport, bright-eyed and with the best of intentions, perhaps Golden Boy was naive in their pursuits. To survive- and ultimately thrive- in this industry, you have to be in the real world, not a utopian fantasy of linear titles and undisputed champions that simply no longer exists.
"What we realized is that the belts are going to be here. They have been here and they’re going to be here," stated Schaefer, "and you can look at The Ring archives from 100 years ago going back and you see guys with belts and I tell you what; 100 years from now, you can look and there’s still gonna be guys with belts."
(DESERT) STORM’N MAD
So do Bradley and representatives feel as though they’ve been mugged in broad daylight?
"Yeah, unbelievable," said his manager, Cameron Dunkin, chuckling at the thought. "To try and do this to somebody, they had no cause and no rules. Nothing. Just decided they wanted him to [drop his belt]." He believes this was a conspiracy of some sort. "I do," he said. “I think there’s a promoter involved. Yeah, I definitely do." He wouldn’t specify which promoter he was referring to.
As for their response to the WBC, Dunkin said, "We are answering, giving them their rules and asking them to send us something, asking why he would be stripped. What had he done that was outside their rules in order to be stripped like that?"
Could this be another Graciano Rocchigiani situation for the WBC? Who knows? But there could be litigation forthcoming.
"There could be a lawsuit, absolutely. I’ve got a lot of people on Tim Bradley’s side and people in the legal profession who are just itching to go and I’ve been telling ’em that we should give them a chance to respond and relax," said Dunkin.
When the bout between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson was first consummated, the idea was to stage it in Quebec or Montreal alongside Jean Pascal, who is a legitimate draw up there. Then this October 15th card was thought to be headed to Newark, New Jersey, till Kathy Duva basically “Mutombo’d” them with the Prudential Center. Finally, it has landed at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. So a guy from Philly (Hopkins) and a guy from…well, like it matters with Dawson, are facing each other 3,000 miles west of where this fight seems to fit best.
@sledskillz commented on Twitter, "Ugh, it went from drawing 10K in Canada to drawing 6K in Newark to flies in LA."
Schaefer, perhaps in full spin-mode, said that Los Angeles is an ideal venue for this pay-per-view show to take place. "It’s actually better," he stated with confidence. "I tell you why; when we did Hopkins against Howard Eastman, that was actually the first fight we ever did for Hopkins. Everybody said we were nuts and we did very well at Staples Center. I think we had 12 or 13,000 people and the atmosphere was great. I think- in fact, I know- Bernard is bigger today than he was then and I think his whole historic aspect and all these stories coming out after his tremendous victory against Jean Pascal, becoming the oldest champion, I think that made him a much, more recognized athlete- not just a boxer- but an athlete and celebrity, period. And the kind of offers he got show that. I mean, the guy gets an endorsement deal from Prada, OK? Prada, the Italian luxury manufacturer and today, Bernard Hopkins has become a household name and I think Los Angeles is perfect for that because Los Angeles likes to see stars."
I can’t argue that there is a bigger appeal to Hopkins than there was in 2005 and just by sticking around, he has created a niche for himself. But I’m not sure that scoring an endorsement deal with Prada will really translate to pay-per-view purchases or success at the box office. Also, I think Golden Boy had better stack this undercard with as many Mexican/Latin fighters as possible because this market is predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American. I’m not sure how well two African-Americans as the headliners will do out here in the “City of Angels.”
Part of the reason the Staples was available is the NBA lockout. Also on that weekend, the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins football teams do not have home games but there is the threat of a Dodger playoff game (OK, that was a joke).
"I think we’re going to do just fine," said Schaefer. "It’s going to be at a time when it looks like the NBA is going to be on strike (actually, a lockout) and we are going to be the only game in town."
GIMME A BREAK
Darren “Come on Down” Barker is listed as about a 26-1 underdog against middleweight king Sergio Martinez. And yes, a 26-1 fight is a main event on HBO (Just let that sink in for a second). But could you imagine the outcry from the hardcore Martinez brigade (which, judging by the looks of things, fills up about two-thirds of a Foxwoods casino ballroom) if a Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather even fought a guy who was just a 15-1 ’dog?
And please, spare me the "Well after this run, he needs a break." OK, I didn’t realize he had gone through a gauntlet of Harry Greb, Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler. And so now he needs a “break”? Well, after his March romp over Sergiy Dzinziruk in March, what in the hell were April, May, June, July, August and September? Hey, when you fight twice a year and can’t draw all that well, your break is, well, those long, interminable months between your fights. This reminds me of that kid that states that in the first week or two back to school that they need a bit of a respite. Hey, you got one; it was called the summer vacation you just had.
Like Nell Carter once sang, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4EAGiefnxc
Another unfortunate casualty of Morales-Barrios is that Anthony Crolla, originally slated to face Morales on this show, not only is unsure of his future plans but a rather large throng of his fans from the UK had booked flights and hotels for Las Vegas in hopes of seeing him against the legend. According to his trainer, Joe Gallagher (@gallaghersgym) on Twitter, more than a few folks made quite the investment that may be for naught...Mike Alvarado drew just under 4,000 this past weekend in Denver. Seriously, that market is ripe for boxing. They actually had some huge turnouts back in the heyday of Stevie Johnston at the Pepsi Center...Leo Santa Cruz is turning into a really good young fighter and is becoming a legitimate contender at bantamweight. He is a fun, all-action grinder...Some may find this incredibly ironic but Andre Berto is now working with Victor Conte for his upcoming fight on September 3rd against IBF welterweight beltholder Jan Zaveck...Not saying that the Bengals are holding Carson Palmer hostage but I believe “Nightline” will be doing regular reports from Cincy till this is resolved...Are the Eagles now the team to beat? I still say it’s the Packers...Speaking of Dunkin, he is now representing Pawel Wolak...I stated this on Twitter last week; my four favorite all-time HBO characters are: Al Swearengen (“Deadwood”), Ari Gold (“Entourage”), “Nucky” Thompson (“Boardwalk Empire”) and Daenerys Targaryen (“Game of Thrones”)...I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.