It truly is a world wide sport
Appeal Sports Writer
The vast majority of important title fights may take place on American soil and are televised on HBO and Showtime, but the United States no longer has a monopoly on the world’s best fighters.
It’s pretty much a given that the winner of Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya (on May 5) will leave America with the world’s pound-for-pound champion. But after adding in middleweight king Jermain Taylor and former champions Winky Wright and Bernard Hopkins – Americans all – the well of top fighters on U.S. soil begins to run dry.
The world’s best heavyweight – IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko – hails from the Ukraine (“Dr. Steelhammer,” 48-3 with 43 knockouts, knocked off American Ray Austin in two rounds on March 10); the planet’s best super middleweight – Welshman Joe Calzaghe, 43-0 (32) – just defended his WBO crown for the 20th time with a three-round beating of American Peter Manfredo on Saturday; and the world’s most exciting fighter – the Philippines’ Manny Pacquiao, 43-3-2 (34) – will be facing Mexico’s Jorge Solis, which will be televised on HBO Pay-Per-View from San Antonio on Saturday.
Although the French army may be nothing to brag about, the country does boast the world’s best cruiserweight in Jean-Marc Mormeck, 33-3 (22), while across the pond, England’s Ricky Hatton, 42-0 (30), is the reigning king at 140 pounds.
Although he may fight out of Miami, Cuba’s Joel Casamayor, 34-3-1 (21), is the top lightweight to be found.
Mexico boasts a trio of other world-beaters – world junior featherweight champion Rafael Marquez, 37-3 (33), his brother, WBC super lightweight titlist Juan Manuel Marquez, 47-3-1 (35), and junior bantamweight Jorge Arce, 46-3-1 (35), who will fight Mexico’s Cristian Mijares for his WBC 115-pound strap on the undercard of Pacquiao-Solis.
Although no matchmaker has been able to pair Japan’s Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, 65-2 (34), who recently defended his WBC flyweight belt for the 17th consecutive time, and cocky IBF flyweight beltholder Vic Darchinyan, 28-0 (22), an Armenian fighting out of Australia, both men deserve mention among the world’s elite.
The numbers speak for themselves and any sociocultural commentary on why world-class American boxers are bordering on the endangered-species list is best left to some university student who is working on his masters thesis.
The Calzaghe-Manfredo fight also proved that Las Vegas is not the self-professed “Fight Capital of the World,” but rather the Land of Oz.
Whereas the front rows of Vegas casinos hosting fights are filled with comps who don’t even bother showing up for the undercard, Calzaghe defended his title in front of 35,000 rabid fans in Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, Wales.
Just as America has had to get used to taking a back seat to the rest of the world when it comes to soccer, it had better become happy embracing fighters from other countries if it is to enjoy seeing the best the sport of boxing has to offer.
News and views from the world of boxing:
• With his easy victory over the overmatched Manfredo, Calzaghe now finds himself tied for fourth for most title defenses with Larry Holmes and Bernard Hopkins, who defended their respective heavyweight and middleweight titles 20 times apiece.
Germany’s Sven Ottke, who retired 34-0 (6), held his IBF super middleweight belt from 1998-04, defending it 21 times.
Poland’s Dariusz Michalczewski defended his WBO title light heavyweight 23 times, from 1994-03, until he was defeated by America’s Julio Gonzalez.
American Joe Louis holds the record with 25 title defenses. He won the belt with an eighth-round knockout of James Braddock in 1937 and defended it 21 times before joining the U.S. Army in 1942. He returned to boxing in 1946 and stopped Billy Conn in the eighth round of a rematch.
After defending the belt three more times, Louis retired as champion in 1949. “The Brown Bomber” was unable to lift the crown from Ezzard Charles in his 1950 comeback.
• The 35-year-old Calzaghe not only has a tempting list of world-class opponents to choose from – WBC-WBA super middleweight titlist Mikkel Kessler, Hopkins, Wright and Taylor – he has enough talent to defeat each one of them and, if the WBO tosses in a couple of alphabet contenders, he has a shot at surpassing Louis’ title-defense mark and Rocky Marciano’s all-time unbeaten mark of 49-0 before he retires.
• Trivia time: I’ve already given you Marciano and Ottke. Name the only other boxer to retire as champion and finish his career as an unbeaten champion. (See the bottom of the column for the answer).
• It’s amazing how smart HBO commentator Larry Merchant has become in hindsight. On Saturday he called former IBF super middleweight titlist Jeff Lacy “overhyped” going into his one-sided loss to Calzaghe last year.
Funny, I don’t recall Merchant saying that going into the fight or, for that matter, HBO even having an interest in the talented Calzaghe until his career-defining fight with Lacy.
Oh well, consider the source. Merchant doesn’t even have enough pride in his job to try and pronounce Manfredo correctly. Marble-mouthed Merchant called him “Manfraidi.”
And for this Merchant is one of boxing’s highest-paid “journalists.”
• Here’s another Merchant mouthful. After Calzaghe’s victory, Merchant said the “whole world” wants to see Calzaghe fight Kessler. Unless the whole world lives in Denmark – where all but two of Kessler’s fights have been – that’s a pretty ridiculous statement coming from an HBO employee, especially seeing how the company waited until two weeks ago until it finally televised one of Kessler’s fights (against an overmatched and amateurish Librado Andrade).
I too would love to see Calzaghe fight Kessler, 38-0 (29), but the result – in my eyes, anyway – is fairly predictable. “The Pride of Wales” is a slick southpaw, who is faster and more experienced than Kessler, which breaks down to a 12-round decision in favor of Calzaghe.
Calzaghe’s experience, respectable if not overwhelming power and superior speed and combination punching should also see him through bouts against Hopkins, Wright and Taylor.
And here’s one for the road, so to speak: If Calzaghe can draw 35,000 fans for Manfedo in Wales, then by all means keep him over there – just so long as it’s televised here.
Former multi-weight champion Roy Jones never traveled overseas, so let’s not apply that tired old double standard to Calzaghe that a fighter is no good if he doesn’t come to America to fight.
• Trivia answer: Pichit Sitbangprachan defeated Rodolfo Blanco for the WBC flyweight title in 1992. He defended it five times before retiring in 1994. Sitbangprachan returned for one fight in 1996 and two more in 2000 before retiring with a mark of 24-0 (18).