Against the Grain: On the Pacquiao-Margarito Fight

ARLINGTON, TX - MARCH 12: Boxer Antonio Margarito of Mexico and promoter Bob Arum pose in front of Cowboys Stadium before the weigh-in for the WBO welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines and Joshua Clottey of Ghana on March 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. Pacquiao and Clottey will fight March 13, 2010 in Cowboys Stadium. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Now that Antonio Margarito has gotten a license from a vending machine in the lobby of the offices of the Texas Combative Sports Commission, his fight with Manny Pacquiao is officially on. And with the looming bout, apparently, comes a maelstrom of criticism, outrage, and pompous advice sure to last as long as the buildup to the fight itself.

Everyone has a “solution” to the pending fight between Pacquiao and Margarito. Some writers, who apparently have no idea how boxing economics work, are also playing matchmaker, offering their expertise to name “worthier” opponents. Pacquiao should do this, Pacquiao should do that, Pacquiao should be ashamed to fight Margarito, he should face the Ring lightweight champion of the world, he should fight more deserving challengers, like Tim Bradley, whose promoter, Gary Shaw, has to lurk around the box office at the Agua Caliente Casino like The Scarlet Pimpernel, buying up tickets to ensure that Bradley scores a “sell-out.” Or how about Andre Berto? You know, the multi-millionaire who cannot sell enough tickets to half-fill a dumb waiter in a Victorian mansion? Berto—and this point cannot be hammered home enough—sold a pathetic 972 tickets for his last world title defense in his own home state. More homeless people gather around a trashcan bonfire in wintry New York City than are interested in paying to see Berto fight.

Naturally, Dan Goosen throws Paul Williams into the mix, because Goosen has an appointment book full of blank pages. And some of the experts also think Williams “deserves” the fight. But no promoter in his right mind would put Pacquiao in with Paul Williams because Williams has not made the welterweight limit in over two years. This in itself is a threat to any promotion. Combine this with the fact that Williams cannot sell tickets or draw viewers and is a southpaw who stands 6’1 with an 82” reach and you have the ultimate “Are you kidding?” moment for a promoter or manager. This is just boxing common sense–at least from the standpoint of a promoter looking to maximize revenue.

Timothy Bradley, Paul Williams, and Andre Berto were all featured in a recent issue of The Ring in a feature story entitled “The Empty Seat Dilemma.” Antonio Margarito, needless to say, would never have his name dropped in such an article. Although his comeback fight against anonymous Roberto Garcia was a pay-per-view bust, Margarito sold thousands of tickets and remains a solid draw among Mexican fans and will bring in extra revenue from south of the border. None of the other fighters mentioned as opponents–with the exception of Juan Manuel Marquez–can bring in revenue from their own neighborhoods much less from other countries. Marquez is the only alternative put forth that makes any sense from a promotional point of view because Pacquiao and Marquez share an explosive in-ring history and because Marquez will also bring in pesos from Mexican broadcast rights. Unfortunately, Marquez fights for Golden Boy Promotions, and Bob Arum would rather undergo thrumbscrew treatment than split any booty with Richard Schaefer, who no longer qualifies as even a frenemy.

Some pundits are also aghast about sanctioning body machinations, put in play by Top Rank and the WBX, designed to ensure that Pacquiao fights for a junior middleweight title. Lyle Fitzsimmons, for example, who has typed out thousands of words extolling the pitiful IBO, thinks this “title” bout is a disgrace. But most, if not all, alphabet titles—silver ones, interim ones, super ones, vacant ones, real ones—are nonsense. Andre Berto won his “World” title by beating a policeman of painfully limited ability. He has yet to make a mandatory defense. Beibut Shumenov has fought for 16 titles in a career comprised thus far of eleven bouts. Guillermo Jones has not defended his trinket in two years. Paul Williams won some “interim” junior middleweight title. Half the fighters challenging for “title” belts do not deserve the opportunity. To point out Pacquiao-Margarito as some kind of sanctioning anomaly is ridiculous.

Ditto complaints about weight. Catchweight bouts have been a dopey fad in boxing for years–a Golden Boy specialty, in fact–should Pacquiao not be allowed to partake in the trends of his times? Bernard Hopkins was lavished with the term “greatness” repeatedly during his light heavyweight career—one that included exactly one fight with a light heavyweight until he face mummified Roy Jones Jr. last April. Besides, Pacquiao has only engaged in one catchweight bout: against Miguel Cotto. (His fight with De La Hoya was a flub on the part of De La Hoya, since ODLH, three divisions above Pacquiao at the time, was salivating at the chance to face a fighter one bout removed from junior lightweight.)

Fitzsimmons also pointed out–with a crooked finger, no doubt–that Henry Armstrong never asked anyone to concede on weight when he terrorized several divisions simultaneously. No, but Jimmy McLarnin did. Battling Nelson once forced Joe Gans to weigh-in just before the opening bell of their fight (he also forced Gans to weigh-in three times on fight day, forcing Gans to forego food and water). Tony Janiro would only fight Jake LaMotta if LaMotta agreed to weigh 155 pounds. Juan Manuel Marquez agreed to face Floyd Mayweather Jr. at a catchweight that Mayweather refused to honor. Barney Ross once won both the world lightweight title and the world junior welterweight title in the same match against Tony Canzoneri. Most recently, and perhaps most infamously, Sugar Ray Leonard won two titles in two different weight classes simultaneously by knocking out Don Lalonde in 1988. Lalonde came in 8 pounds beneath his usual light heavyweight mark, and Leonard was a full 10 pounds lighter than the 175-pound weight limit. Shallow historical comparisons are the norm for most boxing writers, but it would be nice if a broader scope was used once in a while.

Finally, it seems that Margarito, all of a sudden, cannot fight. It is possible that Margarito used loaded gloves in the past, but since this has not been proven conclusively, we have to take his accomplishments at face value. In that case, losing one fight to a supposed “P-4-P” entrant, Shane Mosley, is enough to eliminate him as a viable boxer? Mosley, it should be noted, remains among the top “P-4-P” fighters in the world according to The Ring. This says as much about the knee-jerk, self-aggrandizing media–some of whom seem to think that their P-4-P drivel actually matters–as it does about the proposed matchup itself. Lose one fight, these jokers seem to say, and you are no longer a worthy boxer. No wonder so many fighters avoid challenges routinely these days.

The only fight that really matters is Pacquiao-Mayweather, but if that match cannot be made—for whatever reason—then Top Rank has to move on to an event they think will generate pay-per-view buys and bring them maximum profit…just like every other promoter. Arum may be frustrated at the decisions handed down by Las Vegas and California regarding Margarito, but he knows that, in the end, the controversy surrounding his tainted star will only make for more press coverage. Given the number of online novellas spun around Michael Grant recently, who has been more or less irrelevant in boxing for nearly a decade, Antonio Margarito will get so much media attention—most likely from outlets beyond self-absorbed boxing press, thank God—that servers worldwide will crash simultaneously. Nothing Tim Bradley, Paul Williams, and Andre Berto do—short of leaping tall buildings in a single bound on some reality show or going on a mass shooting spree—will bring them any comparable attention from mainstream sports fans and news outlets.

From his point of view—that of the promoter looking to stage a financially successful event—Arum is hoping that the enmity surrounding Margarito will translate into pay-per-view buys and ticket sales. Judging from all the hoopla over the last few days, he may very well be on to something.

*****

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Tags: ANDRE BERTO Antonio Margarito Bob Arum Juan Manuel Marquez Manny Pacquiao PAUL WILLIAMS TIM BRADLEY

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