March, 31, 2013
By Kieran Mulvaney | ESPN.com
LAS VEGAS -- It was an eventful night of boxing on two continents on Saturday, from an impressive knockout by Gennady Golovkin in Monaco to a war at the Mandalay Bay. Here are five thoughts on what we saw and learned:
1. Despite itself, boxing continues to amaze
Far too often, boxing coverage and chatter dwells on the negative: fights that don't get made or don't live up to the hype; judging decisions that seem improbable at best or larcenous at worst; promoters not talking to networks and vice versa; ear bitings and Fan Man; boxers getting arrested, publicly burying their faces into very private parts or otherwise acting like buffoons.
And yet, when boxing gets it right, all that even the most cynical observer can do is stand back, applaud and acknowledge that professional prizefighters are athletes like no other. Think of the endlessly cycled "SportsCenter" highlights when a shortstop suffers a nose bleed after a seemingly routine grounder bounces into his face; and then look at a picture of Brandon Rios and, especially, Mike Alvarado at the end of their 12-round war. Grueling doesn't begin to describe their combat. The physical conditioning of both men has to have been off the charts for them to have dished out and withstood what they did, to say nothing of their extraordinary heart and courage.
There were times during Saturday night's battle in Las Vegas when the punches were flowing with such speed and ferocity and the momentum was shifting with such whiplash rapidity, that there was no hope of keeping up and making accurate, detailed notes; there was nothing to be done except to sit slack-jawed in amazement at it all. And although the attention will rightfully be on the punishment each man meted out, there was subtlety, as well -- boxing brains as well as brawn, particularly on the part of Alvarado, whose success came not just from his right hands and left hooks but from his feet and his ability to move laterally, shift position and reduce his opponent's effectiveness.
It was one of those truly remarkable nights when it was a privilege to be able to sit ringside. And at the risk of returning to the extra-curricular shenanigans touched on earlier, with this war coming on the heels of Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov, do you really think HBO is missing Adrien Broner or Bernard Hopkins right now?
2. Being respectful outside the ring doesn't preclude going to war inside it
Forget the tension in the ring in the immediate aftermath of the fight, which came when adrenaline was pumping and Rios, having had his brain rattled around in his skull for 12 rounds, was coming to terms with his first loss. Focus instead on the build-up to this contest and the mutual respect from both men. They had been to war once and were about to do so again, but in the interim they smiled, shook hands, even hugged on the weigh-in stage. At the end of the night, they both went to the same trauma center at the same hospital. What do you want to bet that, a la Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, they at one point found themselves in adjacent beds and, in the small hours of the morning, exchanged compliments about what they had just done to each other?
3. GGG keeps rolling
Granted, nobody expected Nobuhiro Ishida to defeat Gennady Golovkin. It's doubtful many people not called Mrs. Ishida even expected him to make it an especially close contest. And Ishida himself didn't aid his own cause by eschewing his jab and reach, and choosing instead to stand in Golovkin's wheelhouse and fight.
But if there aren't official style points awarded in boxing, the way in which a boxer wins a fight still counts for a lot, and the spectacular right hand that dropped Ishida onto his back and out in the third round added to the growing Golovkin mythology. Golovkin combines the pressuring, stalking, suffocating style of a python with the sudden, vicious finishing strike of a rattlesnake. He is as much of a beast inside the ring as he is a gentleman outside of it. Once Dmitry Pirog heals from a back injury, his postponed clash with Golovkin is aching to take place. And the prospect of GGG ultimately colliding with Sergio Martinez to see who truly is the best middleweight in the world is something to savor.
4. There are few things to match British fight crowds
In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing extraordinary about either Derry Mathews or Anthony Crolla. Crolla, by way of illustration, was previously stopped by Mathews, who was in turn halted by Gavin Rees, who was swatted aside with contempt by Adrien Broner. Matthews and Crolla had 12 losses between them as they walked to the ring in the Liverpool Echo Arena in the co-main event for Tony Bellew's light heavyweight battle with Isaac Chilemba, but the British fans roared them into the ring as if Lennox Lewis were fighting the ghost of Henry Cooper.
Part of that came down to the fact Mathews is from Merseyside and Crolla from Liverpool's hated local rival, Manchester. But as anyone who will recall Ricky Hatton's magical nights in Las Vegas can verify, British fight fans display a genuine passion that few, if any, North American cities outside Montreal can match.
5. Macau awaits its turn on the stage
This week Monte Carlo, Liverpool and Las Vegas. Next week, the boxing world turns its eye to Macau for what promises to be both an entertaining card and, potentially, the first of many to come. Top Rank's Bob Arum has long talked of staging a fight in Macau, and now circumstances have conspired to make it possible. The signing of Chinese amateur standout Zou Shiming is an important key to unlocking the door. At the same time, Macau itself brings increasing riches to the table, with the territory's casinos generating more income in January this year than all of the Las Vegas strip's properties average in six months.
Over dinner with media members on Friday night, Arum sounded confident that Manny Pacquiao's next bout -- slated for Sept. 14 -- would be at the same venue as next Saturday's card, unless its sister property in Singapore proves able to wrest it away. None of which is to say that the MGM Grand will go without a fight. Nor does it mean that Sin City's position as the undisputed fight capital of the world is under any imminent threat just yet; a number of factors, including geography and TV money, will see to that. And plenty of other rivals -- Atlantic City, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, even Madison Square Garden -- have come and gone or continue to fall short of what the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay offer. But if the trial balloon floats as planned next week, then with the right boxers and the right cards, catering to the right demographics and fighting for the right money, Macau may place itself in contention as a major stop on the global boxing circuit.