Commentary

Boxing gets direct challenge from MMA

Updated: August 19, 2011, 3:02 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Juan Manuel Marquez & Manny Pacquiao,AP Photo/Joe CavarettaWill another round of Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao help keep boxing fans from turning to another combat sport?

"Let the games begin," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum chortled into the phone on Thursday.

Arum was talking about the competition he is about to face from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has its first free event under its new deal with Fox coming on Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. ET -- directly against the HBO PPV card that Arum is promoting. You know the one, right? The one headlined by pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who defends his welterweight title against Juan Manuel Marquez in the main event in their long-awaited third showdown.

Early Thursday, Fox and UFC announced the deal -- widely reported to be for seven years and worth about $100 million annually -- that will move the mixed martial arts promoter's events to the Fox family of television networks from Spike and Versus.

While the Fox's coverage of the UFC event will go head-to-head with the pay-per-view's first hour, UFC officials said it will be over by the time the actual Pacquiao-Marquez bout begins.

The biggest part of the deal in terms of exposure is that Fox -- which airs in more than 100 million homes and regularly carries sports events such as the Super Bowl and World Series -- will carry four events per year, including the first one opposite Arum's Pacquiao-Marquez III pay-per-view.

"They're just being fair and balanced," Arum quipped, using the catchphrase of Fox News Channel.

Believe him or not, but Arum says he thinks the move will actually benefit the boxing pay-per-view event.

"I think it helps it because there will be a lot of talk about it, and people who follow boxing and love boxing are gonna vote with their dollars," he said. "We're going to rally the base. We've got all the Democrats and Independents. They'll all be watching boxing."

So does Arum think the Fox/UFC move was by design?

"Of course. It's not an accident," he said. "Let the games begin."

Arum said he believes Fox will use the deal with the UFC to pressure cable operators to add their smaller networks, such as Fuel, which will carry UFC programming.

"We welcome the competition," he said. "That's what we thrive on."

But in the next breath, Arum said he wasn't concerned and didn't view a free UFC event airing opposite a boxing pay-per-view as serious competition.

"As far as we're concerned, it is irrelevant," Arum said.

Does it mean he will beef up the undercard for the Pacquiao-Marquez PPV to give consumers more bang for their buck?

"We were always planning a tremendous, quality event," he said. "It's going to be an unbelievable undercard, with pizzazz and great fights -- the same type of shows we've been putting on for Pacquiao fights. Of course, we still have to finalize everything with the fights. We don't want to announce it piecemeal."

Arum said he would wait to announce the undercard until after the Sept. 17 Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Victor Ortiz HBO PPV card, which he is not promoting.

Arum didn't say where he got his statistics from, but he claimed that less than 5 percent of the viewers who watch UFC also watch boxing, so it wouldn't have an impact on the PPV.

"There is no competition," he said. "If Fox was to put on a top movie that night, it might be more competition. If Fox put on Manchester United that night, it would be more competition."

Arum said the mere notion of a competition, however, would "energize cable systems to really go full bore [to promote the PPV] because the 800-pound gorilla [Fox] has thrown a dare at them trying to hurt them" by putting the free UFC event on against Pacquiao-Marquez.

Cable systems generally reap nearly half the gross television revenue from a pay-per-view event, giving them incentive to heavily market the biggest events, such as a fight involving Pacquiao.

"If Showtime put on a big [boxing] card against us, that would be cause for concern and get me really pissed off," Arum said. "Not this."

Gonzalez defense on ESPN Deportes

Featherweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez (49-7, 43 KOs) of Mexico will make his second title defense against Philadelphia's Rogers Mtagwa (27-14-2, 19 KOs) on Sept. 15 -- Mexican Independence Day -- at the El Paso County Coliseum in El Paso, Texas, promoter Dan Goossen told ESPN.com.

Super middleweight Shawn Estrada and welterweight Javier Molina -- prospects and 2008 U.S. Olympic teammates promoted by Goossen -- will also be on the card, which will be televised on ESPN Deportes as part of the Mexican Independence Day celebration.

Goossen said he is excited by the combination of ESPN Deportes and a Thursday-night card.

[+] EnlargeJhonny Gonzalez
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty ImagesJhonny Gonzalez, right, will make his second title defense against Rogers Mtagwa on Sept. 15 in front of a television audience.

"I'd like to utilize ESPN Deportes a lot more because it's a great way to showcase our Hispanic fighters," he said. "And with this card, we are on a Thursday night. It opens up an opportunity for ESPN Deportes to televise boxing off of its usual [Friday] night. It's Mexican Independence Day. What better day to have the fight occur than the day the celebration is held?"

Originally, the card was going to take place in Ontario, Calif., with Mexican-American heavyweight contender and local draw Cristobal Arreola headlining. However, Televisa, the network that will broadcast the card in Mexico, and Goossen couldn't work out a fee big enough to be able to cover Arreola's and Gonzalez's fights.

Arreola has been one of the busiest contenders in boxing, already having won four fights this year, including three between early May and mid-June.

"Cris isn't on the show because we just couldn't make it work and fit all of the pieces together," Goossen said, "but we'll get him back in the ring before the end of the year for at least one more fight, if not two."

Gonzalez was supposed to face Roinet Caballero of Panama, but for the second time in two months, visa issues prevented Caballero from coming to the U.S. to fight, Goossen said.

Mtagwa has twice fought for a world title -- in back-to-back fights. In October 2009, he pushed then-junior featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez to the brink in an all-action slugfest but lost a decision. In January 2010, Yuriorkis Gamboa wiped out Mtagwa in two rounds of a featherweight title bout.

Zaveck-Berto undercard

Blazing-fast blue-chip featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. (17-0, 10 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympian, is scheduled to open the HBO "Boxing After Dark" broadcast on Sept. 3 at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss. The only problem: Two weeks before the fight, he still has no opponent, which is highly unusual for an HBO card.

One of the reasons is because the network and Al Haymon, Russell's adviser, can't agree on one. That's the reason Russell was bounced from the televised portion of the July 23 Amir Khan-Zab Judah fight.

[+] EnlargeGary Russell Jr
Craig Bennett/FightWireImages.comStrangely, Gary Russell Jr., left, is still waiting on an opponent for his Sept. 3 fight on HBO.

Russell isn't signed to a promoter, although Golden Boy has done most of his fights. However, Haymon handles former welterweight titlist Andre Berto (27-1, 20 KOs), who headlines in a challenge to titlist Jan Zaveck (31-1, 18 KOs) and essentially forced Russell onto promoter Lou DiBella's card.

Also on the card is former junior welterweight titlist Randall Bailey (41-7, 36 KOs), the knockout artist who is Zaveck's mandatory challenger. Bailey took step-aside money to allow Zaveck to fight Berto. If Bailey beats Yoryi Estrella (10-5-2, 7 KOs), which he is expected to do, he is supposed to get the next shot at the main-event winner.

Of the undercard bouts, the one DiBella is most excited for features South African super middleweight prospect Thomas Oosthuizen (15-0-1, 11 KOs), who DiBella recently signed to co-promote with South African promoter Rodney Berman. It will be the first fight in the United States for Oosthuizen, who will face a solid opponent in Aaron Pryor Jr. (16-3, 11 KOs), another DiBella fighter, who is coming off a May upset of longtime contender Librado Andrade.

"He's a white South African kid who is extremely athletic and strong, and the biggest prospect over there," DiBella said. "I think Pryor is a pretty good top-10-caliber 168-pounder, so he's coming over here and trying to make a statement."

Lopez comeback fight set

While waiting for a likely rematch with featherweight titlist Orlando Salido in early 2012, former titlist Juan Manuel Lopez (30-1, 27 KOs) will fight in his native Puerto Rico on Oct. 1, Top Rank announced.

Lopez, who was upset in front of his hometown crowd via eighth-round knockout by Mexico's Salido in April, will face American Mike Oliver in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on a card that will be available in the United States as an Integrated Sports PPV.

Arum hoped to make Salido-Lopez II in the fall, but with the premium networks out of dates and money, he said it would have to wait until next year. So Peter Rivera, Arum's partner on Lopez, will put on the show in Puerto Rico. Oliver (25-2, 8 KOs) had been scheduled to challenge Salido in Mexico on July 23, but he suffered a sternum injury in a June tuneup fight and withdrew.

"I wanted this fight against Salido, the rematch, but business and TV make that my rematch will be held in the first months of next year," Lopez said. "I'm going versus Oliver, a good boxer, and I'm training for boxing, but also for a brawl. I'm ready for everything. I want to show that I can be world champion again.

Two other top Puerto Rican fighters are slated to appear on the PPV card in 12-rounders: former junior lightweight titlist Roman "Rocky" Martinez (24-1-1, 15 KOs) and junior featherweight Jonathan Oquendo.

Martinez, who has had some nagging injuries and hasn't fought since losing his title via decision to Ricky Burns in Scotland in September 2010, will face Ramon Maas (25-1, 15 KOs).

"I've been a year without a fight, but always I'm training and keeping in the gym," Martinez said. "I'm going to face a good fighter, but I will recover my career to be world champion again."

Oquendo (21-2, 14 KOs) will face Thailand's Sod Looknongyantoy (51-2-1, 21 KOs) in a title eliminator that is expected to make the winner the mandatory challenger for 122-pound titlist Jorge Arce.

Quick hits

• The WBC held three mandated 30-day prefight weigh-ins this week for fights it will be sanctioning Sept. 17 (HBO PPV). Welterweight titlist Victor Ortiz weighed in at 157.4 pounds, while challenger Floyd Mayweather Jr. was almost already on weight at 149 pounds for the 147-pound bout. They could have been as heavy as 162 pounds. Junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez was 165.5 pounds, while challenger Alfonso Gomez weighed 161 pounds for the 154-pound bout. They could have weighed up to 169 pounds at the weight check. Junior welterweight Erik Morales was 153 pounds, while Lucas Matthysse was 147.5 for their 140-pound bout. The maximum weight 30 days out was 154 pounds.

• Top Rank announced this week that Japan's Toshiaki Nishioka (38-4-3, 24 KOs), who makes his seventh junior featherweight title defense against former champ Rafael Marquez (40-6, 36 KOs) of Mexico on Oct. 1 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, will air on "Top Rank Live" (Fox Deportes). Marquez, also a former bantamweight champion, had been fighting at featherweight but dropped back to junior featherweight, where he scored a sixth-round knockout of Eduardo Becerril on the undercard of his brother and lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez's fight on July 16 in Cancun, Mexico. Top Rank, which is promoting Nishioka-Marquez with leading Japanese promoter Teiken Promotions, had considered making the card a small pay-per-view. Power-punching junior flyweight titlist Roman Gonzalez (29-0, 24 KOs) is also slated to defend his belt on the card against an opponent to be determined.

[+] EnlargeCarl Froch and Andre Ward
Tom Casino/SHOWTIMECarl Froch and Andre Ward will make stops in London, New York and Oakland, Calif., to promote their Oct. 29 Super Six finals showdown.

• Usually multicity media tours are reserved for major pay-per-view fights, but Showtime is pulling out all the stops in an effort to promote the much-anticipated final of its two-year Super Six World Boxing Classic. Super middleweight titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch of England will meet to unify their belts on Oct. 29 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. But first they will embark on a three-city international tour. It kicks off Monday in London, followed by a Tuesday stop in New York, concluding Wednesday in Ward's hometown of Oakland, Calif. "This international press tour is a symbol of the magnitude of this final," Showtime Sports general manager Ken Hershman said. "Generally, elaborate kickoff press tours are reserved for pay-per-view events. In the case of the Super Six World Boxing Classic final, you have an unmatched accomplishment in the sport of boxing, two men who survived an unprecedented gauntlet and now stand one test away from claiming super middleweight supremacy. Unquestionably, the final is deserving of this type of worldwide official announcement."

• Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer was in England this week, mainly to announce that the Sept. 17 Mayweather-Ortiz fight would be carried by Primetime pay-per-view in the United Kingdom, but he also met with British promoter Frank Warren. Schaefer said his main business with Warren was to discuss making a fight between Warren-promoted junior lightweight titlist Ricky Burns (32-2, 9 KOs) of Scotland and 22-year-old, Golden Boy-promoted contender Adrien Broner (21-0, 17 KOs) of Cincinnati. Burns, who has made three defenses, is a good draw in Scotland, but Warren said he would consider bringing him to the United States for the fight, which is possible for Nov. 5 on HBO. "If the deal was good enough, of course we would [come to the U.S.]," Warren said.

• Mexico's Cristian Mijares (42-6-2, 18 KOs) -- who was supposed to make a mandatory junior bantamweight title defense against San Antonio's Raul Martinez (28-1, 16 KOs) on Sept. 10 -- has vacated his title and is moving up to bantamweight because he can no longer make weight. Sean Gibbons of Zanfer Promotions, Mijares' promoter, notified the IBF in writing of the decision on Wednesday. Mijares and Martinez were supposed to fight in May, but Martinez suffered a severe cut on his nose in training and had to postpone the bout. Now Martinez will face Mexico's Rodrigo Guerrero (15-3-1, 10 KOs) for the vacant belt on a date to be determined this fall. Guerrero, who lost a decision to then-champion Vic Darchinyan in March 2010, will be getting his second title opportunity in a rematch with Martinez. Martinez edged him via split decision in a November 2010 title eliminator. "We will be ready. It will be a tough, physical fight -- probably tougher in a different way than Mijares," Lou Mesorana, Martinez's manager, told ESPN.com. In his second 115-pound title reign, Mijares won the belt in December in a decision against Juan Alberto Rosas and made one defense -- a May decision against Carlos Rueda, who had stepped in for the injured Martinez.

• Junior featherweight titlist Jorge Arce is due to fight in his native Mexico on Sept. 24 in the main event of "Top Rank Live," according to Sean Gibbons of Zanfer, Arce's co-promoter. Whether Arce (57-6-2, 44 KOs) defends his belt or takes a nontitle bout has not been determined, but it will be Arce's first fight since he pulled an upset by stopping Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. in the 12th round to win a 122-pound belt on the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley undercard. The card could also include Raul Martinez against Rodrigo Guerrero in their rematch for a vacant junior bantamweight belt, according to Gibbons. • Cruiserweight titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (45-2-1, 32 KOs) of Poland could be headed for Australia to make his third defense against popular Danny Green (31-4, 27 KOs), who suffered a ninth-round knockout loss to Antonio Tarver in Sydney on July 20. "There's interest in that fight on both sides," Leon Margules, who promotes Wlodarczyk, told ESPN.com. "We have a voluntary defense we can do. So should we face a nondescript opponent in Poland, try to make a unification with one of the [titleholders based in Germany] or fight a high-profile guy like Green, who brings a high financial return? I would think, all things being equal, you go for the Green fight. So we're talking to his people about it."

• If junior flyweight titlist Ulises "Archie" Solis (33-2-3, 21 KOs) retains his belt against the Philippines' Jether Oliva (17-0-1, 11 KOs) on Aug. 27 (Fox Deportes) in Guadalajara, Mexico, he has one fight in mind that he really wants. Solis would like a rematch with Brian Viloria, who ended his first junior flyweight title reign in April 2009, stopping him in the 11th round of a competitive fight in the Philippines. Viloria (29-3, 16 KOs) went on to win a flyweight belt on July 16 when he outpointed Mexico's Julio Cesar Miranda. "One of my dreams is to fight Brian Viloria again," Solis said. "I'd like [my promoters] Zanfer and Top Rank to give me that opportunity. I'm sure it would be a great fight." And if Solis survives against Jether and can't get the rematch with Viloria, he said he hopes to unify belts against Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua.

• Former bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel (45-3-2, 35 KOs) will face Alvaro Perez (18-3-1, 9 KOs) on Saturday night in Ensenada, Mexico, in his second bout since being badly knocked out in the second round and losing his belts to Nonito Donaire in February. However, the fight -- which was originally scheduled to be the main event on Fox Deportes' "Top Rank Live" -- no longer will be part of the series. According to Top Rank spokesman Lee Samuels, there will not be a "Top Rank Live" card this weekend. Samuels said he was unsure of the reason for the change, although the Montiel fight will still air in Mexico.

• The "ShoBox: The New Generation" card on Sept. 9 in Hinckley, Minn., is set. Junior welterweight Mauricio Herrera (18-1, 7 KOs), who upset Ruslan Provodnikov in January and then had their Friday rematch fall out because of Provodnikov's injury, will face Hector Sanchez (19-1, 9 KOs) in the 10-round main event. That bout was put together when junior featherweight Chris Avalos, who was supposed to headline, withdrew because of a hand injury. In the opener, up-and-coming cruiserweight Lateef Kayode (17-0, 14 KOs) will meet Felix Cora Jr. (22-5, 12 KOs).

• Featherweight titlist Jonathan Barros of Argentina (33-1-1, 18 KOs) and former unified junior featherweight beltholder Celestino Caballero (34-4, 23 KOs) of Panama will meet again in a rematch of their controversial fight on July 2. Caballero scored knockdowns in the first and ninth rounds, but Barros won a hotly disputed split decision in Mendoza, Argentina. The WBA ordered a rematch and a purse bid was held this week, as Barros' promoter, Osvaldo Rivero, won with a bid of $401,666, which beat the bid of $305,000 placed by Caballero's manager, Rogelio Espino. According to the WBA, the rematch will take place Oct. 14 or 15 in Mendoza.

Quotable

Gomez

"I am going to ruin all of their plans. I am going to unleash this beast that is within me."
--Junior middleweight Alfonso Gomez, on his plans to take down Golden Boy's rising star and junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez when they meet Sept. 17 (HBO PPV)

"When you look at my résumé and then you look at Chad's résumé, it is like looking at Harvard and community college. No disrespect to community college."
--Light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins, on his title defense against former titlist Chad Dawson on Oct. 15 (HBO PPV)

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at danrafaelespn.