Boxing: Before the complaining starts - In defense of mandatory fighters
By Jason Peck: The boxing media report that the WBA will likely force the mighty Miguel Cotto to fight the unknown Yuriy Nuzhnenko sometime by December, and I can already hear the criticism. It reminds me of not too long ago when the IBF forced Wladimiar Klitschko to fight Ray Austin, who the champion KO’d one-handed. But what’s the problem? If Nuzhenko's a joke, then Cotto will kick his backside. If he gives Cotto some hell, then odds are he deserved that shot after all..
Article posted on 08.02.2008
No mistake about it, “mandatory” is a dirty word nowadays. But sometimes an unpopular – but correct – call has got to be made. In the meantime, I almost feel like organizations such as Ring Magazine profit from someone else taking the heat. If the call’s unpopular, they can sit back and claim that such decisions by the “alphabet soup” groups are killing boxing.
But in the end, my argument in favor of respect for the mandatory boils down like this:
Popularity cannot matter more than talent. Otherwise, we might as well pick challengers like they pick the winners on American Idol.
Back in 2002, Lennox Lewis vacated his IBF strap to fight him, rather than mandatory challenger Chris Byrd. Somewhere in the buzz of Lewis-Tyson, the IBF undoubtedly caught some grief. But in reality, the sanctioning body got it right. Byrd might have lost, but he was the fresher fighter, and undoubtedly the bigger threat.
People snickered when “undeserving mandatory challenger” Vincente Mosquera challenged Yodsanan Nanthachai for the WBA super featherweight title. Fans at large bitched when Hasim Rahman was forced to fight Oleg Maskaev, rather than unify the titles against more popular fighters like James Toney. And they just about soiled themselves when the WBC forced a bout between Zab Judah and Carlos Manuel Baldomir. Didn’t they know they were just delaying Judah-Mayweather?
Of course, that was before those undeserving mandatories actually won. All three cases would likely have never happened, had they not been forced.
Baldomir still remains my personal favorite. As you'll recall, Baldomir should have won three belts form Judah, but didn't pay the sanctioning fees, so he was recognized as champ by only one belt. As a result, many embraced his victory so they could use him as a poster boy for everything wrong with the alphabets. But they missed the point: The WBC gave Baldomir his shot, not the Ring. To many, Baldomir’s eight-year win streak didn’t matter like Mayweather’s popularity did.
My biggest problem with the alphabets is their inconsistency, not their habit of forcing unpopular match-ups. If the WBC is going to strip Kostya Tszyu for not fighting due to injuries, then it should strip other fighters who just don’t defend their titles.
But here's some unpleasant truth that American boxing fans – of which I am one, by the way – need to swallow before they start their bitch.
Boxing is no longer popular in America like it is in other countries. Therefore, the best fighter in the world probably isn't American.
He probably doesn't have a contract with HBO or Showtime. And he might not have a pretty, unbeaten record, since he probably didn't have a promoter protecting him from the hard knocks of a hard-knock sport. His interactions with the First World are more likely to come through bootleg copies of Lethal Weapon than through fighting on American soil.
Odds are you’ve never heard of him. And neither have I, for that matter. I just know he exists.
The most dangerous challenger in the world might be dismissed as a fringe contender. If left to popular vote, his shot would never come. With little reward and lots of risk in a dangerous mandatory, few champions would do the right thing unless someone made them.
The best man wins in every other sport, it seems. Score homers in baseball, score a contract. Score goals in hockey, get the glory. The one thing I hate about boxing today is that name recognition counts for too much.
Going back to Klitschko-Austin: Detractors said this blowout hurt boxing. But how?
Back in the day fighters defended their titles at least four times a year. Wladimir suffered no injuries against Austin and should have fought again with two months at most. Remember – Austin fought Sultan Imbragimov to a draw. He was disposed like a loser, and the boxing press treated him like one. But he wasn’t one.
And what are you going to do – deny them their rightful shot at the big time? Talk about un-American.
Clearly, “Rocky” was wasted on you.
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