Archive for May, 2012

By George Ogier

Sport has the capacity to distort our tolerance of the socially acceptable. We find ourselves cheering for people who on a normal day we might cross the street to avoid. The recently highlighted behaviour of Luis Suarez is a case in point.

Suarez is an outrageously gifted footballer who was seen to break written and unwritten codes of moral and social conduct. In spite of this people rushed to his defence, why? Mainly because he is good at a sport we love and that can often warp our judgement.

I try very hard to look beyond the personality of a sporting star when assessing their abilities but it can be difficult. I have never been a particularly ardent fan of Carl Froch and more often than not it is as a result of his behaviour outside the ring.

Froch is in no way a bad role model. Never in trouble with the authorities. an apparent family man with a cast iron will to succeed. My issue lies with the fact that every achievement in Carl’s career is overshadowed by a desire for legitimacy. That desire tends to manifest itself in one name, Joe Calzaghe.

I, like many others last weekend expected Carl Froch to be beaten comfortably by Lucian Bute. Unless you’ve recently taken a holiday to the Easter Islands you know how that turned out. Froch destroyed Bute inside five rounds in what many feel was the defining fight of Carl’s career.

For once this would be a chance for anti-Froch cynics like myself to heap praise on the Nottingham man. Rightly so, too. Carl fought in a fashion that I wasn’t convinced he could produce at the elite level. Fast, strong and in complete control. Bute had no answer to the machine that stood in the opposite corner of the ring that night.

I had suggested before the fight that Carl’s whirlwind tour of world title fights might not have been as prestigious as he would have us believe. Froch had made hard work of the Jean Pascal fight with loose defence. Jermain Taylor was a decent conditioning trainer away from a comprehensive points win against Carl. Arthur Abraham is a blown up middleweight and Glen Johnson an old man who hadn’t fought at 168lbs since beating Toks Owoh in 2000.

All of those criticisms were blown out of the water at the weekend and for once we just had to tip our hats to Froch. Yet, less than 72 hours after the fight, rather than basking in the glory of a victory few thought possible Carl was up to his old tricks.

Froch appeared in an interview with BBC’s 5 Live and once again the elephant in the room was Joe Calzaghe;

I’ll go down in the history books and I’ll be remembered forever and ever unlike other fighters, and I’m not going to mention any names, who have got undefeated records or retire undefeated and you say to yourself ‘Who did he box? He didn’t box him, he swerved him, he boxed him when he was past his best’”.

Calzaghe has been an unhealthy obsession for Carl Froch ever since Froch was the British super middleweight champion in 2004. Even now, after all his personal success Carl appears hellbent on being defined by how his achievements match up against Joe’s. It is all rather unedifying and unbecoming of the world-class sportsman that Froch clearly is.

It would be unfair to heap complete responsibility for this state of affairs on Carl. Throughout his career he has been almost goaded by reporters into taking about Calzaghe. However, rather than simply ignoring the issue Froch insists on labouring the point to a new level of awkwardness.

Along with Calzaghe, the name of Jeff Lacy has appeared a lot amongst the fallout from the Lucian Bute contest. Many still see the victory over Lacy as Calzaghe’s defining performance and predictably there are people, myself included that have drawn a comparison between the two fights. Carl himself was quick to wade in to the Lacy debate;

I’m not taking anything away from Joe Calzaghe but Jeff Lacy was massively overrated. Jermain Taylor used Lacy as a warm up fight before fighting me and Taylor didn’t see the final bell in my fight.”

Carl Froch’s version of events may be true but as with a lot of his rhetoric they don’t tell the whole story. Joe Calzaghe beat Lacy so comprehensively that the American was never the same fighter after that. The Jeff Lacy that entered the ring against Jermain Taylor was a very different man from the one that faced Joe Calzaghe two years earlier.

As Elton John once said, it’s a sad, sad situation. Carl Froch is an immensely talented boxer. Heart in abundance and a chin that wouldn’t be out-of-place on Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately it is his fixation with Calzaghe that is poisoning many fans’ opinions. Rather than be proud of his achievements Carl is damaging his legacy by forcing comparisons that will almost always end unfavourably for him.

I had hoped to write about the positive side of Carl Froch, the boxer after his amazing display on Saturday. However, Carl Froch, the man only has himself to blame for the fact that it has become virtually impossible to do so.

You can listen to the full Carl Froch 5 Live interview here

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There has been an almost gleeful cry from some corners of late, “boxing is dead!”. Many seem to be of the opinion that a fight between two British heavyweights has signalled the end of the sport as we know it.

Much has been said about the fight between David Haye and Dereck Chisora. From, “a slap in the face of the British Boxing Board of Control” to, “a disgusting farce”. I have made my feelings clear on the subject of Haye v. Chisora but attitudes towards it appear to have pervaded the rest of the sport.

We are in an era when boxing has a real battle on its hands to retain an audience. The lack of coverage from terrestrial TV coupled with the rise of companies like the UFC mean that boxing faces a struggle to attract viewers. Or does it?

Almost two weeks ago Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Miguel Cotto became one of the most watched fights in pay-per-view history with 1.5 million buys in the US alone. The public appetite for boxing is still there, clearly. However, the sport is shown almost exclusively on subscription channels. Many are not willing to pay extra for something many only have a passing interest in.

The birth of the Frank Warren backed BoxNation channel appears to have alienated even more fans. The initial reaction to Haye v. Chisora seemed to centre around the issue that it was a money making exercise based on PPV figures.

Let us be absolutely clear on this, Haye v. Chisora is as much a PPV event as the Premier League football on Sky Sports. The fight will appear on a subscription channel, just as any show on Sky does. Yes, you will have to subscribe to that channel but calling it a PPV event is wrong. The England cricket team’s upcoming test series with the West Indies is on a subscription channel. Do we refer to that as pay-per-view?

One of my biggest frustrations over the Haye/Chisora contest is the fact that people who have shown little or no interest in boxing to this point now have an opinion. We have heard the likes of Michael Vaughan and Marina Hyde explaining how terrible events at Upton Park will be.

People are completely within their rights to disagree with the fact that this fight is happening. It saddens me that so many of these views seem to be emanating from an ever-growing bandwagon of ignorance.

I hope people make an effort to see that there is a huge boxing world beyond the likes of Haye and Chisora. There are fantastic matches being fought in a sporting spirit all over the planet every week.

When I mentioned this on Twitter a football fan replied by saying that, “it’s up to boxing to make us care”.

I began to wonder if it really was up to boxing to try and attract new fans beyond what the sport itself offers. Football hasn’t made any particularly radical changes in the last thirty years in an attempt to keep fans interested. The biggest difference is arguably the Champions League, an exercise in money-making rather a fan driven initiative.

There is a public perception that boxing on TV is harder to find than Lord Lucan. That is simply not true. Most football fans I know subscribe to Sky Sports, that in itself gets you at least twenty live fight cards a year, often more. Eurosport shows live and pre-recorded contests too.

Even if you don’t have satellite or cable TV, Channel 5 have done brilliantly with Tyson Fury shows, incorporating Chris Eubank Jr’s early career on many broadcasts. It may be true that BoxNation have taken a niche sport and made it even more inaccessible. It has also given boxing fans a wider range of fights to watch and given us fantastic studio analysis from the likes of Spencer Fearon and Steve Lillis.

This weekend unbeaten Olympic medallist David Price takes on Sam Sexton for the vacant British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles. It’s on Sky Sports 1, a channel many reading this will already have access to. There is a wealth of boxing available to watch on TV in one form or another.

The sport of boxing has done itself no favours in the last week or so but scratch the surface of the recent media frenzy and there is a vibrant and healthy sport just underneath. The added bonus? That in all likelihood it is only a wallet-soothing channel change away.

History shows us that boxing’s most memorable fights have generally taken place in the United States. Making his Write Cross début, Tom Olney suggests that things might be on the move. 

Boxing has always been a worldwide sport but with its spiritual home very much situated in the US. Thinking about the greats of the sport: Muhammad Ali; Sugar Ray Robinson; and the lesser known Henry Armstrong; they are all American. The biggest fights have nearly always been held in the USA (apart from the notable exceptions of the Thriller in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle).

But that is no longer the case as, other than Floyd Mayweather Jnr, the current greats are from other corners of the world: Manny Pacquiao (Philippines); the Klitschkos (Ukraine, fighting out of Germany); and Sergio Martinez (Argentina). The big fights are still happening mainly in the US, but the Klitschkos’ decision to fight out of Germany has focused the heavyweight division away from the US. So is the home of boxing still in the US and what does this mean to boxing in general?

The case for the champ

The big fights are still being held in the US, in its iconic cities and arenas. Most fans would expect to see the biggest fights and best fighters in Las Vegas, New York or Atlantic City. That is exactly where the big fights have been held recently, other than in the aforementioned heavyweight division. Pacman vs Marquez in Las Vegas, which for once did not fail to disappoint (other than the contentious decision). Martinez beat Macklin in Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s day in another high-class and high-profile bout. Atlantic City provided the venue for Froch vs Ward and showed us who the next American superstar should be.

The current US star, widely regarded as the pound for pound king, is of course Floyd Mayweather Jnr. However he doesn’t do himself or the US many favours by averaging just one fight a year over the last six years. When he fights he still draws big crowds but he does little to strengthen the cause of the US boxing scene. The Pacquiao fight is still no closer to being made than it was two years ago. Elsewhere Bernard Hopkins continues to defy the laws of ageing and fight on, but he can hardly re-energise the sport at the age of 47. There is some hope with the emergence of Andre Ward from the super-middleweight super six competition. He has all the tools to be a top pound for pound fighter and should generate great interest. However, the natural fight for him should have been against the only contender to his super-middleweight crown: Lucien Bute. But while Ward has enjoyed his victory, Bute has been signed up to fight the man he defeated, Carl Froch. Hopefully Ward won’t be following in Mayweather’s footsteps and can provide the US with the headliner it needs.

The case for the contenders

So if the US’s hold on boxing is diminishing, is boxing losing its appeal or is the gap being filled elsewhere? One place that it seems to be booming is Germany, especially in the heavyweight division, thanks to Messrs Wlad and Vitali

Klitschko. Their popularity in Germany is based around their complete domination of their smaller and weaker opponents combined with their impeccable conduct outside of the ring. They keep selling out big German arenas, much to the amazement of American and British boxing fans. But sell out they do, and they hold all the belts and thus all the cards so all major heavyweight fights happen in Germany. The heavyweight division, often seen as the flag bearer of boxing, is most certainly centred in Germany. Germany has its own champions as well, not just adopted, in Felix Sturm, Marco Huck and Robert Stieglitz. So it is now making a strong claim to be viewed alongside the US as a boxing superpower.

Recently Britain has also thrown its hat into the ring. Last year we had six genuine world title holders and a few years ago in Joe Calzaghe one of the pound for pound elite and Ricky Hatton who generated massive crowds both in the UK and the US. However Britain, despite a flourishing domestic scene, has not put on a big fight in a few years, despite Haye against Wlad being mooted for London it happened in Germany. We are still a country that enjoys its boxing but has become overshadowed by Germany in recent years. Another country famous for producing great boxers is Mexico, but while its boxers fight their big fights in America and generally move there when they become established it will remain a producer of talented boxers rather than a home of boxing.

The future of boxing

If the USA is the spiritual home of boxing, then surely the decline in its power is a bad thing for boxing. A sport that already has a problem with the best not fighting the best will only struggle through more fragmentation. However it might also be a good thing. Competition brings out the best in people and maybe boxing needed more competition within itself. If US promoters and boxers notice the decline in their power to put on fights and get paid the money they want, they will have to react. Hopefully it will result in better fights being made and the sport regaining its previous unrivalled popularity. Boxing has failed to do much to counter the threat of MMA, partly because it is so fragmented and has no overall leadership. So it is only if its individual parts compete that they can drive the sport forward. Although the spiritual home of boxing may no longer lie as firmly in America its very essence probably still resides in Canastota, in the state of New York, home to the boxing hall of fame, where the great and the good of boxing are remembered.

You can follow Tom on Twitter here.

The life of Miguel Angel Cotto during the last four years have been tumultuous to say the least. The crushing lows of losing his father and being beaten by both Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito were hard to bear.

Cotto’s loss to Margarito went from being a stellar win in favour of the Mexican to something more sinister. The hardened hand wraps found on Margarito in his next fight cast a doubt over the Cotto bout.

There was no shame in Cotto’s second career loss, this time to Pacquiao. However, it was the loss of his father to a heart attack between these two contests that hit Miguel harder than any opponent.

Cotto is very much a family man and his father played a huge role in the Puerto Rican’s boxing career. Friend, mentor and advisor, it was clear that Cotto Sr was an enormous part of his son’s life, in and out of the ring.

At the time Cotto said, “My father was the strength. He was the strength that I had, but I will handle it. I have to”.

The Pacquiao loss aside, Miguel Cotto appears to have done just that. A move up to light middleweight saw Cotto wrest the WBA title from Yuri Foreman in clubbing fashion. A defence against Nicaraguan wild man Ricardo Mayorga followed and then came redemption.

In early December last year, Miguel faced his waking nightmare, Antonio Margarito in a long-awaited rematch. In 9 one-sided rounds Cotto closed the chapter on Margarito, “ I just stood in front of him, enjoying the moment and my victory”.

For all his visible and extravagant wealth, life hasn’t always been kind to Floyd Mayweather either. A tough Michigan childhood with a father who reportedly sold drugs to supplement a wage made in the boxing ring. There is a story that Floyd Sr once used an infant Floyd Jr as a human shield during an altercation with a rifle-brandishing relative.

Shortly after turning pro, Mayweather moved west to Las Vegas where, under the tutelage of his uncle he took on the world, and won. Love him or loathe him, there can be little doubt that Floyd Joy Mayweather Jr is one of the outstanding boxing talents of his generation.

Victories over the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez and Arturo Gatti are hard to ignore. Accusations that he avoided a prime Manny Pacquiao should not detract from what has been a supreme career.

The unmistakable shoulder roll off the ropes has been a defining image of this century’s boxing action. In that stance lies a huge part of Floyd’s mystique. The man is so hard to hit properly. A few have managed it, most notably Shane Mosley, Zab Judah and Jose Luis Castillo. Even that impressive line-up didn’t manage to put Mayweather away though.

With that in mind, how does Miguel Cotto find the strategy to beat Floyd? The short answer is, he doesn’t. I genuinely can’t see a way for Cotto to beat Mayweather. There will be quite a size difference come fight night. Floyd is expected to weigh in three pounds under the 154lb limit.

Cotto is expected to be right on the light middleweight ceiling. The difference is that Cotto will put on much more weight than Mayweather between the weigh-in and the fight. Will size give the Puerto Rican an advantage?

An interesting parallel to draw on this topic is that both men have fought Shane Mosley. Mosley is a bigger puncher than Cotto and he hit Floyd Mayweather on the button. It absolutely rang Floyd’s bell but it didn’t put him down.

If Mosley couldn’t knock Mayweather out, what chance does Cotto have? By the same token I don’t expect Mayweather to win by stoppage and that means the judges will decide. In that regard it comes down to who is the better boxer. With all due respect to Miguel Cotto, the better boxer is Floyd by a country mile.

Michael Woods of ESPN recently asked his followers on Twitter where a Cotto victory would rank among the upsets of modern boxing. The overwhelming response was that it would come second only to James “Buster” Douglas beating Mike Tyson. That is the magnitude of the challenge awaiting Miguel Cotto.

Many boxing fans would, to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson, love to see Floyd Mayweather knocked off his perch. Miguel Cotto is a hugely popular fighter around the world and a victory for him would be an achievement beyond any other. From a sporting standpoint there are few things I enjoy more than watching Mayweather fight. I am expecting another master class come fight night.

It’s not a black thing, it’s not a white thing. It’s a green thing.”

– The gospel according to Floyd “Money” Mayweather

On May 5th Floyd Mayweather will face Miguel Cotto for the WBA Super World light middleweight title. Mayweather is a man who divides opinion among fans. In criticising Floyd’s lifestyle are we too quick to dismiss the talents of a truly brilliant boxer?

Many find Mayweather’s obsession with money vulgar and feel it reflects badly on the sport. Others are more forgiving, thanking their lucky stars that we live in an age where such a talented fighter is still operating. Either way, everyone has an opinion on Floyd, in and out of the ring.

Whilst there can be no doubt that this is an era defined in part by Floyd Mayweather it is also an era in which boxing is becoming a niche sport. Despite the rise of Tyson Fury on Channel 5 we have also seen Sky Sports unceremoniously dump Hatton Promotions from their boxing coverage. Ask an average sports fan what they know about Mayweather. The response is likely to include the lack of a fight with Manny Pacquiao or Floyd’s upcoming stint in prison.

Sadly, both topics represent a large slice of Mayweather’s public persona. However, this state of affairs is entirely justified. The Pacquiao issue has been raging for years and looks no nearer to being resolved in the ring. The prison case is far more serious. On June 1st Mayweather will begin a 90 day sentence at Clark County Jail. Floyd entered a guilty plea to charges of Battery Domestic Violence against the mother of his children.

It is virtually impossible to put both concerns aside, even in a sporting context. Many see Mayweather’s legacy as tarnished for not fighting Pacquiao. The court case and subsequent sentence was even moved around to allow for the bout to take place. Beyond these yardsticks by which we judge Floyd though, can people really focus on the boxer alone?

It seems fitting that a man with the middle name of Joy should bring so much pleasure to so many fans. Everyone wants to see “Money” fight. You may have different reasons for doing so but it is hard to take your eyes off him in the ring.

I have watched boxing regularly for more than 20 years. In that time I do not think there has been more naturally talented fighter than Floyd Mayweather. The nature of sports debate means plenty would disagree but Floyd’s ring craft is utterly phenomenal.

Mayweather was an Olympic bronze medallist in Atlanta ’96. He has used that amateur pedigree has a springboard to a stellar paid career. A world champion in his eighteenth professional fight, Floyd has claimed titles at four other weights besides.

A popular line is that Floyd has no chin, “catch him and you’ll knock him out”. Plenty of people have hit Floyd very hard and yet he only has one knock down on his record. The moment in question didn’t even come as a result of Mayweather getting hit. Floyd damaged his hand throwing a left hook against Carlos Hernandez and touched down, overcome by the pain.

That’s forty-two fights and forty-two victories. Along the way Mayweather has beaten, among others Oscar De la Hoya, Jose Luis Castillo, Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti and Ricky Hatton. Floyd has risen from super featherweight to light middleweight and still people are queueing up to claim he’s not that good.

There are those that accept Floyd’s talent but maintain that without a Pacquiao fight his legacy will be forever damaged. This may be true but listening to Mayweather’s reasoning as to why it hasn’t happened is enlightening. On his claim that Pacquiao has been using performance enhancing drugs, “I’m going up in weight but I’m not just walking through no damn fighters. This mother****** was 106lbs and he’s just walking through Cotto. Cotto can’t knock down Mosley but he can? Come on man?”

If Mayweather truly believes that Manny Pacquiao is using PEDs then his reticence to face the Filipino is understandable. This isn’t athletics where drug use means a better solo performance. This is a sport where one man’s capacity to damage another might be increased by 30%. There is a health issue for both men involved, not just the drug user.

I am not for one minute suggesting that Manny Pacquiao has cheated with the assistance of PEDs. However, if there is a grain of doubt in Mayweather’s mind, not fighting Pacquiao is justifiable.

Boxing history is littered with fights that never happened. It is incredibly frustrating that Mayweather and Pacquiao seem destined to forever circle each other beyond the ring. Look past the Pacquiao issue though and we are left with an outrageously gifted boxer in Floyd Mayweather. He has defeated a long list of future hall of fame inductees and he has looked superb in doing it.

Floyd isn’t the first professional sportsman to have an extravagant life and an unashamed love of the dollar. He most definitely won’t be the last. On May 5th, whatever your thoughts on Mayweather the man, just take a second to appreciate Mayweather the boxer.