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 , November 28, 2007

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Talkin’ Turkey



Right about now I’ve got turkey coming out of my pores. It’s been turkey omelets, turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey noodle soup. I’m ready to grow wings. And I’ve been nodding off constantly, like a heroin addict, but it’s just tryptophan overload.

Boxing has been like my turkey leftovers lately—but in the best possible way. As a fistic junky, I feel like Tony Montana when he buries his face in that mountain of ya yo. I know I’m not alone when I speak of this rare feeling of contentment, of being utterly indulged, as 2007 comes to a close.

To refresh your collective memory, this time of bounty unofficially kicked off on September 29 on HBO, with the unforgettable Atlantic City brawl between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik. That night, on Showtime, WBC light heavy titlist Chad Dawson was scheduled to fight squat slugger Adrian Diaconu, in what might’ve been a terrific scrap of opposing styles and physical types. But an injury to the challenger forced overmatched late sub Epifanio Mendoza to step in.

One could argue that Vazquez-Marquez II, which took place on Showtime in early August, and is the clear front runner for Fight of the Year, kicked off this exceptional run. But all I remember from that time was the seemingly endless wait for 9.29 at Boardwalk Hall! Which turned out to be some of the best theater I’ve ever experienced live and somehow exceeded my lofty expectations.  A couple weeks later came Juan Diaz-Julio Diaz (HBO), a fight which didn’t live up to expectations, but on paper had us all salivating.

A little breather, and then came Calzaghe-Kessler (HBO) from Cardiff, Wales. Once again, Calzaghe was brilliant when it mattered most, and  Kessler would give just about any other super middle titlist of the last 25 years a run for his money. That same night on Showtime, Juan Manuel Marquez gave an inspired performance against Rocky Juarez. (JM’s skills have diminished just enough to make him a genuine crowd pleaser.)

Not that I was planning my week around it, but “The Contender” Finale on ESPN Classic on Tuesday Nov. 6 between Jaidon Codrington and Sakio Bika turned out to be the slugfest of the year—not of all times, as a hyperbolic, breathless Brian Kenny would have you believe. And then four days later, on HBO PPV, the boxing gods delivered Cotto-Mosley at Madison Square Garden.  It was a good fight. But the undercard and even the largely Puerto Rican crowd were disappointing; they can’t match the energy level achieved when Cotto fights on the eve of the P.R. Parade.

Earlier that day (US time) Jean Marc Mormeck and David Haye fought in Paris for all the marbles in the cruiserweight division. It wasn’t picked up by a US network but, with a little know how, could be streamed online. During this wonderful spell, Telefutura and ShoBox continued to do shows.

This resurgent year of boxing will be capped off with Mayweather-Hatton (HBO PPV) on December 8. It’s refreshing to not be working on a long diatribe directed at HBO this time of year, but rather give them a tip of the hat for a job well done—though I wish their PPV model would be scrapped once and for all. 2008 looks promising, or at least active, with a busy docket at MSG alone: Jones-Trinidad (1/19), Peter-Maskaev (2/2) and S. Ibragimov-W Klitschko (2/23). Vazquez-Marquez will have their rubber match, Juan Diaz-Kastidis has been made, PacMan will be fighting somebody and it’s hard for the welterweight division to go wrong as long as the top fighters—in any combination—continue to face each other.

It also says something about the quality and quantity of action this year that I am only now referencing the De La Hoya-Mayweather mega-PPV from last May. For all the whirlwind pressers, unprecedented corporate sponsorships and the inventive “24/7” series, the fight stunk and didn’t create one new boxing fan. It was probably more detrimental than anything that when the world finally stopped and took notice of this “dying sport,” this is what was served up. But anyone who knows a thing about styles wasn’t shocked by what transpired.

This piece was supposed to analyze some aspect of last Friday’s post-turkey PPV between Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga. I had promised Fight Beat kingpin Carlos Guzman that I’d do something on it. Wasn’t a bad fight, actually. Everyone knows that Vargas—who looked OK at the weigh-in but six months pregnant in the ring—has been done for a long time. Mayorga, fighting 17 pounds over his proper class, probably couldn’t handle any of the top ten welters.

Not to be harsh, but all I can really say about these two is that they tie into my theme of leftovers. Especially Fernando, who is a leftover of his former self. It’s an over-the-hill fighter’s right to earn a living, and it’s our right to not watch. It’s also a network’s right not to let them take up precious TV dates and prevent young fighters from getting their just due.

This is not to say I won’t be guilty of tuning into, say, Jones-Trinidad, if I don’t see it in person. As I said before, I’m just a helpless junky. But the sooner these thritysomethings (excluding a Joe Calzaghe or Shane Mosley) hang ‘em up, the better.  Cause for a supposedly dying sport, boxing sure had a hell of a heartbeat in 2007. But it needs new blood to keep that pump going.





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