“I don’t understand why there’s an issue,” he told Maxboxing. “I don’t think there’s a bigger or better fight you can make in association with St. Patrick’s Day, nor do I think there are many fights that are as certain to be as combative and fun. I mean, this is the entertainment business and that’s one of the things we have to remember. And these supposed nerds or freaks or boxing heads as they like to call themselves, I mean, with all due respect, I want to make them happy- but it’s more important for me to make their friends happy who are just sports fans who might be turning into HBO. And those sports fans have always been smart enough to enjoy a Shea Neary against Micky WardÂ or a Gatti-Ward, go through a host of fights [like] Derrick Jefferson-Mo Harris.
“The point is that it’s not always about who people perceive as skilled or pound-for-pound [best],â€ DiBella continued. And by the way, I’m not going to name names because I don’t like to insult fighters, particularly skilled ones, but there’s a lot of terrifically skilled fighters that I have no desire to ever see again because they move backwards and won’t engage and they’re not fun to watch. It’s one of the reasons why we’re chasing our young fans to MMA.”
There have been many times where I have disagreed with Mt. St. DiBella (nicknamed that for his often volcanic reactions to things he doesn’t agree with) and yes, as it relates to the fights he’s made in the past forÂ Jermain TaylorÂ and more recentlyÂ Andre Berto, it’s been a classic case of, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ But here, he is 1000-percent correct.
Too many times a good match-up is defined by records or where they are ranked by The Ring magazine. Well, last I checked, what makes an entertaining fight is when fighters who have crowd-pleasing styles and are willing to take risks are paired with one another. Just because two fighters that are ranked in the top five in a specific division are facing each other, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee we will get a good fight. Yes, Martinez and Dzinziruk are each several plateaus above Duddy and Lee; no argument here.
But which fight would you be willing to bet ends up being a more crowd-pleasing affair?
Folks, when Gatti and Ward first met in 2002 at the Mohegan Sun, they had a combined 16 losses between them (11 for Ward, five for Gatti and each were a fight or two from a loss). Not many pundits considered either man a top ten junior welterweight at that time. On that same nightÂ on May 18thÂ of that year, Kostya Tszyu, who was considered THE 140-pound champion, took on perennial contender Ben Tackie from the Mandalay Bay.
Which fight is etched in your memory? Which fight is the one that helped boxing? Tszyu-Tackie was forgotten about as soon as it ended (I should know since I was one of about 700 people inside that empty arena) but it’s Gatti-Ward that is held up as a symbol of what is right with the sport.
When asked what the thought process was in making that fight (which became a legendary trilogy), DiBella gave a blunt reply: “It couldn’t miss as a bloody war. It couldn’t miss and if you knew anything about boxing and styles, y’ know styles make fights. That’s been said for generations and there are too many times right now that we force a fight where one guy’s not pleasing.”
(Ahem, Dzinziruk? Cough, coughâ€¦)
“And if one guy’s inclined to move backwards, the other guy often has no choice but to engage in a stinkin’ fight if he’s trying to win or otherwise put himself in jeopardy by trying to make the fight.”
And much of the same derision you heard prior to Gatti-Ward is being echoed now as it relates to Lee-Duddy (Oh, as for Harris, when he fought Jefferson in his memorable shootout, â€œSugar Moeâ€ had a pedestrian mark of 16-9-2). I get the sense some fans out there would complain about having sex with a supermodel because they noticed she had an ingrown toenail on her left foot.Â
Folks, how bout just enjoying a good scrap for what it is? You’ll get all the feinting and slipping and parrying you want in that night’s main event with the two southpaws. You can wax eloquently about the ring generalship between the two southpaws after Lee and Duddy do battle.
“You gotta enjoy a good fight for what it is,” stated DiBella, in a rather frustrated tone. “Look, what is a purist? I have to remind people [Carmen] Basilio and [Tony] Demarco weren’t the most skilled fighters of their era.Â Rocky Graziano wasn’t the most skilled fighter of his era. I can go through a list of guys that weren’t the most skilled.Â Jake LaMotta wasn’t the most skilled fighter of his era. They were excellent fighters because they
provided entertainment value and captured the public’s imagination and, guys like that, you can go person after person after person and name scores of them.Â
“We’re losing sight of the fact [that] this is the entertainment business. And frankly, because the sport’s being more and more marginalized, the hardcore fans, the guys that read [ESPN’s] Dan Rafael, Maxboxing or BoxingScene or FightNews or check up on BoxRec, if those are the only people watching, we’re as niche a sport as outdoor fishing. We’re not going to get general attention; we’re not going to capture the interest of the average sports fan. We’ve got to entertain people. My whole theory behind â€œBoxing After Darkâ€ was basically that.Â Angel ManfredyÂ was a great â€œBoxing After Darkâ€ fighter. Was he a great fighter? No. I mean, he was a fun fighter; he was a guy you wanted to see again because he was entertaining as hell and colorful.”
During his days at HBO, DiBella ran their boxing division back when they had actual standards and regularly provided indelible moments. His main criteria, especially as it related to his baby, â€œB.A.D,â€ was simple. “Entertainment,” he answered without hesitation. “I mean, yes, there were times- I’m not going to bullsh*t- there were certain guys that we’re identified, a Barrera, a Morales, an Ibeabuchi, where you wanted to build them. But even then, you look to build them against guys who figured to come forward and be entertaining. I think right now- and maybe it’s because guys aren’t getting as much exposure, particularly American fighters with the emphasis on a good percentage of shows being done are all Latin fighters- but there has to be more emphasis paid to what makes an exciting fight.
“And actually the fact that HBO’s willing to do Lee and Duddy, I give them a lot of props because God knows, the main event is likely to be more of a chess game. At least you’re going to see combustion in the first fight.”
â€œChess gameâ€ is a euphemism for â€œnot much is going to happen in terms of action.â€
Not only do â€œstyles make fightsâ€ but just as importantly, the temperament and mentality of the boxers involved are every bit as important. For whatever reason, we don’t have a lot of risk-takers in this sport. They seem more content to take the path of least resistance in and out of the ring. It’s one of the flaws of the whole pound-for-pound ranking and why it’s really irrelevant in the big picture. The only mythical aspect of it is that it holds any meaning at all.
“There’s an aspect of the pound-for-pound list where I don’t have a problem with it,” said DiBella, who added, “But my problem is the following: make another list and determine who people want to see. Who’s selling the tickets? Who’s doing the ratings? Who do people respond to? ESPN, for many, many years, they’ve known on their network certain guys have done better ratings and have attracted people because people are used to seeing a good fight from them. There were years and years where Emmanuel Augustus was making great fights before he was totally shot with a miserable record.”
There is a fine line that needs to be adhered to between showcasing what is supposedly the best that boxing has to offer and yet still programming to gain a broader audience (Does anyone really think Winky WrightÂ did that?).Â Dana WhiteÂ has hit on something- it’s not about the records, it’s about the actual fight that takes place. It should be no different in boxing but in an era when certain networks care more about agendas and making fights based solely on records (with no nuanced look at what goes into making a compelling bout), maybe that simply can’t exist in this sport (at least on HBO).
DiBella knows that with the hugely popularÂ Miguel CottoÂ performing that same night against the well-known and notoriousÂ Ricardo MayorgaÂ inÂ Las Vegas, he needs at least something that will bring some focus to his event. A fight that can grab a few headlines in the press with guys who speak English. In certain ways, this doubleheader fits into both groupings: the hardcore fan with a trained eye for the art of boxing and the more casual follower who just wants to see a pier-six brawl.
This show needed at least one fight that would guarantee some fun and fireworks. Perhaps approving this fight was a concession or an insurance policy made to DiBella byÂ HBOÂ for strong-arming him with Dzinziruk.
“I’m sure there was a degree of that,” he agreed, “but I also think it was a smart move after they took a look at the styles and figured out, ‘Hey, I’m a lot more likely in the main even
t to get something more strategic. So let me get two guys in the first fight that throw down.’ And you can’t underestimate St. Patty’s Day and these guys fighting each other.”
I got a few responses that read a lot like this to my story on Top Rank staging a majority of their shows in 2011 in Las Vegas (http://www.maxboxing.com/news/main-lead/the-top-rankpacquiao-stimulus-package-for-las-vegas):
â€œInteresting article. One comment that I would make for these guys like Arum would be in regards to the lack of availability of decent tickets for the casual fan. I went ontoTicketmasterÂ to get tickets for Khan-Maidana; withinÂ three minutesÂ of them going on sale, I wasn’t able to purchase any seats ringside or on the floor. Somehow I doubt that these seats all sold out in the first couple of minutes for this fight. So where did they go?Â
As a fan, I just said f**k it – I’m not going to bother going to Vegas to sit in the nosebleeds for a fight I can just watch in HD on tv for free. So I declined to buy any tickets and I’m probably not the only one who has experienced a similar situation.â€
That email was sent by a Jay V. And I’ve spoken about this in the past but the relationship between the promoters/casinos and the brokers has been something very damaging to fans like Jay, who have the temerity to actually go out and support the fight with their hard-earned dollars. While Las Vegas will always become a part of the boxing culture, does it actually help grow and develop the fan base?
Then there was thisÂ FacebookÂ reaction from Jim Parkinson:
â€œSo the economy gets better and we can go back to what was hurting the sport in the first place – every halfway-decent matchup getting sent to Vegas to happen in front of 1200 mostly disinterested observers. Ridiculous. Can anyone imagine Montiel-Donaire in NorCal or SoCal? It would draw at least 20,000 people in Mexico. Marquez-Morales should be in Mexico.
Keith Kizer said “Not many boxers get to Vegas.” That’s CRAP. EVERY fighter with a even a marginal name who decides to fight an opponent with a marginal name gets shipped off to Vegas. I love the city, but it’s significance in theÂ fight gameÂ is gone. It doesn’t add any buzz to BIG fights anymore because pretty much ALL televised fights happen there, and as Steve noted, most of the time the arenas are half empty. Who cares about “helping the Las Vegas community?” The casinos have continued to gouge fans on the big fights. Even a cruddy matchup like Pacquiao-Mosley will be closed to the general public because it involves Manny. What a joke.â€
Can’t say I necessarily disagree with either message.
Yeah, a Vegas revival might be good for Vegas and certain promoters but will it be good for the fans?
So with both Cotto and Lee performingÂ on March 12th, canÂ trainer Emanuel StewardÂ clone himself?…Arum told me yesterday thatÂ Yuri ForemanÂ is back on board to face Pawel Wolak on the Cotto undercard…Hey, is it just me, or does Oregon coach Chip Kelly look like Barney Rubble?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.