All mismatches are not alike.
When Aussie truck driver, Alex Leapai made his ring walk to meet Wladimir Klitschko at the Stechert Arena in Germany on Saturday afternoon, he inspired all the confidence of portly ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael taking his mark next to Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash.
And Klitschko-Leapai, as a main stage, supposedly elite-level contest was, ultimately, about as competitive as the aforementioned Bolt-Rafael foot race.
Leapai, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge WBO mandatory who got this shot at the legitimate world title by beating uber-protected Denis Boystov (who also never really beat anyone of note to earn his lofty ranking), never had a chance at winning.
This was a farce of a match-up from day one and a waste of everyone’s time. This is the type of bout that does nothing but line a half-dozen pockets at the expense of the sport’s greater good.
Klitschko, who is without argument the best active heavyweight right now and one of the two best of this era (along with brother Vitali), has had three other similarly appalling mismatches in his last six fights against opposition that really shouldn’t have been there.
A fighter as talented as Klitschko should not be fighting four no-hopers out of six defenses. It’s obscene.
Granted, the talent pool of available opposition at heavyweight is small at the moment, but it’s not like Leapai and Pianeta (or Wach and Mormeck) are even second tier talents.
It’s not Klitschko-bashing to point out that this type of matchmaking is just plain bad for the sport. And it’s especially frustrating when it’s likely that Klitschko would be nearly as dominant if the no-hopers had been replaced by actual top ten level opponents.
Watching Klitschko bat around a hapless Leapai was about as competitively satisfying as watching a bag of kittens stomped by a biker gang. Not good. A little bit sick, to be honest.
Then, on Saturday night, Showtime offered up a triple-header of possible mismatches for its viewers. In the end, though, only one of the three bouts turned out to be a one-sided squash.
While Lucas Matthysse-John Molina had the makings of a mismatch in Matthysse’s favor on paper, there were intangibles involved that gave the underdog at least a fighting chance.
Matthysse was coming off a loss, Molina was coming off, perhaps, the biggest win of his career (vs. Mickey Bey). Also, Matthysse’s defensive liabilities allowed for Molina’s legitimately heavy hands to be a factor– and they were. There’s no doubt that Matthysse was supposed to win this fight, but Molina had a chance to make a fight of it– and he did.
Similarly, offensive dynamo Omar Figueroa, by all on-paper logic should’ve torn through light-hitting Jerry Belmontes. But Figueroa was coming off a hand injury and the longest layoff of his career to meet up with the kid who had bested him several times in the amateurs. Add to that the fact that Belmontes is an underrated boxer, who fought the perfect fight against someone like Figueroa, and the end result was a competitive bout that more than a few people thought Belmontes should’ve won.
You see, there are degrees of mismatch. At the elite level, the assumption is that even the most cynical mismatch has the potential to produce a thrilling upset because, supposedly, anyone fighting at the highest levels of the sport should have something going for him.
And that brings us to Mayweather-Maidana.
It’s been almost five years since Marcos Maidana was brought into the United States by Golden Boy to be the fall guy for Victor Ortiz.
Hard-punching and with a good record mostly padded with meaningless club fights in his native Argentina, Maidana was the type of opponent promoters love to bring in to face their young stars. He was a confident battler, proud enough to fight as though he could win, but too crude to actually beat the house fighter.
Maidana, however, flipped the script and became a U.S. mainstay by beating Ortiz into submission and then stopping the once upon a time well-regarded Victor Manuel Cayo.
Now, through several career ups and downs, Maidana finds himself facing Floyd Mayweather in a true style mismatch.
But as much of a mismatch Mayweather-Maidana appears to be on paper, it’s hard to deny that the tough Argentine has earned his spot in this bout.
With three of his last four wins coming against legitimate top ten welterweights, Maidana belongs on the main stage as much as anyone else, although this might not look to be the case once the fight actually begins.
Mayweather, who is just as dominant and apparently unbeatable as Wladimir Klitschko, has been in this spot before. But, unlike Klitschko, there, at the very least, is the appearance of some quality control.
A case could be made for the B-side in each of Mayweather’s one-sided wins. All had made names for themselves among the mere mortals of their respective divisions and all had at least a couple of convincing wins against opponents deemed “world class.” The bouts were mismatches because Mayweather proved to be so far ahead of the pack, not because the opponents were bumbling, part-time fighters.
Mayweather, like Klitschko, specializes more in nullifying his opposition before picking them apart, and that will always draw a fair share of criticism from fans and media. At this point, both are really more about the cult of personality surrounding them and their rabidly loyal fan base than the actual ring work. Both fighters are so far ahead of the pack that a one-sided victory is a foregone conclusion. On fight night, it’s Klitschko and Mayweather, measured against Klitschko and Mayweather. This won’t change anytime soon, and maybe not in the remainder of either’s career.
So, matchmaking is key for both. Unless there’s at least a somewhat tangible reason to believe that a Klitschko or Mayweather opponent has a realistic chance of issuing a challenge, why bother watching?
This coming Saturday, fans will marvel at the one-sided beating Mayweather issues to Maidana, in part because Maidana is good enough to beat just about anyone not named Mayweather. This would not be the case had Mayweather been allowed to fight a tough but absolutely pedestrian no-hoper like Lee Purdy.
Hopeless mismatches don’t further the sport one bit, especially at the elite level where any sophisticated fight fan knows it’s the fighters and their management really calling all the shots and not the in-the-pocket sanctioning bodies.
Fans deserve a challenge every time they tune in to watch an elite-level fighter. At the very least have the decency to give fans the slightest sliver of a shadow of a hope that they aren’t being hoodwinked and hustled out of their money.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to his weekly Boxing News/Zombie Preparedness podcast, “Left Hook to the Brain.” Oh yeah, and buy his book: Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.