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Haymon Boxing on NBC

Thomas Hauser

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Almost always, the place to be for a big fight card is in the arena. On the night of Saturday, March 7, the place to be was at home, watching on television.

Keith Thurman vs. Robert Guerrero and Adrien Broner vs. John Molina were credible, not remarkable, match-ups. But they highlighted what, in some respects, was the most significant televised fight card in decades: the rollout of Al Haymon’s plan to “take over” boxing.

Writing about Don King in the September 15, 1975, issue of Sports Illustrated, Mark Kram declared, “Don King is boxing, the man with the show, the man with the fistful of dollars and the imagination to match.”

Haymon, like King, is from Cleveland. Unlike King (who graduated from the Marion Correctional Institute after serving four years in prison for manslaughter), Haymon graduated from Harvard Business School. Right now, Haymon is the man with the show, the man with the fistful of dollars and the imagination to match. If he has his way, he might soon be boxing.

HBO was Haymon’s first bank. Then it was Showtime. Now he has venture capital support that’s believed to exceed $100,000,000. He no longer has to cajole network television executives into giving him dates. He simply buys them.

During the past few months, Haymon has orchestrated a heavy schedule of time buys on NBC, NBC Sports Network, CBS, CBS Sports Network, Spike, Bounce TV, and Telemundo. A time buy on ESPN2 is expected to be announced shortly. Haymon Boxing will also have dates on Showtime on a more traditional license-fee basis.

The time buys allow Haymon to bypass normal media filters in delivering his boxing programming to the public. In a sense, they’re similar to the paid infomercials that run on television at odd hours asking consumers to buy a five-CD set of “Golden Oldies.” Only here, Haymon’s investors hope to recoup their investment through the sale of advertising, pay-per-view fights, and (possibly) a subscription package and/or public stock offering.

March 7 marked the first fight card televised on NBC in prime-time since Larry Holmes defended his heavyweight championship with a 15-round decision over Carl Williams on May 20, 1985. The match-ups weren’t great. But they were were as good as lot of what boxing fans have seen lately on premium cable and far superior to the standard “free” fare.

Broner (who weighed in one pound over the 140-pound contract weight) entered the fight with a 29-and-1 record and 1 no contest. There was a time when Adrien was considered a potential superstar. Now, after being beaten down by a one-dimensional Marcos Maidana and looking lethargic in two subsequent outings, he’s known in some circles primarily for X-rated videos of himself that he posts on the Internet.

Molina, who’d lost four of his last seven outings, had been brought in to make Broner look good. John’s last victory was in 2013 against Jorge Pimentel (who has been on the short end in seven of his last eight fights). Molina has trouble against speed and movement. That didn’t augur well for his chances against Broner.

Broner-Molina was an inauspicious way for Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions on NBC to start. Broner is a safety-first fighter who doesn’t take chances. He’s good at blowing out overmatched little guys and dancing rings around plodding opponents. But the latter has limited entertainment value, as evidenced by the fact that the crowd booed for much of the fight and also during Adrien’s post-fight interview.

Broner outlanded Molina 219 to 54 according to CompuBox and outpointed him on the judges’ scorecards 120-108, 120-108, 118-110. At the end of the bout, Sugar Ray Leonard (who’d been kind to Adrien in his earlier commentary) noted disapprovingly, “You have to close the show.” Broner didn’t.

Keith Thurman is an entertaining fighter who came into his contest against Robert Guerrero with 24 wins and 21 knockouts in 24 fights. Thurman’s power hasn’t had the same effect against credible opponents that it had against the men he fought earlier in his career. But under the tutelage of trainer Dan Birmingham, his boxing skills have improved significantly.

Guerrero began his career as a featherweight and has worked his way up to 147 pounds. Both men can be hit. Thurman hits harder.

The most damaging blow landed by Guerrero during the fight was an accidental head butt in round three that raised an ugly bump on the left side of Thurman’s forehead. Thurman avenged that affront in round nine with a right uppercut that put Guerrero on the canvas and opened an ugly cut over Robert’s left eye.

Guerrero fought back with the heart of a champion. He survived and, needing a knockout to win in round twelve, he went for a knockout. But there were few moments during the course of twelve rounds when when the outcome of the bout was in doubt. Thurman outlanded Guerrero 211 to 104, and outscored him 120-107, 118-108, 118-109.

But the fights were only part of the show. Virtually every aspect of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC was publicized and subjected to scrutiny.

Three iconic sports personalities formed the core of the announcing team.

Al Michaels implanted himself in the consciousness of sports fans at the 1980 Winter Olympics with his call of the United States men’s hockey team victory over the Soviet Union (“Do you believe in miracles!”). He’s one of the best in the business at calling sports, most notably Major League Baseball and NFL football. But that wasn’t his role here. Instead, he hosted the telecast from a glitzy in-arena set, following a script that didn’t do justice to his considerable acumen and persona.

Marv Albert handled the blow-by-blow chores. Like Michaels, Albert is sportscasting royalty. His resume begins with the NBA and covers every major sport, including boxing. Marv seemed a bit rusty on Saturday night, not having fully updated his encyclopedic knowledge with regard to the minutiae of boxing.

Ray Leonard, in addition to being one of the greatest fighters ever, is articulate and smooth behind a microphone. He and Albert haven’t fully jelled yet, but they will.

B.J. Flores is engaging but was one voice too many in the booth.

Kenny Rice tended to repeat official pre-scripted story lines. After his pre-fight interview with Broner, Rice informed viewers: “We’re seeing a calmer Adrien Broner.”

Laila Ali was there to provide a female presence and a bit of Ali magic. But for the most part, she did little more than state the obvious. After the first round of Broner-Molina (in which Molina landed one punch), Laila informed viewers that Molina’s corner was “not happy with his connectivity in that round.”

Referee Steve Smoger provided an occasional useful rules interpretation.

It would have been appropriate to have some editorial reference – perhaps by Al Michaels – regarding Al Haymon’s master plan. That was an obvious and calculated omission.

Haymon Boxing poured an enormous amount of money into production of the telecast. There was a huge floor set augmented by giant video screens. Twenty-seven cameras caught the action from every possible angle under enhanced lighting.

The telecast tried for a UFC-WWE feel. Academy-Award winner Hans Zimmer wrote the signature music. The Lion King, Gladiator, and The Dark Night Trilogy are among Zimmer’s screen-score credits. If the Premier Boxing Champions music sounded evocative of The Contender, it’s because he also wrote that music.

One of the production innovations was not effective. NBC had trumpeted the use of a 360-degree over-the-ring video rig with 36 still cameras to offer a moving panoramic view of the action. But when pieced together, the photos had the feel of a not-very-good video game from the 1980s.

In a nod to The Contender, the fighters walked to the ring alone. That seemed unnecessarily contrived. A fighter’s corner men should take that walk with him.

There were no round-card girls and no visible ring announcer. If Premier Boxing Champions is going to continue using a disembodied voice to impart information to fans, the voice should be more authoritative than the one heard on Saturday night.

I love the fact that Haymon Boxing eliminated the mob that pours into the ring before and after fights. There were no people in the ring shouting, “You da man.” No sanctioning body officials shamelessly draping T-shirts and phony belts over the combatants. No promoters, managers, commissioners, or mistresses jockeying for position in front of the camera.

Thank you, Al Haymon. I hope every network that televises boxing follows your lead on that one.

Now let’s return to numbers; only this time, the numbers revolve around dollars, not punches.

Haymon Boxing isn’t doing business as usual, but it is a business. The idea is to make money.

It was expected that advertising sales would be weak for the first NBC fight card, and they were. The promotion had difficulty selling ad time.

There were a handful of commercials for Nissan, Mazda, Lincoln, McDonald’s, and Verizon-Fios, as well as some Corona spots. But the Corona commercials were part of a broader sponsorship deal that included logo placement on the ring canvas. Many of the commercials that aired in New York (where this writer watched the telecast) were local rather than national and were for fringe enterprises. There was also the oddity of seeing two commercials hawking tickets for Wladimir Klitschko versus Bryant Jennings (which will be televised on HBO) and two more commercials offering Time Warner Cable customers the opportunity to subscribe to HBO at a special rate.

In other slots where ideally there would have been commercials, viewers saw dozens of promos for NBC programming, PCB fighters, and future PCB shows.

Ad sales are dictated in large measure by ratings. There were full-page ads for the March 7 telecast in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and other publications. NBC ran promotional spots in advance of the show.

Interim ratings released on Monday indicate that the NBC telecast averaged 3,400,000 viewers. That trailed two CSI reruns and an episode of 48 Hours on CBS as well as a rerun of 20/20 and In An Instant on ABC. For purposes of further comparison, NBC as a network averaged 4,800,000 viewers on Saturday nights in 2014.

Haymon Boxing expects to lose money on many of its early fight cards. March 7 was considered a loss leader, and it lost. Factoring in undercard costs, the fighters’ purses totaled roughly $4,000,000. There were large production and promotional expenses.

Haymon is said to be looking at an initial term of three-to-four years before evaluating the overall success of his effort. He knows that hardcore boxing fans will watch Premier Boxing Champions in each of its incarnations. But his target audience isn’t boxing junkies. It’s the general sports fan that he needs and covets. That’s why Al Michaels and Marv Albert are part of the NBC package.

There will be more bells and whistles as Premier Champions Boxing unfolds. Viewers have been told to expect that, in some jurisdictions, referees will wear a tiny camera mounted on a headband. There’s also talk of a dubious technology that might accurately estimate the speed of punches but is less likely to accurately estimate their force.

All of that is window dressing. At the end of the day, it’s about the fights. It would have been nice if the fights on March 7 had been more entertaining. Neither Thurman nor Broner did much to implant himself in the consciousness of the general sports public. Next time out, it would be great to see Thurman vs. Broner; not Thurman and Broner vs. two more “B-side” opponents. Not only would that be entertaining and attract viewers; it would add millions of dollars to the value of the winner as a future Floyd Mayweather pay-per-view opponent.

Boxing fans and Haymon’s investors have different priorities. Haymon’s investors want to make money. Boxing fans want to see good fights. These goals aren’t necessarily irreconcilable. Ideally, they will coincide.

If Haymon succeeds in pushing boxing back into the consciousness of mainstream sports fans, it will be good for Haymon and good for boxing. Beyond that, one has to ask, will he use the power of his purse to honor the essence and best traditions of the sport? Will he make quality fights available to the public free of charge on a regular basis? Will he make a sincere effort to eliminate the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs from boxing? Or will he promote mismatches, find creative new ways to separate fans from their dollars, corrupt the sport’s already-inadequate drug-testing protocols, play an illegal shell game with dollars, and substitute one group of bogus beltholders for another?

Al Haymon interviews are scarcer than hen’s teeth. But twenty years ago, he sat for a Q&A with Ebony Men (an offshoot of Ebony magazine).

In that interview, Haymon spoke of his role as a music promoter and declared, “Promoters are viewed as shady characters. I had the opportunity to represent something fresh and new to the artists. I don’t imagine a lot of information is being provided about this industry because it’s not a conventional industry for people of higher education to pursue. Black people – if they knew how much money was in it and how much opportunity there was and how fertile the ground was and how successful and influential one could become by being in it – then perhaps more would be in it. The entertainment industry, and professional sports particularly, represent an area where we are basically the natural resource. When you have an industry that offers high returns, you’re going to have high risk. We have to be willing to take those risks because, believe me, the opportunities are there. I saw the potential. I saw, if done right, one could make a lot of money and control a good deal of commerce and have a business.”

Sound familiar?

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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From the Desert, Jack Dempsey

Matt McGrain

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Jack Dempsey, who has been matched by Jack Goodfriend to fight at the Hippodrome Monday, May 31 is expected to arrive from Reno within a day or two.  The match will be a ten round contest and preceded by a couple of good preliminaries. (The Goldfield News, May 22nd, 1915.)

In May of 1915 Jack Dempsey found himself trapped in Nevada and between purses. Fifty miles from his payday with no rail to ride, he walked out of the desert and into Goldfield, stuck the bewildered promoter for an advance and hired a sparring partner, knocked the sparring partner out and hired another.

Walking in ninety-five-degree weather can be dangerous for even an experienced athlete, but it seemed to agree with Jack. He had marched into Goldfield to meet a light-heavyweight named Johnny Sudenberg, a game but limited battler who had for the first time strung a decent run of wins together, all of them fought in the desert Dempsey travailed on foot. Dempsey had scored a series of knockout wins in Salt Lake City, enough that his name was known and interest in his proposed match with the local man stoked.

“Jack Dempsey, the husky Pueblo middleweight, who will meet Johnny Sudenberg at the Hippodrome next Monday night in a ten round bout arrived in camp this morning,” reported regional press. “Several local men have seen Dempsey in action…and all [are] united in the prediction that Johnny had better be ‘right’ when he crawls through the ropes.”

It speaks of boxing’s burgeoning’s status in the United States that there were two gymnasiums in Goldfield capable of staging training. Dempsey worked out at the Unity Club, little more than a middleweight, perhaps not least because of his fifty-mile travail through the desert earlier that week. He boxed a local footnote named Dick Trounce and he may also have boxed some rounds with the world class bantamweight Roy Moore.

Sudenberg, stung by assertions that it was Dempsey, not he, who was the puncher in the fight, bristled and demanded of himself a knockout while training down the street in the Northern Gymnasium.

There is a divergence now between Dempsey’s recollection of the fight and the newspaper reporting of the day. Before the fight, although he may have shared a ring with Jack Dempsey, not known for his tender attentions of even much smaller sparring partners, Roy Moore advised his sparring partner to steer clear. “Don’t slug with Sudenberg.  He’s awful strong. Stay away from him.”

Dempsey claims to have dismissed this advice, telling Roger Kahn, author of A Flame of Pure Fire, that the match was a brutal slugfest from the first. Local press though reported on a fight that was marked by cautious sparring early, and that after “feeling each other out” for two rounds that Dempsey dominated, it was Sudenberg who changed the pattern and “owing to the greater height and reach” Dempsey possessed, brought the fight to the inside. A fine battle resulted and one that saw Dempsey descend into total chaos for the first time, a feeling that would become as familiar to him as slipping on a pair of old shoes.

“I just kept swinging. Sometimes I think I saw a face in front of me, sometimes I didn’t. I kept swinging.”

Dempsey claimed he could remember nothing after the fifth.

A rematch was not immediately slated, but the failure of a potential Sudenberg opponent to deliver on a sidebet let Dempsey back in just days later. Dempsey moved a bit further north with the purses, his second battle with Sudenberg staged in Tonopah. Still years from the three-ringed circus his career would become, there was interest surrounding the young scrapper who trained for the fight in the town’s casino. Tonopah was a young but bustling setting, festooned with banks and lawyers and saloons as money poured in from Nevada’s second largest silver strike. By 1920 they had pulled $121m out of the ground and Dempsey was there to pull out his own piece.

“A great many were dissatisfied with the decision last Monday,” wrote the Tonopah Daily upon the fight’s announcement. “Dempsey gave Sudenberg the best fight he has had in this part of the country.”

Sudenberg, who seems to have been a prickly character, held the power in his relationship with Dempsey and so clearly backed himself to win a rematch. A fascinating aspect of the fight is their respective sizes. Dempsey was referred to as a middleweight in the earliest dispatches surrounding the fight, but in the ring made an impression upon ringsiders as the bigger man. Taller, rangier, it is possible he was already the heavier of the two or it may be that his trek through the surrounding desert left an early impression of litheness which slipped away as Dempsey, holding cash, boxed and ate his way to a size advantage during the build-up. The Goldfield News described him upon entering the ring for the rematch as looking “more like an overgrown schoolboy than a fighter” as he stepped on the canvas before noting wryly that he “proved otherwise.”

The fight quite literally drew from miles around, with “Goldfield well represented at ringside” and “eight to ten auto loads” appearing from nearby mines. Dempsey grabbed their attention early, a man you will recognise, coming out of his corner like a rocket and deploying what the Tonopah Daily Bonanza named “Dempsey’s mass attack,” presumably an early incarnation of the terrible beating he would inflict upon Jess Willard in Toledo with the world’s title at stake. Indeed, Sudenberg does appear to have visited the canvas in that first round, but Dempsey, over-eager, under-seasoned, missed with key punches following up his advantage and the canny Sudenberg survived a round of murderous intent.

Papers also report the use of straight punches by Dempsey, that he preferred range and looked to that superior range to dominate. Early Dempsey contests fascinate me in that they repeatedly throw up this story, of a fighter who at just 6’1 was able to dominate most of the desert’s pugs with height and reach. Here he plays the role that would later be played by Willard, Carl Morris and Fred Fulton, longer men trying to control the range while Dempsey tormented them with slips and punches.  Here it was Sudenberg who in the third and fourth seemed to do something of a job, getting inside and hitting to the belly while the two accused each other of low blows.

Dempsey is a victim of some criticism over his own use of low blows, alleged or otherwise, in huge fights with Tommy Gibbons and Jack Sharkey. It should be remembered always that he learned his trade in spots like Tonopah and Goldfield where local referees were not sympathetic to pleas for justice to be dispensed. Dempsey fought like a fistic savage because he was raised as one.

After just four rounds in Tonopah, he was tired, feeling the effects of a difficult month and a fast fight. “Dempsey takes punishment well and ducks cleverly,” noted The Bonanza, while The News saw Dempsey holding on a good deal more in the second half of the fight.

By round eight, Sudenberg began to show the effects of Dempsey’s right hand which he worked “like a sledgehammer” while Sudenberg “lands heavily on Dempsey’s digestive apparatus.” At the final bell the two worked one another mercilessly in search of the decision, but they were greeted by a draw.

Under a more modern ruleset I suspect that Dempsey would have received the nod. He crushed Sudenberg in the early part of the fight and more than matched him late, but with the referee acting as a single judge, draws in fights where a winner was not inarguably apparent were common.  Fighters expected it and pressmen expected it, which is perhaps why some of those in attendance saw the result as eminently reasonable. Dempsey clearly landed the better shots, but Sudenberg was rewarded for his gameness in “carrying the fight” a tenet of the era.

Dempsey had impressed though. “In Dempsey, who gives the promise of developing into a heavyweight,” stated The News, “there is room for a world of improvement, and with the experience he will gain during the next few years he should make a formidable opponent for any scrapper.”

Portentous words.

When Dempsey left Tonopah – history does not record whether he walked out – he was mere days from his twentieth birthday, an overgrown schoolboy appearing on the good end of draws against older, more experienced men, already determined to become heavyweight champion, already of the belief he would become one. History tells of a third fight between he and Sudenberg the following February, a more mature Dempsey thrashing a cowed Sudenberg in two rounds.

I spoke to Dempsey scholar and author of the outstanding In The Ring series, Adam Pollack. “Didn’t happen,” was his verdict.  “I am certain it didn’t take place.”

It is nice to have this one cleared up. Dempsey did not need to defeat Sudenberg to leave him behind. Dempsey, like any heavyweight champion has his obsessed fans – among them the men who developed a single thin thread concerning a third Sudenberg match and turned it into a truth that was reported in A Flame of Pure Fire and elsewhere – and obsessed haters, but there is no denying what he did. Irresistible and eternal, people will generate and propagate myths about Jack Dempsey for as long as there is fighting.

This story is about his beginnings – see the single-minded determination that saw him walk fifty miles through a desert? See the legendary fast start in the second fight? The mid-round sag that would lead Jack Johnson to label him a three-round fighter? His bending of the rules? Then again, what of his seeming determination to box against a smaller opponent? This was something he abandoned in time to avoid disaster against geniuses like Tommy Gibbons although it would not be enough to save his weary legs from Gene Tunney’s escape.

Dempsey’s matches with Sudenberg were his emergence from the desert in more ways than one.  They were where his pursuit in earnest of the world’s heavyweight title began. These were his first major steps outside of Salt Lake City where his ambitions were as penned as Sudenberg’s were in the desert; the defining series of an emergent Jack Dempsey.

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Jerry Forrest: When Heart Counts

Ted Sares

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While many Canelo fights end up in some fan’s memory bank, that probably won’t be the case given what occurred this past Saturday night in Miami. However, the show was salvaged by the entertaining heavyweight draw between China’s Zhilei “Big Bang” Zhang (22-0-1) and Jerry “Slugger” Forrest (26-4-1) on the undercard. This one had the fans up and roaring but for different reasons.

The 6’6” Zhang (with excellent amateur credentials) floored the American once in each of the first three rounds and the crowd sensed a stunning KO was on the way. But lo and behold, it didn’t come.

Then things began to change, subtle at first, as a determined Forrest survived the onslaught and began to fight back working well inside and landing shots both upstairs and to the body.

A Shift in Momentum

The momentum clearly changed in the fifth as Zhang used his body to lean on “Slugger” to tire him out, but in the process he didn’t mix and thereby lost rounds. Soon this strategy (albeit illegal) backfired and served to tire “Big Bang” more than Forrest and making matters worse for Zhang, he was deducted a point in the ninth by referee Frank Gentile for holding. (Given that he had been holding since the fifth round, the deduction was spot-on and could well have come earlier.)

Going into the last round, the fight seemed to be up for grabs and the fresher Forrest obliged as he landed crunching shots that had the fickle fans (are there any others?) now in is corner. He was actually chasing the gassed Chinese monster at the end and had the fight gone another minute, “Slugger” likely would have lived up to his moniker.

“For Jerry Forrest, this is a momentous result after a terrible start, and keeps him in the mix as a high-level gatekeeper, someone who will take on basically anyone and give it the effort. He’s a danger to prospects and mid-tier veterans alike,” wrote prominent boxing writer Scott Christ.

The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw. Zhang was lucky to keep his undefeated record intact.

Jerry Forrest showed a tremendous amount of heart. Hopefully, when folks look back at this card, Canelo’s blowout of Avni Yildirim won’t completely overshadow this entertaining heavyweight match.

(Note: Zhang was taken to a hospital for observation when his handlers noticed some concerning symptoms in the locker room after the fight. According to a published statement from Terry Lane of Lane Brothers Management, Zhang was found to be “suffering from anemia, high enzyme levels, and low-level renal failure, which may have been caused by severe dehydration. The good news is that all of his neurological signs are clear…Credit and respect to a game Jerry Forrest who battled back for a ten-round draw…Zhilei will be back.”)

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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The Canelo-Yildirim Travesty was Another Smudge on ‘Mandatory’ Title Defenses

Arne K. Lang

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Canelo Alvarez’s rout of grossly overmatched Avni Yildirim has once again cast a harsh light on the “mandatory challenger” gambit employed by the sport’s world sanctioning bodies. Canelo successfully defended his WBC 168-pound belt this past Saturday in Miami when Yildirim’s corner pulled him out after only three rounds.

During the nine minutes of actual fighting, Yildirim was credited with landing only 11 punches, none of which appeared to have been launched with bad intentions. A person posting on a rival web site likened Yildirim’s woeful performance to that of Nate Robinson’s showing against Jake Paul. Another snarky poster said that faint-hearted Adrien Broner, by comparison, had the heart of a lion. True, the 29-year-old Turk was sent in against a beast, but one yet has a right to expect more from a contest packaged as a world title fight.

Yildirim was coming off a loss. In his previous fight, he lost a split decision to Anthony Dirrell in a bout that was stopped in the 10th round by the ringside physician because of a bad cut over Dirrell’s left eye that resulted from an accidental head butt. He hadn’t won a fight in three-and-a-half years, not since out-pointing 46-year-old Lolenga Mock who predictably faded late in the 12-round fight, enabling Yildirim to win a narrow decision. Earlier in his career, he was stopped in the third round by Chris Eubank Jr in a fight that was one-sided from the get-go.

So, how exactly did Avni Yildirim build himself into position to become the mandatory opponent for the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighter? Did he “earn” this opportunity and the rich payday that came with it by submitting the winning bid in an auction? Is that a rhetorical question?

In an ESPN Q & A, the award-winning writer Mark Kriegel said that Canelo-Yildirim was payback for certain favors that were granted to Canelo by the WBC, citing the organization’s new “Franchise Champion” category and to their decision to countenance Canelo’s fight with Callum Smith for their vacant 168-pound title. But this doesn’t answer the question as to how Yildirim ascended to the role of a mandatory challenger; it merely informs us why Canelo agreed to take the fight.

This was the second great mismatch in 10 weeks involving a mandatory challenger. On Dec. 18, Gennadiy Golovkin opposed Poland’s Kamil Szeremeta in the first defense of the IBF middleweight title that he won with a hard-earned decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The feather-fisted Szeremeta was undefeated (21-0, 5 KOs) but hadn’t defeated an opponent with a recognizable name.

This was a stroll in the park for GGG. Szeremeta was a glutton for punishment – he lasted into the seventh round — but at no point in the fight did he pose a threat to the 38-year-old Kazakh. Golovkin knocked him down four times before the plug was pulled.

In theory, the “mandatory challenger” ruling forestalls the very abuses with which it has become identified. It prevents a champion from fighting a series of hapless opponents while a more worthy challenger is left out in the cold. One could say that it stands as an example of the law of unforeseen consequences, save that it would be naïve to think that the heads of the sanctioning bodies didn’t foresee this versatility and venally embrace it.

Historians will likely lump Avni Yildirim with such fighters of the past as Patrick Charpentier and Morrade Hakker who were accorded mandatory contender status by the WBC so that they could be fodder for a title-holder in a stay-busy fight. Charpentier was rucked into retirement by Oscar De La Hoya who dismissed the overmatched Frenchman in three one-sided rounds at El Paso in 1998. Hakker was thrown in against Bernard Hopkins at Philadelphia in 2003. He brought his bicycle with him, so to speak, and thus lasted into the eighth.

In common with Yildirim and a slew of other mandatory challengers (Vaughn Bean comes quickly to mind), Charpentier and Hakker had misleading records. Steve Kim, in an article for this publication, said that Hakker’s record was more inflated than the Goodyear blimp.

A mandatory title defense isn’t always a rip-off. One wonders where Tyson Fury would be career-wise today if the WBO hadn’t established the Gypsy King as the mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko, setting the wheels in motion for a changing of the guard. That worked out well for the good of the sport as Fury, after some disconcerting speed bumps, would prove to be a breath of fresh air.

But a mandatory title defense between evenly-matched opponents remains a rarity and there’s no end in sight to the charade.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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