What the Dickens: Wladimir vs. Floyd vs. Oscar, Plus Pacman

By Michael Katz


What the Dickens: Wladimir vs. Floyd vs. Oscar, Plus Pacman

The biggest fight in history, as measured by the almighty dollar, had just been announced, crashing in on what could be a much better fracas this week, but Bob Arum said big deal, his rubber match between Manny Pacquiao and Erik Morales was in a world of its own. He conceded, though, that the world is shrinking. "The reason it doesn't matter," he said of the timing of the Oscar de la Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. announcement, "is that this audience is so focused and so passionate."

Pacquiao-Morales III, if the first two meetings offer any clues, will be nonstop violence until it ends. But while ticket sales have been so brisk the bout is virtually a sellout, Arum is aware that there is a dark side. Outside of California, he said, with its large Mexican and Filipino populations who love their heroes, only one out-of-state newspaper has sent a reporter to cover Saturday's fight in Las Vegas - and that was Norm Frauenheim of the Arizona Republic, less than an hour away by air.

The game is dying, despite the little warriors like Pacquiao and Morales, despite the "stars" like de la Hoya and Mayweather. There was a brief announcement the other day that Showtime would begin televising Mixed Martial Arts matches next year. Arum said the biggest of the premium cable networks, HBO, would follow suit.

"It's the beginning of the end," he said.  

It does not behoove us to compare apples and cherries, boxing and MMA or Ultimate Fighting. Or which boxing match is "better," the one Saturday at the Thomas & Mack, or the one May 5, almost certainly to be at the MGM Grand Arena in Vegas. Pacquiao-Morales III could be a blowout, Golden Boy-Pretty Boy I could be anything in the ring, though at the box office it will crush all money records.

There are probably more important comparisons apropos of the "beginning of the end." Comparing Pacquiao and Morales now with Pacquiao and Morales then. Has Pacquiao really "evolved" - trainer Freddie Roach's word - into becoming the best fighter, pound for pound, in the world? Has Morales, with so many battles in the ring and with the scales, declined on the over-30 slope?

Or, as Charles Dickens meant to write on taleoftwocities.com, there's the comparisons of young Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko, the winners of the last two big events in boxing. As Chuck would say, "These are the best of the worst of times," applying the theory of relativity to heavyweights and welterweights.

Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather Jr., separated at birth by several months and a few thousand miles, have come to rule their respective roosts. Klitschko, after his convincing knockout of the previously unbeaten and untied Calvin Brock, may not be the "real" heavyweight champion of the world, but he must be acknowledged as the best of the four title-holders.

Mayweather, after his unspectacular but just as convincing victory over Carlos Baldomir, gained the "real" welterweight championship, though his claims to the mythical "pound-for-pound" title may have been compromised by his blatant lack of offense. The Dickens is, if these are the best today, maybe the game needs an IV quickly.

They are more alike than one would suspect, fighters from Kiev and Grand Rapids. Boxing runs in both families. Klitschko's older brother, Vitali, was briefly a heavyweight title-holder, too, and also considered the best of a poor lot. Floyd's father and two uncles were pro fighters and all three are trainers. Uncle Roger now works with Little Floyd, Big Floyd trains de la Hoya.

Klitschko is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, has a PhD and is self-effacing. The Pretty Boy is 5-8, 147 pounds (semi-officially), and holds a Masters degree in bragging. He says he's better than Sugar Ray Robinson, which subjects him to standards he can not possibly meet.

Emanuel Steward, the trainer who has revived Klitschko, did the commentary for HBO pay-per-view on Mayweather's lackluster performance against Baldomir. "No way a great fighter would be performing like this," said Steward. "This is not what a great, great fighter would be doing." He said "you'd set down and knock him out if you were great."

Klitschko and Mayweather are not exactly paupers, but their top ratings do not translate into financial power. Klitschko made maybe $3.5 million for his fight with Brock at Madison Square Garden; Mayweather got $8 million for his work against Baldomir, but for de la Hoya, will make "only" between $15 and $20 million, depending on the pay-per-view figures, which will be dwarfed by de la Hoya's $35-40 million.

The younger Klitschko dwarfed Brocky - with the dearth of talent in the division, expect Brocky II and III - who seemed more nervous than one of those 72 celestial virgins being approached by a heavenly terrorist. But even with a frightened foe, Klitschko was hesitant. It took Steward - on his way to another trainer of the year award - a few rounds before Klitschko understood that he had two hands.

Sometimes, it appears Mayweather can cry, "Look, pa, no hands." He said he hurt his right hand midway through his dance with Baldomir. Later, he would reveal to Greg Leon that he had hurt his left hand during camp and had to take off a week and that's why his performance was so underwhelming.

Neither man's heart is at question. Tell you a Wladimir story: when he and big brother were in the Soviet air force, neither was allowed to fly jets because they were too tall. While Vitali played good soldier and obeyed, the daring younger brother would sneak rides with friends. He is a vulnerable fighter - even against Brock, his mouth was gulping for air after just a couple of rounds. I believe he knows it, too. He fights without confidence.

Mayweather has demonstrated - from demanding that promoter Bob Arum give him an early shot at Genaro Hernandez and the 130-pound title, to giving Jose Luis Castillo an immediate rematch at 135 because many thought their first fight was close - over and over he fears no opponent. He too lacks confidence in his hands. It is one of the reasons, I believe, he is talking retirement at the age of 29, insisting that the de la Hoya payday will be his last and who among you ever suspected that Pretty Boy would retire before Evander Holyfield?

He failed to let his hands go in combination even in the early rounds against Baldomir, almost as if he had to measure his punches, saving some for the later rounds just in case. He could be in big trouble against de la Hoya, something I didn't believe until recently.

He may have over-reached. He can beat most welterweights, though Sugar Shane Mosley, even at 34, might still be fast enough to bring his superior strength into play. But de la Hoya at 154 may be a bite or two too rich.

"I like de la Hoya in that fight," Freddie Roach was saying at the IBA Gym a few blocks from my Vegas chateau. "He's too big."

Roach was wearing one of those T-shirts with a heart on it, saying "I Love PI." The PI stands for Philippine Islands, home of his greatest fighter, Manny Pacquiao. Truth be told, said Roach, he thinks his guy would have beaten Mayweather at 130 pounds.

"I love him vs. Floyd," said Roach. "The way to beat Mayweather is to pressure him and make him fight every minute of every round. When he'd go to the ropes for a break, he'd play right into Manny's strengths. And I think Mayweather was a better fighter at 130 than he is now."

I can buy it. Pacquiao's great hand speed - yes, faster than a speeding Mayweather - and power could have beaten a 130-pound Pretty Boy, who at that weight chose not to face a couple of other stalwarts, Acelino Freitas and Joel Casamayor, the latter of whom would have given him fits.

Besides, Pacquiao is no longer a scrawny flyweight. Earlier this year, Roach thought the Filipino movie star was still a natural featherweight. But while he thinks Pacquiao might be able to get down to 126, his real weight now is at junior light.

The way he was working at the IBA gym - two hours, almost nonstop - just four days before the fight might have been a sign that, like Morales, he was worried about weight.

"Nah, today was a half-day," said Roach. "Normally we work the pads for 12 rounds."

There is, as usual, controversy swirling around Pacquiao, who has signed with de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions while Arum claims to still have paper on him. "After this fight," said Roach, "we'll have to pull out the paperwork and see who's got what." Who'll be managing him after this fight is another question. It doesn't seem to affect Pacquiao, who gives his movie star smile and goes about his work happily. He works hard, he plays hard, he hits hard.

If Winky Wright, at 35, shows slippage against Ike Quartey next month, if Pretty Boy doesn't put his hands together, the Pac Man may soon be taking over at the top of those pound-for-pound lists.

"He's a hell of a fighter," said his trainer. "He's exciting and he's fun to watch."

For $49.95, you can watch him on HBO pay-per-view and while he may be a slightly better than 2-1 favorite, it is never discreet to discount someone with Erik Morales's pedigree.

Another reason to buy: I don't think you can access Saturday night's heavyweight "eliminator" from Germany between Ruslan Chagaev and John Ruiz.

NUMBERS: Arum says HBO told him that with the live gate almost a sellout, there should be a great pay-per-view performance. "What happens when we cross the Mississippi?" Arum said he told the network. Most Mexican and Filipino boxing fans are congregated in Calfornia and the West. Kevin Iole of the Las Vegas Review-Journal answered Arum, "You run out of Mexicans."…The promoter said the lack of newspaper interest in his fight didn't bother him. "Nobody reads the newspapers," he said….Arum doesn't think de la Hoya-Mayweather will break ppv records, either the overall 1.99 million from the Evander Holyfield -Mike Tyson bite fight or the 1.4 million for the nonheavyweight record set by de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad Jr….Shelly Finkel, still Pacquiao's manager, said at the gym he didn't think de la Hoya-Mayweather would top Oscar and Felix, either. "I don't think Mayweather's bigger than Trinidad," said Finkel….Of course, Arum might be a little jaundiced about de la Hoya and Mayweather, two guys he promoted from their pro starts. John Hornewer, Mayweather's lawyer, said for Arum "it must be like a guy watching two ex-wives fight."…Arum laughed at that, and said it was "a source of pride" that his Top Rank company had so much to do with the success of his two former fighters. "Without us, there wouldn't be a fight like this."

EMOTION IN POETRY: Floyd Mayweather Sr., while not giving the definitive word whether he would work de la Hoya's corner against his estranged son (fighter and trainer will meet Saturday to discuss it, expect it to happen because it will add financial zest to the almost five-month buildup), usually writes poems about Oscar's opponents. He won't this time. His son, he told Kevin Iole of the Review-Journal, "is not worth a poem."…When Little Floyd started sobbing about how he would take just one more fight and then retire, HBO's Larry Merchant said, "I think he bored himself to tears."…Klitschko landed maybe four big right hands in that final round, the seventh, against Brock, which shows in a way how good Chris Byrd's chin really must be - Byrd took a lot more before being stopped in the same round earlier this year.

PENTHOUSE: Freddie Roach was instrumental in separating Pacquiao from the promoter neither one liked, Murad Muhammad. But outside of that, said Roach, "and it took three times to get it done," he said that while he had "one hundred percent" influence on Pacquiao for training, "outside that, it's not much."

"A lot of people said I stepped outside my role (when he lobbied to get rid of Murad Muhammad)," said Roach, "but I don't like to see a fighter getting ripped off."

Roach said Pacquiao took Morales "very lightly" in their first meeting. "He just got beat by (Marco Antonio) Barrera and we killed Barrera," said the trainer. "And the cut had a lot to do with it, too." It took Pacquiao a few rounds to adjust to not being able to see….Roach said the second fight was back and forth for the first few rounds and Morales was leading, "but our game plan was to break him down. There were some close rounds, but after Five and Six, it was over."

OUTHOUSE AND OTHER NOTES: Murad Muhammad has surfaced as the promoter of Evander Holyfield and said he was offering Wladimir Klitschko $20 million to fight the old fool. Shelly Finkel, who also advises Klitschko and who used to manage Holyfield, said "he hasn't called me, but even if the money was real, which it's not, I'd give him a discount of $17 million." Finkel said Holyfield should retire - that's what he advised him to do 14 years ago - but would still take any legitimate $20 million offer to his fighter and let Klitschko make up his mind. "I would point out of course 'you would hurt the guy' and my gut feeling is he would say he passes," said Finkel….The manager said he hoped Klitschko could face Oleg Maskaev, the WBCruds title-holder who, after a voluntary defense Dec. 10 in Moscow against Peter Okhello, might have to face his mandatory, the winner of the rematch between Samuel Peter and James Toney. Finkel said for the bigger money that Klitschko would bring Maskaev, he would probably be the choice, providing the WBClowns allow their champion to take a unification bout before a mandatory. Finkel feels Maskaev's chances of fighting longtime middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins are slim….Finkel said Vitali Klitschko, despite rumors, is not feeling physically up to a comeback. Roach worked the corner of Fres Oquendo last week against Holyfield.  "If Evander watches the tapes and doesn't see how he shouldn't fight, he's got a problem," said the trainer. "He's old, man, real old."

IT HURTS: Never mind the chorus of "Ali, Ali, Ali" at Madison Square Garden when The Greatest went ringside to watch his daughter Laila remain undefeated. Muhammad looked frail and I hear he's down to 180 pounds. I wish he could skip all his traveling and just rest.


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