Boxing’s Weighty Issue: Making Weight Is Becoming Fruitless in the Fight Game

Aside from heavyweights, all boxers have signed contracts with an agreed upon weight that they must not exceed on the day prior to the fight. The point is to put the boxers on even ground at least 24 hours before the bout. They can rehydrate afterward to whatever weight they choose to maximize their fighting potential.

Last weekend, this rule was broken when Joan Guzman weighed in for his IBF Lightweight title fight against Ali Funeka nine pounds overweight. Guzman didn’t come close to the 135-pound lightweight limit. He actually weighed in two divisions north; a clear sign that he hadn’t even been attempting to make weight in the final weeks of his training.

It’s time to take a hard look at how making weight has gone from a boxing standard to a schemer’s window of opportunity.

Any boxer will tell you that having to make weight takes discipline and effort. In the weeks leading up to a fight, boxers follow a strict regimen that limits what they can eat and how often. They do this because they know that if they don’t make weight, they lose their opportunity. If it’s a title fight, the title is no longer on the line for them. And if it’s not a title fight, the opponent still has the option of pulling out rather than risking his health against a stronger, healthier opponent who never taxed his body trying to make weight.

But boxing, like all professional sports, begins and ends with money. And simply put, if the fighters don’t fight, they don’t get paid.

Fighters now find themselves in an even more dangerous predicament by taking a fight they probably shouldn’t. But they must take the fight in order to get the paycheck.

In 2005, Jose Luis Castillo weighed three pounds heavy for his pay-per-view rematch with Diego Corrales. A member of Castillo’s training camp even tried tampering with the scales to mask the advantage. Despite the reprehensible circumstances, Corrales still wanted the money and went through with the fight.

Not surprisingly, the stronger Castillo, whom Corrales was able to knock out earlier in the year, destroyed Diego in four one-sided rounds. When Castillo again weighed in over the limit for their rubber match, Corrales wisely chose not to fight. Still, he was never the same, losing his next two fights before his untimely death in 2007.

To earn real money in boxing, you have to make people want to watch you. Whether you are exciting, a lovable character, or even someone so hated that fans tune in hoping to see you lose, a fighter needs a drawing point. Corrales fell into the exciting category. His rematch with Castillo was the most anticipated fight of 2005, but Castillo’s sham at the scales ruined it for everyone.

And then we have a fighter like Funeka, similar to Corrales only in stature and weight. A soft-spoken 6’1 lightweight from South Africa with solid ability, Funeka doesn’t provide the same thrill as Corrales did but he gives an honest, workmanlike effort each time out. As admirable as he is, Funeka is never going to be a draw.

Instead, Funeka falls into a category of fighters who need a title to lure bigger name opponents, like Nate Campbell and Joan Guzman, to earn his paydays. But because Guzman is at a point where he just needs to win, he doesn’t care about titles. And he certainly stopped caring about them weeks before the fight with Funeka, as evidenced by being nine pounds overweight.

Joan Guzman has missed weight before – in what would have been a fight for the WBA, IBF and WBO Lightweight titles against Nate Campbell in 2008. Then, Guzman was highly regarded in the fight game. Campbell, like Funeka, needed the money and wanted to fight anyway. But it was Guzman that decided not to fight, likely not wanting to risk losing the fight – and his standing in the sport – under such humiliating circumstances.

Last November, Guzman and Funeka fought to a draw in a fight most felt Funeka deserved to win. But perhaps more unjust than the result of that fight was the fact that Guzman was even allowed to come within sniffing distance of another title shot so soon after his gaffe at the scales with Campbell. But it also proved that there was still money to be made off Guzman. After all, he is undefeated.

In the rematch, Guzman spent much of the fight clowning and shrugging off shots from Funeka that seemed to bother him in the first fight. Fighting as a welterweight, the lightweight punches of Funeka just didn’t have the same effect as they did when both weighed in as lightweights last time out.

Guzman’s punches, too, were different and had more of an effect on Funeka than they did in the first fight. He was even able to drop Funeka with a right hand midway through. Funeka has now been knocked down three times in his career, each time by an opponent who failed to make weight. Interestingly enough, Campbell was the other opponent who weighed over the limit against Funeka.

Fighters like Joan Guzman are menaces to the fight game. Based on his decisions over the last two years, it’s more than apparent that money, not accolades, is his sole driving force. It has rendered him apathetic to the rules of the fight game.

Is there anything wrong with pursuing money first and foremost? Not at all. Boxing has historically been a way for fighters to rise out of poor social standing to prominence. There are more than enough success stories to account for that. But boxing was also built on respect and a system of rules. Money as the lone motivator jeopardizes those rules and the careers of the boxers who choose to follow them.

And speaking of rules, a bogus one was thrown into the mix after Guzman failed to make weight for Funeka. The IBF mandated that both men weigh in again on the day of the fight. Guzman was not allowed to exceed 150 pounds, while Funeka was for some bizarre reason told he was not to weigh more than 145 pounds.

Why was Guzman allowed to put on any more weight at all? He didn’t uphold his end of the initial contract, so why not make him stay at his current weight? The involved parties were likely worried about posing a health risk to Guzman by not allowing him to rehydrate. So what about Funeka’s health, fighting against a man two weight classes bigger than him who could legitimately end his career?

And why would Funeka agree to the terms? Obviously, he wanted that paycheck.

Guzman paid a financial penalty for not making weight, but he still made money too. And he still got the win, which guarantees him another fight. As long as he keeps winning, Joan Guzman is relevant in boxing. And as long as he can come in at whatever weight he feels will give him the biggest advantage, he will win. Funeka’s future, on the other hand, is not so clear. He’s coming off of two losses and a draw. That’s quite the reward for following the rules.

The real problem in this situation, like so many in boxing, is the depreciation of titles. If Guzman really felt like the IBF title was worth fighting for, he would have tried to make weight. But he knows his name is just as big with a title as it is without one. And because there are three other titles floating around in the same weight class, Guzman can easily contend for another as early as his next fight.

This depreciation for titles came about as all forms of depreciation do: by having too many of them. And all those titles came about because of the money that comes with them. Fighting for a title means paying sanctioning fees, which means the organization representing the belt is collecting all the time.

If ever the disarray of weight debacles is to be righted, it begins with neglecting the numerous title belts in every division. In doing something so horribly wrong by not making weight to fight for a belt he didn’t care about, Guzman may have actually had the right mindset. He’s just playing the system and getting paid along the way.

And if you hate him for that, like we’re told we should, chances are you’ll probably tune in hoping to see him lose.

He’ll thank you for your support in his postfight victory celebration.

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