The Right Time to Rematch

The big fight this weekend between Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz features two fighters who know each other very well. That’s because they’ve fought before – in 2009’s Fight of the Year.

That’s also the only reason they’re fighting this weekend.

Because the truth is that while this fight should be a very good one, it has little significance in the grand scheme of boxing and arguably even in the near future of the lightweight division.

As it stands today, Marquez is in all likelihood still the best lightweight in the world. He earned that distinction by knocking out linear champion Joel Casamayor in 2008 and following up with Diaz, who was considered the next best at 135 pounds.

Then Marquez made his way up two weight divisions to challenge Floyd Mayweather Jr., predictably got outclassed by the bigger man and now returns to lightweight where he is technically still king.

But at age 36 and having been in a number of very hard fights in recent years, Marquez is nearing the end of his career. This spring, he passed on a chance to fight rugged Australian Michael Katsidis, which means he’s unlikely to test his mettle against any lesser-known and more talented lightweights like Humberto Soto, Joan Guzman, Ali Funeka or Robert Guerrero.

Which means should he get past Diaz a second time, Marquez will probably look for one or two more big fights to end his career. Some rumblings have Amir Khan scouting the winner of this fight, and Golden Boy Promotions already made an attempt to pit Khan against Marquez earlier in the year.

As for Diaz, he stands at three losses in the last two years after his most recent defeat to Paulie Malignaggi. That fight took place at junior welterweight, but Malignaggi is known as a soft puncher and still managed to stun Diaz at one point in the fight before going on to a decision victory. Like Marquez, Diaz is moving back to where he belongs at 135.

So while Marquez-Diaz II is a fight people want to see, it probably isn’t going to do much for the lightweight division. And honestly, Marquez against Katsidis would have been just as exciting – though not as marketable – as this fight.

Marquez-Diaz II is a good fight to make given that both guys are coming off losses. They know they can cash in on a rematch of 2009’s Fight of the Year if they do it now. A year from now, February 2009 suddenly seems too far back to expect a repeat of the first classic.

If done right, rematches are always going to be intriguing to fans, especially if the first fight was exciting or controversial, and sometimes that means the more deserving challengers are going to have to wait through them.

And then sometimes you find challengers who don’t even mind waiting.

Earlier this week, Alexander Povetkin pulled out of his mandatory shot at IBF and WBO Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko, forcing Klitschko to turn to the next man in line: Samuel Peter, a hard-hitting heavyweight with attitude.

The problem is Wladimir already beat him – five years ago.

Yes, it was an interesting fight, with Peter scoring three knockdowns along the way. But Klitschko won virtually every round in which he didn’t touch the canvas, thereby taking the decision in the end and proving himself superior to Peter.

Even then, there wasn’t a lot of interest in a rematch between the two. But Peter eventually managed to win a vacant heavyweight belt and position himself for another shot at Klitschko. At that point, with the rematch in demand, boxing politics reared their ugly head and Peter was instead forced to fight Vitali Klitschko, who completely humiliated him. Peter quit on his stool in a pitifully inept performance.

With Peter having lost to both Klitschko brothers, this is a rematch that doesn’t need to happen. Expect the promotion to consist of carefully selected highlights of the first fight pieced to look like Peter was more competitive than was really the case.

Sometimes a rematch from an exciting but mostly one-sided fight like Klitschko-Peter ends up blocking more important fights. This is the case with the November rematch between IBF Bantamweight Champion Yonnhy Perez and Joseph Agbeko. Last Halloween, they fought a thrilling bout that Perez won by a fairly wide margin by grabbing most of the close rounds. It was a sure-fire Fight of the Year candidate for 2009, but at the same time, it was clear that Perez was the better fighter.

In his most recent fight, however, Perez only managed a draw against Abner Mares in a back-and-forth match that many believed Mares deserved to win. So by going ahead with a rematch against Agbeko, Perez is in effect allowing one rematch to hold up an even more important one.

If Bernard Hopkins’ win over Roy Jones Jr. this past April produced anything positive, it’s the lesson that fighters need to strike while the iron is hot. Fight the rematches when fans want to see them, not seven years too late or when one or both fighters have severely regressed.

Rematches should serve to answer questions from the first fight, not simply reaffirm what fans already knew. In each of these three rematches, more likely than not, fight fans will come away thinking the man who was clearly superior the first time out is just as, if not more superior today.

At the end of the day, boxing fans just want to see good fights. And all of these scheduled rematches could ultimately prove to be memorable spectacles. But here’s hoping that if the same men have their hands raised the second time that they move on to more significant and, who knows, possibly even more exciting bouts.

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