Boxing and the Mismatch

My vacation over the last two weeks shielded me from ugly, live action mismatches featuring two important figures of the sport.

Vitali Klitschko brutalized Shannon Briggs over twelve one-sided rounds, many of which could’ve been scored 10-7 despite no knockdowns. Then there was Lucian Bute, who toyed with tough, but very limited, Jesse Brinkley before laying him out in the ninth.

After hearing of the one-sided nature of both bouts, I was already outlining my article about the evils of mismatches in boxing.

But after catching up on my video viewing, my initial take on the issue has changed.

Nobody likes a mismatch, especially when it involves two main stage fighters who could and should be taking on much better challenges, but most mismatches at this world class level are not the result of lazy fighters or evil management. They are simply the result of a broken system that is literally getting in its own way when it comes to making the fights that fans want to see.

I assume there weren’t too many fans at the Bell Centre in Montreal eager to see a walk in the park for their adopted hometown hero. Even Bute’s biggest fans would probably have preferred to not see their guy toy with and take his time in dismantling a deeply overmatched challenger. Fans love passion and urgency and, while their guy won and they all left happy, a better and more competitive battle would’ve been greatly appreciated.

Fans outside of Canada and outside of the Bute fan base had significantly less of a good time than those on the Bute bandwagon. The fight was so one-sided and lacking in drama that one round just seemed to phase into the other and one’s attention would literally drift from the live fight to other thoughts and memories.

But as much as we’d like to complain about this waste-of-time bout, how could you knock Bute or his management for signing it?

Brinkley, after all, was the IBF’s mandatory contender and it’s not like there was a big talent pool of potential, credible challengers for Bute to fight. Andre Ward, Carl Froch, Allan Green, and Arthur Abraham are all still involved in the Super Six; Andre Dirrell and Mikkel Kessler are on injured reserve; Sakio Bika is signed to fight Ward next; Bute has already beaten Librado Andrade, Edison Miranda, and Bika; WBO Champ, Robert Stieglitz, is not likely to leave his native Germany anytime soon and was booked for another fight anyway.

It made sense for Bute to fight his mandatory, hold on to his belt, and hope for bigger fights tomorrow. And, honestly, taking away the names mentioned above, no other challenger at 168 would’ve fared any better against Bute.

Over in Germany, Vitali Klitschko was less innocent in his mismatch with Shannon Briggs because he went out and actually chose the slow-footed, badly faded Briggs as cannon fodder.

But, still, Briggs was only chosen after Nikolai Valuev rejected Klitschko’s offer and after preliminary talks with Odlanier Solis didn’t pan out.

Also, while it’s true that Vitali has yet to fight a mandatory #1 contender for his WBC title since beating Sam Peter for the belt back in October of 2008, those at the top of the WBC rankings haven’t exactly been beating down his door for their shot to fight him.

Obviously, we’d love Vitali to be in more competitive wars, but he’s in a weak division where the two other best fighters happen to be his brother, Wladimir, and a guy, David Haye, who seemingly wants nothing to do with him. Choosing a former champ with name recognition and some potential appeal in America didn’t seem too much of an outrage. Which other willing opponents were out there for him? Tony Thompson? Francesco Pianeta?

The gut reaction is to crucify these stars for taking such easy touches and critics have already ripped both fights to shreds over the last couple of weeks, but after the gut reaction has faded, common sense has to take over.

Fans of the UFC often take swipes at boxing for what they see as mismatches and attempts to pad fighter’s records. They claim that such things don’t happen in their sport and that such uneven bookings are attempts to cheat the fans.

As a hardcore boxing fan, it’s hard to defend some of the horrible match-ups booked in my sport, but it should also be noted that boxing and the UFC exist on two completely different realms. The former is a worldwide sport with hundred of ranked fighters spread out over dozens of countries and divvied up among four separate, but equally powerful sanctioning bodies; the latter is, literally, one company with a manageable roster and less than a half-dozen final decision makers.

With boxing pulling itself in hundreds of directions at once, it only stands to reason that even the deepest talent pool is easily diluted under the pressure of politics, contracts, and big business. I’ve said this before, but given its current state of chaos, it’s a minor miracle that big fights get made at all.

So, the next time you feel the urge to rip a world class fighter to shreds for a questionable selection of opponent, it could very well be that the fighter, just like the fans, is little more than a victim of consequence.

Until fans demand reform and until that reform becomes economically viable, the mismatch will continue to be a fact of life in boxing.

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