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Boxing needs to nix tune-up fights

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Roy Jones Jr. has long been Bernard Hopkins' nemesis. Jones defeated Hopkins by a wide margin while fighting with a broken hand in 1993, and Hopkins has been more or less desperate to get a rematch ever since.

And when finally the rematch was at hand, Jones went out and scuttled Hopkins' plans yet again.

He got himself knocked out.


In the first round.

By a guy, Danny Green, most fans had never heard of in a fight that occurred while the majority of Americans were either plugging away at work or still sleeping.

Hopkins, who won a workmanlike unanimous decision over journeyman Enrique Ornelas Wednesday in Philadelphia in a bout that was broadcast on the cable channel Versus, still hopes to make the fight with Jones. It seems a pipe dream to think anyone would pay much to see that fight now.

One of boxing's most egregious problems has long been having two stars fight separate and less-than-quality opponents on the same night to set up a fight between them at some point down the road. A knockout or a bad loss is always the danger of such a strategy, but the problem with the plan goes far beyond what happened to Jones.

The powers that be in boxing have done much good work – though much yet remains – in putting on the best against the best in the last year or so without these ridiculous tune-up fights that are usually little more than a bonus payday for a star.

It impacts the overall health of the sport in a negative way. The hard-core fans will always watch, just as they'll always watch whether it's the Saints against the Bucs in the NFL or a collegiate powerhouse such as Florida going against a wretched program such as UNLV.

But those kinds of games don't attract the casual fan, who, in boxing's case, are critical to the sport's growth and health. Boxing doesn't have enough fights on free TV; and many in this economy have had to surrender premium cable channels HBO and Showtime to make ends meet. Without HBO and Showtime, there is precious little boxing on television and very few chances to see the stars of the sport on the outlets which broadcast it.

Imagine, as an NFL fan, getting to see Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger on TV once every nine months or so. There would be a revolt.

That's your plight as a boxing fan, however. Major fighters such as Hopkins go years, literally, between appearances on basic cable or network television.

And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that a star usually isn't in a significant fight when he does make the appearance on basic cable, when he has the widest audience.

So the public usually gets a distorted impression of what boxing has to offer. Every fight – even bouts such as Hopkins vs. Ornelas – is like sudden-death overtime because no matter how wide the margin in the fight, it only takes one punch to end it.

But the sport isn't going to thrive via the suspense created by the slim possibility that a journeyman like Ornelas is going to get lucky and land that haymaker at the right time on the right spot against a future Hall of Famer like Hopkins.

Hopkins, tied for fifth in the Yahoo! Sports rankings of the world's top fighters, had not fought in 14 months prior to Wednesday night's victory. He's also six weeks shy of his 45th birthday.

Hopkins has long been one of the greats. He rebounded from the humbling loss to Jones to become one of the elite middleweight champions in history. He held at least one sanctioning body belt from April 29, 1995, though July 16, 2005, and made 20 consecutive successful defenses.

In 2006, he moved up to light heavyweight and unexpectedly routed Antonio Tarver, winning 10 of 12 rounds on all three cards.

In 2007, he met Winky Wright in a light heavyweight bout and surprised many again – not by winning but by winning in a second-half rout. He won nine of 12 rounds on two cards against Wright and took eight of 12 on the third.

In 2008, he lost a tantalizingly close split-decision loss to unbeaten Joe Calzaghe, who was ranked second in the world at the time. Hopkins came back six months later and schooled middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, winning virtually every round. One judge gave Hopkins 11 of the 12 rounds against Pavlik; another gave him 10; and a third awarded him nine.

That's mighty fine work against elite competition.

It's also why Hopkins should receive every vote cast when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.

At this stage of his career, though, fans don't want to see him against second- or third-tier talent.

He's a promoter now, as a partner in Golden Boy Promotions, and seems to take the job very seriously. Hopefully, he doesn't view it as most promoters have over the years, taking as much out as possible while putting in as little as possible.

Boxing is hurt by many things. The rankings of the four major sanctioning bodies – the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Organization – are suspect at best and crooked at worst.

Promoters routinely fill undercards of pay-per-view bouts with horrid matches.

Champions are stripped of their belts for little reason, and frequently there are two or even three champions recognized in the same division by the same sanctioning body.

There are more problems.

Yet, for all its problems, boxing is one of the world's most compelling, captivating sports when presented correctly. When a pair of elite fighters in their primes meet – as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are expected to on March 13 – boxing is off the charts in terms of drama, anticipation and excitement.

Ratings on HBO are up because the network has made a commitment to broadcasting better and more compelling fights. When that happens, the public responds.

Airing a pair of tune-up fights to sell a third one is one of the vestiges of the past which boxing had better let go.

There wasn't, honestly, a great deal of interest in seeing a rematch between Hopkins and Jones. And now, by getting knocked out, Jones may have helped end Hopkins' career. After Ornelas, there is no logical option for him to fight unless he changes his mind and agrees to fight Chad Dawson – a fight he hasn't shown much interest in taking.

Hopefully, television viewers are treated to a raucous battle on Versus tonight. And hopefully Hopkins changes his mind and fights Dawson to settle once and for all the identity of the world's best light heavyweight.

If they do decide to do it, please, please, please: Let's let it occur without these ridiculous setup fights.

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