My first reaction upon hearing that Juan Diaz and Paulie Malignaggi were going to fight in an HBO "Boxing After Dark" card on Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston was that it would be lights out for the loser.
This is a fight that, in another place and time, might have been described as a crossroads fight.
Diaz is the former lightweight champion who has lost two of his last three. Malignaggi is a former super lightweight champion who was pummeled by Miguel Cotto and thrashed by Ricky Hatton and hasn't looked much like the 'Magic Man' he was once touted as being.
They'll fight in the main event of Saturday's card at a catch weight of 138½ pounds, each with the hope of getting yet another shot at a championship.
It would be easy to perceive this bout as one of those 'Loser leaves town' matches that once were so prevalent in the old days of professional wrestling.
Anybody thinking that way is wrong, however. It's exactly the kind of thinking that has thrust boxing into relative anonymity among the mainstream media. Boxing is never on network television these days and rarely graces the pages of the nation's sports sections.
As boxing fans, we've been programmed over the last quarter century or so to overestimate the impact of a loss upon a fighter. Because most of the fights in the last 25 years have been televised on premium cable, they don't have the same kind of potential audience that a fight on network television would. A result of that is a desire by the television executives who make the bouts to look for fighters with glossy records and high knockout percentages.
The media picked up on that and, suddenly, a guy with a 16-9 record was looked down upon as somehow second tier, particularly in comparison with a 25-0 fighter. The public, then, didn't want to see a 16-9 guy when it could be watching a 25-0 guy.
The result were years of fights not as good as they could have been.
What we should expect out of Diaz and Malignaggi on Saturday is not a victory but a quality fight and a superb effort.
Win while coasting and you're not going to get me to spend a dime to see you next time out.
Fight fiercely to the bitter end but drop a decision to the better man on a given night and you've made a fan. I'll pay to see you next time out because you are delivering value for my money.
The thoughtful Diaz is only 25 and his losses have come to Nate Campbell and Juan Manuel Marquez, two of the game's finest. He's never been in a bad fight and has frequently brought the crowd to its feet with his effort.
Is he the kind of guy boxing should abandon if he were to lose a decision in a back-and-forth fight with Malignaggi? I think not.
Diaz gets it. He understands that as a professional athlete, he's an entertainer who is competing for your hard-earned and difficult-to-part-with dollars.
He takes seriously the notion of delivering value for money spent.
"In boxing you might get knocked out, you might get cut, you might lose, but what shows what kind of boxer you are is how you come back [from a loss]," Diaz said.
Diaz is still young enough to not only win another championship but to establish a lengthy reign. He always comes to fight, but one of the reasons he's so fun to watch is that he adds an extra notch when he's fighting a quality talent like Malignaggi.
Neither man has much of a knockout punch, which makes what they do all the more remarkable. Diaz is 34-2 with 17 knockouts, many of those racked up against lesser opposition early in his career. Malignaggi, the inspiration for the character, "Little Mac" in the Nintendo Wii game "Punch Out," is 26-2 with just five knockouts.
For each of these guys, it's like going bear hunting with a pen knife.
Malignaggi likes to do his boxing at a distance, circling, changing angles and directions and using a rapier-like jab to confuse his opponents. Diaz is at his best when swarming his prey, going up and down and in and out, throwing a volume of punches.
Malignaggi has been vocal about his displeasure with the 18-foot ring, which will clearly favor Diaz, the pressure fighter. And he hasn't been happy with the officials, which include a Texas resident as referee, two Texas residents as judges and a Californian of Mexican descent as the other judge. Diaz, fighting in his hometown, is a Texan of Mexican descent.
It doesn't look like a level playing field, but Malignaggi is fearless. He doesn't have much
of a chance of knocking Diaz out, so he'll have to hope he can outbox Diaz so cleanly that the judges won't have any recourse but to give him the win.
But it's the loser, not the winner, we're worried about here.
Each man has taken a considerable risk in accepting this fight. It's a 50-50 proposition outside of the home field tactics that seem to have given Diaz a bit of an edge. Often, these are the kinds of fighters boxers decline.
Diaz and Malignaggi accepted, for which fight fans should be thankful. The loser should be rewarded by not being forgotten, particularly if he makes it a memorable fight.
Boxers need an incentive to take tough fights and bouts the public wants to see.
When too much emphasis is placed on a record and not enough on performance, it encourages fighters to play safety-first, but in choice of opponents and in the ring.
Hopefully on Saturday, Diaz and Malignaggi will put on a fight that will be talked about for years.
And even more hopefully, the loser will be welcomed back with open arms by the discerning television who too often in the past had difficulty looking past the number in the loss column.