Bantamweight tourney is a bright idea

Kevin Iole

If you go to a restaurant and the steaks are perfect, you don't worry too much if the air conditioning was a little chilly or if the waiter was a bit slow. It's the food that brings you back.

It's the same way in boxing. It would be easy to point out the elite 118-pounders who are not in Showtime's bantamweight tournament. It would be easy to question the wisdom of holding the first-round fights in Mexico instead of somewhere in the U.S. It would be easy to criticize Showtime for adding a guy who is primarily a super flyweight when there are more than enough qualified bantamweights available to fill out the field.

All of that, though, would be nitpicking. The bottom line is, boxing fans ought to be very thankful to Ken Hershman, the executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, for not blinking despite the troubles he faced in keeping the network's Super Six tournament together and creating a superb bantamweight event that should deliver four high-caliber fights.

Showtime will pit Vic Darchinyan against Abner Mares and Yonnhy Perez against Joseph Agbeko on Dec. 11 in Irapuato, Mexico, in the first round of a bantamweight tournament that will be short, fast and oh, so entertaining. The winners and losers will meet in championship and consolation round matches, respectively, sometime next year.

It's the kind of event boxing needs much more frequently, four of the best and most telegenic fighters in the world competing against each other on the same card on the same night. There isn't a clear-cut favorite in the tournament. There isn't a match, or potential match, that doesn't seem compelling. And despite the absence of legitimate quality fighters like Fernando Montiel, Nonito Donaire Jr., Hozumi Hasegawa and Anselmo Moreno from the field, Hershman deserves praise for managing to accomplish what he did.

The network's Super Six super middleweight tournament is a great concept that has been marred by bad luck, injuries and bizarre, inexplicable political infighting. Two of the original six members – Jermain Taylor and Mikkel Kessler – are already out of the event and a not-well-understood scenario played out in which Showtime had to threaten to sue to get Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell to go ahead with plans to fight each other, as they had agreed to do more than a year ago.

Given the issues in simply keeping that tournament going, let alone completing it, could have caused one to question Hershman's sanity for even considering doing a similar event. It's to his credit and the sport's benefit that he did.

"We knew we were going to have some hiccups along the way [in the Super Six]," Hershman said. "We just had to keep focused on the prize. And we're a little bit behind schedule now, but we're not actually that bad. We're still on schedule to finish it with a winner in 2011. It's a really exciting format and when you have the kinds of divisions like super middleweight and bantamweight with a lot of guys who are willing to fight each other, it's worth taking the chance to do it."

Boxing always benefits when there are great fights on television. Putting these four men in the ring together creates the likelihood of four great fights as the event plays out. And when a winner emerges, he can still go ahead and fight the big names who are not in the tournament.

The sport needs less of the mindless bickering and feuding that marks the Top Rank-Golden Boy relationship. Montiel and Donaire are promoted by Top Rank, and because of the feud between the companies, aren't in the field. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum plans to have them fight each other early next year.

Ultimately, that may work out for the best in any event. The winner of Donaire-Montiel would be available to fight the Showtime tournament winner in the fall of 2011 in a fight that would be boosted significantly by the fighters' presence on television multiple times between now and then.

The brash Darchinyan, who lost a fight to Agbeko last year in which his promoter, Gary Shaw, said he got "concrete between his ears" and failed to heed his corner's instructions, said he wasn't troubled by the absence of Montiel and Donaire.

"There are men in this tournament who stepped up and had the [courage] to say, 'I'll fight anyone at any time anywhere,' " Darchinyan said. "Those other guys who wouldn't step up are going to be the losers when they see this tournament."

Mares, who fought to a split draw with Perez in May at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, called the tournament "historic" and suggested that it is going to become a trendsetter. Mares said he's followed the Super Six closely and believes it benefits boxing.

"I've loved it," Mares said of the Super Six. "When I heard Showtime might be doing a [bantamweight] tournament, I was hoping they would ask me to be in it. What's good about this is that you have no easy fights and no one can pick their opponents. That's what we as boxing fans want to see."

Too often in boxing, we talk about the fights we want to see that aren't made: Vitali Klitschko vs. younger brother Wladimir; Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao; Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa and Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander.

As a person who loves the sport, however, it's time to recognize the men who do accept challenges, who do relish competition, who do want to give the fans what they want. It's time to talk about the fighters who not only talked the talk but are going to walk into the ring and try to prove it.

Boxing fans owe Hershman a debt of gratitude. He didn't just conceptualize some good fights. He went out and got them made.

In boxing, when the best fight the best, there is nothing better. And for making that happen, Hershman deserves high praise indeed.

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