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Super featherweight contender Vicente Escobedo had to choose between the lesser of two evils Saturday. He was forced into an unenviable situation because Adrien Broner was unprofessional, because Broner is the far more well-connected fighter and because, when it came right down to it, no one in a position of authority was particularly concerned about Escobedo's well-being.
Broner weighed 133½ pounds Friday, missing the super featherweight limit by a whopping 3½ pounds for their HBO-televised title bout scheduled for the next night in Cincinnati. It left Escobedo with a horrendously difficult choice: walk away from what was clearly an unfair and potentially dangerous fight, and not get paid; or, to accept the physical risks, extract a financial penalty from Broner and fight anyway.
Boxers only get paid when they compete. If Escobedo declined to fight, he would have forfeited his career-best $150,000 purse. He and his wife, Valerie, had a baby in June. He'd put in a two-month training camp to get ready. His lifelong dream was to win a world title. If he said no and forced HBO to cancel its broadcast, the likelihood of him getting a second shot on the network would be extraordinarily slim.
Of course, the pertinent parties, including Broner's management team and HBO, knew this. They knew how difficult, financially and emotionally, it would be for Escobedo to pass. If he competed, as part of an Ohio State Athletic Commission rule covering fighters who missed weight, Escobedo would get 10 percent of Broner's $300,000 purse, which would boost his pay to $180,000.
The deck was stacked against Escobedo long before the weigh-in fiasco. Broner was the better fighter. Broner was fighting in his hometown. Broner is handled by Al Haymon, the mysterious manager who might be the sport's most powerful figure. Broner has the backing of HBO, which sees Floyd Mayweather-like potential in him.
It was going to be difficult for Escobedo even under the sunniest of circumstances.
These are grim days for boxing, however.
Escobedo, like most fighters, had to sweat and struggle to make the super featherweight weight limit. Fighters sacrifice greatly to make weight, eating and drinking little the week of a bout and often sitting in saunas for long stretches in a desperate bid to shed pounds. It's extremely unhealthy and, tragically, more than a few fighters have died after drying themselves out too much in a bid to make weight.
Broner didn't sacrifice a bit. Nor did he abide by Escobedo's demand on Friday that he come back on Saturday morning weighing no more than 140 pounds. Broner showed up to the second weigh-in and was 143.2.
That's when Escobedo had to make his choice and he chose, not surprisingly, to fight. Broner manhandled him like he probably would have done anyway, but that's not the issue.
The larger point here is the inequity that boxers face when their opponents fail to live up to their obligations. When a fighter fails a pre-fight drug test and is forced out of a bout, more often than not, the show is canceled. That leaves one fighter who did everything correctly without a paycheck through no fault of his own.
In a situation like the Broner-Escobedo one, the aggrieved party is required to make a choice that is not in his best interests, physically and professionally. Who among us, though, can afford to work for two months and not get paid? There are mortgages to pay, children to feed, educations to fund and the like. The boxers know that. They need the money, they crave the opportunity, and so they roll the dice and fight anyway.
There are those who scoff at the suggestion that fighters in Escobedo's position face a risk. They point out that Escobedo came out better than he would have had Broner made weight. Not only did Escobedo get the extra $30,000 from Broner's purse that was required by the Ohio commission, but the sides negotiated an extra payment, though the amount was not announced.
To take that position, though, misses the point. Boxing is a risky business under the best of circumstances. When an opponent is appreciably bigger, and not nearly as physically depleted from having gone through a weight-cut, risk levels shoot up substantially.
A great example is the sad case of Joey Gamache, a skilled boxer from Maine, who held the World Boxing Association lightweight title for a couple of months in 1992.
Gamache suffered career-ending injuries in a Feb. 26, 2000, bout in New York against the late Arturo Gatti. Gamache alleged that Gatti weighed more than the 141 pounds he was contracted to weigh and that the New York State Athletic Commission overlooked it.
Escobedo got paid and, fortunately, didn't suffer anything more serious than welts and bruises.
Hopefully, though, those in power in boxing will find a way to compensate men like Escobedo, who have followed all of the rules and met all of their obligations, without forcing them to take on greater-than-usual risk just to get their paycheck.
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