Wednesday June 25th, 2008

The already battered sport of boxing took another body blow when Floyd Mayweather Jr. walked away from the ring (and a potential $25 million fight with Oscar De La Hoya) last month.

Why was it a setback? Because for many casual fans, a fight involving Mayweather is the only fight worth watching.

The thing is, it's not.

Taking nothing away from Mayweather -- who promotes as well as he fights -- but the fact is that "Pretty Boy" Floyd had become little more than a boxing mercenary over the last two years. Beginning with the overmatched Carlos Baldomir in 2006 and continuing with the past-his-prime De La Hoya and undersized Ricky Hatton, Mayweather avoided dangerous fights while stuffing his pockets with hefty paydays. (Give Mayweather credit though: If any of us could work less and make more, we'd do it too.)

But for the misguided fans, there is a dangerous and high-profile fight lurking out there: Kelly Pavlik-Arthur Abraham.

By now you have probably heard of Pavlik, the blue-collar, Youngstown-born-and-bred undefeated middleweight king who rose to the top of the division with two wins over Jermaine Taylor. Three weeks ago, Pavlik showcased his power against Gary Lockett, knocking the once-beaten Welshman down three times in the third round before Lockett's corner mercifully threw in the towel. With 30 of his 34 wins coming by knockout, Pavlik is as exciting as he is talented -- two qualities that don't always go hand-in-hand in boxing.

Abraham is a little more anonymous. The IBF middleweight champion, "King" Arthur is also undefeated and coming off a decisive victory June 21 over Edison Miranda. After playing rope-a-dope with Miranda for the first three rounds, Abraham flattened him three times in the fourth, utilizing a series of potent right hands and left hooks.

Two big, talented, powerful, undefeated middleweight champions. So tell me: Why isn't this fight locked down right now?

Several reasons. For one, Abraham is a relatively unknown commodity. Before fighting Miranda in Hollywood, Fla., the Armenian-born Abraham had fought primarily in Germany and had never been in a U.S. arena. Without an American fan base, Abraham becomes less attractive to network executives (read: HBO, Showtime). If the networks pass, that would leave promoters with the prospect of putting on a risky pay-per-view.

"We would like to raise his profile," Top-Rank and Pavlik promoter Bob Arum told recently. "This is a fight everyone wants to [see] happen. It's just going to take a little time, probably early next year."

Money is also an issue. Before the Pavlik-Lockett fight, Pavlik's trainer, Jack Loew, said Abraham's people were asking for too much, in the range of $3 million to take the fight. Abraham vehemently denied that claim.

"A fight with Pavlik will have nothing to do with money," Abraham told "I want to be the best. He is considered the best."

Then there is the matter of mandatory challengers. Raul Marquez, who upset Giovanni Lorenzo on the undercard of Miranda-Abraham, has positioned himself as the IBF's No. 1 contender. Marquez's promoter, Leon Margules, says that an Abraham-Marquez fight will probably happen sometime in October or November. Pavlik, meanwhile, is eyeing a fight with former Contender star Sergio Mora, the undefeated super welterweight champion who is looking to move up to middleweight.

Both fights would be a mistake. Marquez, a former super welterweight champion, was once a talented fighter, but at 36 he is years past his prime. And while Mora has a strong fan base, his lack of quality opponents (his most noteworthy win came in his most recent fight, a less-than-convincing decision over Vernon Forrest) makes him easy prey for Pavlik.

Pavlik and Abraham need to fight now -- not 12 months from now. Arum and Abraham's promoter, Wilfried Sauerland, need to get together and figure out a deal. A win over an aging Marquez will do nothing to raise Abraham's profile, and no one outside of Youngstown wants to see Pavlik spend the better part of 2008 knocking around inferior opponents.

The middleweight championship has long been one of the most glamorous titles in boxing, dating to the days of Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins. It deserves to have an irrefutable champion. Pavlik-Abraham would provide exactly that.

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