1. FanHouse reports Las Vegas has beaten out Dallas for the March 13 megafight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Did boxing miss an opportunity by spurning Jerry Jones' reported $25 million offer to host the fight at Cowboys Stadium?
CHRIS MANNIX: I think if this fight were scheduled for May (which it should have been) and not March, we would be locking up hotel rooms in Arlington. I understand the fight being in Vegas -- an event of this magnitude is complicated and there is a comforting familiarity with Las Vegas -- but I think we are going to regret not putting this fight in a stadium. There aren't many fights in the U.S. that could pack in 70,000-plus fans, but Pacquiao-Mayweather could do it. Forget the profitability of it; what kind of statement would it make for the strength of the sport to see that many people at a fight? The buzz would be incredible.
RICH O'BRIEN: The fact that fans and the media were even paying attention to the site selection for a sports event that isn't the Olympics shows just how big a deal Pacquiao-Mayweather is. And that, of course, is precisely why it was never going anywhere other than Las Vegas -- despite the Texas-sized dreams of Jerry Jones, the glitz promised by L.A., or the gumbo ladled out by James Carville. Vegas knows how to do megafights, from the tax structure to the MGM's arena-and-closed-circuit network that can total 50,000 seats, to the availability of accomodations and all the rest of what happens and stays in Vegas.
This bout is going to break all PPV records no matter where it ends up and, when all is said and done, boxing is going to thrive or suffer based on whether the bout itself lives up to expectations, not on whether or not it was held in a really big ol' stadium.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Reports of boxing's demise have been greatly exaggerated by the American sporting press. Uncle Sam might find Wladimir Klitschko "boring," but more than 61,000 fans packed a soccer stadium in Germany for the heavyweight champion's most recent title defense. Globally, boxing's doing just fine.
That said, there's no question the sport's domestic profile needs a jump-start. And even if you find the Cowboys brand contemptible, you have to admit Jones' $1.2 billion pleasure palace could provide the "Super Bowl-type stage" that HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg wants for the megafight. With the additional seating on the field and the arena's half-dozen party decks, Pacquiao-Mayweather could have set a modern attendance record -- a throwback to the Tunney-Dempsey fights that drew six-figure attendance numbers. Many derided Jones' gargantuan JumboTron when punts caromed off it during the preseason, but the high-definition video board -- 72 feet high and 160 feet wide -- would have been a godsend for those in the cheap seats.
The NFL is America's most popular sports league by far and the Cowboys, despite their latter-day ineptitude, remain one of football's hallmark franchises. "You build brands with brands," remarked Jones during one of last week's stump speeches. "When you have an association with successful brands like the Cowboys and the NFL, it lifts all boats." Make no mistake: Jones needs Pacquiao-Mayweather more than Pacquiao-Mayweather needs Cowboys Stadium. But there aren't many fights that could sell out a football stadium in today's economy -- and boxing should have done whatever it could to attract more attention to one of the sport's most anticipated events in years.
2. Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, coming off a 10-month layoff related to a staph infection, made a successful return to the ring Saturday with a fifth-round stoppage of Miguel Espino. What did you make of Pavlik's performance and what does he need to do to restore the luster to his career?
MANNIX: I graded Pavlik at a B, which isn't bad for an A-level fighter coming off of a 10-month layoff. I thought he ate too many punches, allowed Espino to dictate the terms of the fight and didn't use his jab enough, but his power looked good and he won every round on my card. Now that Pavlik has shaken off the ring rust, he has to get geared up for a big 2010. Paul Williams has to be first on his hit list but if I was Pavlik, I would explore a potential rematch with Bernard Hopkins. Think about it: Pavlik has said all along that he was sick when he fought Hopkins last year. He has already talked about moving up to 168 and both he and Hopkins are looking for a big fight. If Pavlik beats Williams, I can't think of a better way to restore the shine to his career than facing off with B-Hop again.
O'BRIEN: After the year Pavlik had, there was a danger that his nickname, The Ghost, might have to supplemented with the phrase, "of His Former Self." But Saturday night's outing laid that specter to rest, at least for now. Pavlik got pretty much exactly what he needed out of the Espino experience: a few rounds of real work to scrape off the rust from his long layoff and then a knockout victory that, even if it was less than spectacular, still fired up the Youngstown faithful and showed that Pavlik remains a bruising offensive fighter and an efficient finisher.
Former Contender participant Espino may not be, well, a real contender, but he fought with aggression and energy from the opening bell, and he made the champion work for his slice of redemption. For his part, Pavlik, who called the fight a "gut check," showed strength, patience and a smart approach to getting the job done. Plus, his injured hand came through intact. Pavlik said afterward that he hoped the win would be "a kick-start into 2010 to take all the big names." That's certainly what his fans hope, too. All indications are that Pavlik plans to fight again soon, maybe as early as February. While there are a number of attractive fights for him at 160 or 168 (including WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm or IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute), the bout Pavlik needs is the one he was supposed to get this year: against Paul Williams. Pavlik's performance on Saturday was enough to rekindle some real fire for the match.
GRAHAM: Anyone else find it interesting that Pavlik, one of the best outside shooters in the business, spent most of the night fighting Espino's fight inside? Instead of pressing the size and reach advantage, Pavlik absorbed measures of unnecessary punishment before flooring Espino twice in the fourth and finishing the job in the fifth. It was almost as if Pavlik wanted to remember the taste of leather before moving on to next year's bigger fish.
Pavlik's 2009 will be remembered less for two title defenses in the ring -- against Espino and mandatory challenger Marco Antonio Rubio -- and more for a pair of aborted fights with Paul Williams. The showdown between Pavlik and Williams, the two best 160-pounders in the sport, needs to come next for Youngstown's finest. (Top Rank's Bob Arum put the ball in Williams' court Saturday: "We've got a signed contract that is no longer valid," Arum said. "But if they want to fight Kelly Pavlik, all they have to do is initial that contract and send it to me, and the first available date HBO has, we'll do the fight like we were supposed to do on Dec. 5.")
Should he get past Williams, I'd love to see Pavlik spend the next couple years cleaning out the middleweight division. Problem is, there's not much work to do. There's a unification fight with WBA titleholder Felix Sturm that may pique interest but not much else. It's no wonder Pavlik has designs on a climb to 168, one of the most talent-rich divisions in the sport. But the last time Pavlik went up, Hopkins derailed his career. I'd like to see Pavlik reestablish himself at 160 before moving up to fight a Lucian Bute.
3. WBC lightweight champion Edwin Valero improved to 26-0 with 26 KOs on Saturday with a sixth-round stoppage of Hector Velazquez. What do you make of Valero's impressive knockout record and do you think he can ever be a star in the U.S.?
MANNIX: I love watching Valero. The guy has a straight-ahead, crowd-pleasing style with obvious pop behind his punches. But I've been seduced by power punchers before (hello, Jeff Lacy) so I'm going to reserve judgment on Valero until he beats somebody with a pulse. As powerful as he is, he tends to leave his chin exposed when he comes forward and I wonder what a good counterpuncher (like Juan Manuel Marquez) would do to him. I think the proposed matchup with Tony DeMarco will be a solid test and if he looks good in that fight, I'll be more confident in his star potential. But he certainly has all the tools.
O'BRIEN: Twenty-six-and-oh is hard to argue with. The southpaw Valero, known as Dinamita, is hardly flawless and he's far from elegant, but he's a relentless attacker with genuine power, especially in his left. (Check out the video of his one-round KO of Michael Lozado from in 2007.) He's for real, at least in terms of his punch, and that's the one thing above all others that makes a fighter a star. So, sure, at 28, Valero is poised to make his mark in the U.S. -- if he gets a chance to fight here.
Back in 2001, before he turned pro, Valero was in a motorcyle accident that left him with a fractured skull that required surgery. As a result, in January 2004, as his career was starting to take off, Valero failed a prefight MRI in New York and was banned from fighting in the United States. Since then, while based in Japan, he won the WBA super featherweight title and defended it four times before moving up to lightweight. Cleared early this year to box in Texas, Valero stopped Antonio Pitalua in two for the vacant WBC 135-pound title; Saturday's fight was his first defense of that belt -- but, thanks to visa problems that have once again barred Valero from fighting in the U.S., it was held in just outside Caracas. Valero has suggested that he is being stiffed by the U.S. government because of his sympathy for Venezuela president Hugo Chavez (sympathy he wears not on his sleeve but on his chest, in the form of a tattoo of Chavez and the Venezuelan flag). However, the visa difficulties likely also have something to do with a DUI charge Valero picked up in Texas last May.
Valero's promoter, Bob Arum, has stated that the visa problems are being resolved and that the Nevada commission will soon clear Valero to fight. Arum wants him to appear on the Pacquiao-Mayweather undercard on March 13. Another spectacular KO on that stage -- the likely opponent is WBC interim champion Antonio Demarco of Mexico -- could put Valero squarely in the spotlight and set him up for some big paydays against such opponents as Joan Guzman, the explosive Michael Katsidis or even a nickname showdown with that other Dinamita, Juan Manuel Marquez.
GRAHAM: "The Diego Maradona of boxing," Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian calls him, "a South American wild man with a political consience." One thing's for sure: The sport is more interesting with Valero in it. His resume might not be a Who's Who of fistic luminaries (to put it charitably), but the hard-punching lightweight champ -- whose radical political beliefs skew even further left than his southpaw stance -- seems ready-made for stateside stardom. Gaudy record? Check. Crowd-pleasing style? Check. Compelling backstory? Check.
But there's a duality to Valero (not unlike Maradona) that's just as fascinating as the Venezuelan's 100-percent knockout record: Blessed with a left hand that could stop a Mack Truck, Valero remains susceptible to a self-destructive streak that's compromised his ability to fight in the United States. If Valero can resolve his visa problems in time to land a fight on the Pacquiao-Mayweather undercard in March, the longtime YouTube curiosity may crack the pound-for-pound charts by year's end.
4. Name the three dream matchups for 2010 atop your Christmas wish list.
MANNIX: Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye (which is looking less and less likely), Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao III (a realistic possibility after Pacquiao-Mayweather) and Shane Mosley-Floyd Mayweather (if Mayweather beats Pacquiao, this fight is a lock).
O'BRIEN: Dear Santa,
Hold the sugar plums. My pugilistic wish list for 2010 is as follows:
• Shane Mosley against whoever wins the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. Mosley is never in a bad fight, and he's got all the tools to give either man a real battle. Mosley-Mayweather, in particular has been a wish of many Christmases past.
• Kelly Pavlik vs. Paul Williams. This was one I was looking forward to last year. Pavlik looks like he's still the same rugged and dangerous brawler that figured to give Williams a real challenge. And Williams, after his thrilling win over Sergio Martinez earlier this month, appears just as exciting (and a touch more vulnerable) than he did before. I suppose the caveat here is that what I really want to see is a Williams-Martinez rematch instead of Williams-Pavlik.
• Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson. Mainly, I just want to see what the ageless wonder Hopkins will do next. Dawson has beaten a couple of other superannuated types recently in Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson and, at 27 himself, with a record of 29-0, seems to have really come into his own. A match against Hopkins would be the ideal test at the ideal time.
GRAHAM: First -- not to look ahead or anything (and with apologies to Shane Mosley) -- I'd love to see Pacquiao-Mayweather II before the end of 2010. March's long-awaited showdown between the sport's best pound-for-pound fighters has all the makings of a classic ring trilogy. Make it happen. Second, Pavlik-Williams -- a meeting of the sport's two best middleweights and a holdover from my 2009 wish list -- needs to happen as soon as possible. Finally, I'd be thrilled to see Hopkins challenge Haye for the Briton's piece of the fractured heavyweight championship. Hopkins has eyed a move to cruiserweight for several years -- and Haye is a cruiser masquerading as a heavyweight. I couldn't see Hopkins coming in above 190. Would Haye boil down for a smaller opponent or keep his newfound bulk at the sacrifice of speed?