April 06, 2010

1. What did you take away from Bernard Hopkins' unanimous decision victory over Roy Jones, Jr., on Saturday in Las Vegas? How will the rematch be remembered? Should either the 41-year-old Jones or the 45-year-old Hopkins retire?

CHRIS MANNIX: Gee, this wasn't too predictable, was it? This fight was as unwatchable as many anticipated and ended exactly the way everyone thought it would, with Hopkins scoring enough to win rounds and a hopelessly over-the-hill Jones clutching and grabbing just enough to survive them. It was a disgrace to match these two men up to begin with and will be a blemish on the resume of Hopkins and Golden Boy Promotions for a long time. The rabbit punches and low blows added some drama to the "event" but that intrigue drowned under a wave of mediocrity. It was an embarrassment for both men and a black mark for boxing.

It goes without saying (or maybe it doesn't?) that Jones should retire -- he would be about five years and 10 fights late, anyway. But it says here that Hopkins should follow him out the door. He has been making noise for months about taking on heavyweight champion David Haye, but that fight is at best a snoozer and at worst a suicide mission against a heavy-handed puncher. No, Hopkins had a chance to add to his legacy when he was offered a fight with cruiserweight champ Tomasz Adamek. Instead, he took the easy way out and beat Jones in a fight that people (myself included) can't erase from their memory fast enough.

RICHARD O'BRIEN: Chris, I know that you vowed neither to cover this fight nor to write a word about it leading up to the bout. I commend you for keeping your word and I wonder now whether we -- and, indeed, the rest of the world -- would be better off if we just extended the pledge in perpetuity. Like the old Soviet politburo wiping away all traces of a dissident or an out-of-favor general, we could simply disappear this fight, purge boxing history of one of its most dispiriting moments.

The match was a lazy, cynical play for what little money could be squeezed out of two big names long past their primes (long, long, long past, in Jones's case). It turned out to be as pointless and artless as we all expected. That both fighters had to go to the hospital afterwards, as a "precaution," only reinforces the obvious fact that -- Hopkins's recent run not withstanding -- boxing is no country for old men. Jones, never the most grounded of guys, is sounding truly delusional. Surely even he can see that it's time to retire. Against a far-from-ferocious Hopkins, Jones was limited to, essentially, posing, feinting and then fouling. Against a younger, more dangerous opponent, he would be in real trouble. As for Hopkins, it's hard to figure where he goes from here. After the bout -- before his collapse -- he said he wants to fight David Haye. That's just, well, dumb. Who would want to see that bout? What's in it for Haye? Hopkins has had a marvelous, improbable late-career renaissance, but there's nothing meaningful out there for him now.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: At the risk of coming off like an apologist, I didn't find Hopkins-Jones II that offensive. Sure, $49.95 was a brassy asking price given the hideous undercard, but no one forced boxing fans to buy it at gunpoint.

I agree the fight was often discomforting to watch. And it was hard to keep a straight face when the production team ran a graphic of great boxing rivalries -- Zale-Graziano, Ward-Gatti, Ali-Frazier -- with Hopkins-Jones listed at the bottom. (Remember: There's a reason you never see Jones-Hopkins I on ESPN Classic.) Saturday's rematch may be a dubious footnote at the back end of Hopkins' Hall of Fame career, but it shouldn't compromise Bernard's legacy. An athlete cannot tarnish what he's already accomplished -- and Hopkins earned the right to settle a personal score following a string of ambitious fights over the past five years against opponents who are in or near the pound-for-pound Top 10.

The faded Jones, who lost for the sixth time in 11 fights, clearly needs to retire. But Hopkins wants (and deserves) to be the underdog in a high-profile fight one last time. He'd prefer to face David Haye for the world heavyweight championship, but that fight seems unlikely since there's little incentive for the Briton. ("I think he just wants a big payday," Haye told BBC Radio. "To fight for the heavyweight championship of the world he can demand big money.") Short of selling Haye on the fight, a showdown with Lucian Bute before 40,000 fans in Montreal is an attractive possibility.

2. David Haye passed his first test as heavyweight champion with a ninth-round stoppage of John Ruiz in Manchester. What did you think of Haye's victory and who should he fight next?

MANNIX: I was duly impressed with Haye because even though Ruiz has no business in a championship fight, he is a solid gatekeeper and Haye toyed with him. Ruiz is past his prime but he's a crafty veteran who has been in the ring with some of the best and he took a pretty good beating before his corner tossed in the towel in the ninth. As for Haye, there's nowhere to go but a matchup with a Klitschko. Sure, he could face Bernard Hopkins (ugh) or the winner of the Chris Arreola-Tomasz Adamek fight (not quite as big but still, ugh) but neither of those fights carry the same significance as a unification fight with the Klitschkos. Haye has long claimed he is better than both brothers; fine, he's got the belt, he's got a little more experience. Now's the time to back that tough talk up.

O'BRIEN: Admittedly, I'm basing my assessment on the rock-solid foundation of vigorous YouTube analysis, since the Haye-Ruiz bout was unavailable on U.S. television. (But, of course, Hopkins-Jones was. Go figure.) Still, Haye impressed me, as he did a lot of observers, I think. He looked bigger and stronger than he has in the past, and he carried the extra size seemingly with no problem. He moved well and boxed with some style (though he traded more than he had to and he has some defensive issues, more on which in a moment). Haye is a disciplined boxer. Against Nikolai Valuev, he stuck to his game plan (utterly excitement-free as it was), and he largely did so against Ruiz as well. More important, he showed he can punch hard enough to hurt a genuine (and historically very rugged) heavyweight. The one-two that dropped Ruiz 15 seconds into the bout was a classic, and Haye rocked him throughout.

I'm not saying that Haye beats either Klitschko just yet. His low left hand no doubt has both brothers licking their lips. And against either Wlad or Vitali, Haye would be punching upward, which would rob him of leverage. Still, his performance against Ruiz was exactly what he -- and the division -- needed. It looks as though Haye is obligated to a rematch against Valuev next, and the speculation is that after that he would make a U.S. appearance against the likes of Chris Arreola.

But why not pony up some step-aside money for Valuev, put Arreola on hold and go ahead and make a fight against one of the Klitschkos? Boxing needs to strike while the iron is hot -- or make Haye while the sun shines, or whatever cliché you want to use.

GRAHAM: Haye's electrifying performance against Ruiz was an impressive statement and reaffirmed the former crusierweight's long-term viability in boxing's prestige division. I want unification as much as the next guy, but I'd like to see Haye take a few more fights at heavyweight -- perhaps the Arreola-Adamek winner? -- before rushing into a Klitschko clash.

Ideally, Golden Boy -- Haye's promoter in the U.S. -- can get one or more of those bouts in the United States. Haye might not be a American-born fighter, but he's Yankee Doodle Dandy compared to the bloc of Eastern European technicians who have owned the fractured heavyweight title since Lennox Lewis' retirement. Haye's brash personality and penchant for theatrics could go a long way toward regenerating interest in the heavyweight division among American fight fans. Showcase Haye in the U.S. before sending him back across the pond for the unification question against either Klitschko in 2011.

3. What are you expecting from Andre Berto's WBA welterweight title defense against Carlos Quintana on Saturday in Sunrise, Fla.?

MANNIX: Berto has to look at this fight as an opportunity. Yes, he had a great one when he had Mosley in his crosshairs, only to have to back out of that fight after the devastating earthquake in Haiti cost him the lives of several family members. But he can't dwell on it. Against Quintana, Berto has the chance to move to the top of the list of potential opponents for Floyd Mayweather. Think about it: if Mayweather wins -- and negotiations for a fight with Manny Pacquiao fall apart -- Berto, the WBC titlist with crushing power, could be an attractive alternative. To get there though, Berto can't just beat Quintana. He has to crush him. This is an HBO fight that will have a lot of eyeballs on it and a highlight-reel knockout is just the kind of finish that could propel him to the top of the list of welterweight challengers.

O'BRIEN: I like Andre Berto as a fighter. He's got a lot of tools, including real speed and ring smarts. He's also a very engaging guy, with potential star quality. But he hasn't fought in nearly a year and he is coming out of what has to have been a harrowing and emotionally draining couple of months since the earthquake in Haiti (which forced him to pull out of his scheduled bout with Shane Mosley and thus set up the Quintana fight). According to Berto, he lost eight family members in the quake. That tragedy may well inspire Berto come Saturday, but I can't help but think it's been a distraction in his preparation. And that's not what any fighter needs going up against Carlos Quintana.

The southpaw Quintana is the most seasoned opponent Berto has faced. Having been in with Joel Julio, Miguel Cotto and Paul Williams twice, Quintana is unlikely to be intimidated by the undefeated Berto, and he would love to hand Berto an upset loss, just as he did Williams. Berto's strategy has to be to establish himself early against Quintana, using his speed and lots of angles and hurting him, if possible. If Berto can stay busy and focused he should be able to dictate the action and that's what he need to do to win. Certainly it's better for Berto now that he's facing Quintana and not Mosley. If he wins here, he sets himself up as a real player in the 147-pound class.

GRAHAM: Berto has all the trappings of a fighter on the verge of superstardom -- handsome appearance, engaging personality, attractive style, Olympic pedigree, even a shiny alphabet title belt -- except for a signature win. A victory Saturday over Quintana on HBO might not make Berto a household name, but it could be the last stepping stone between the undefeated 26-year-old and a high-profile showdown against one of the several iconic names at 147.

Berto responded admirably to the first true gut-check moment of his career with a unanimous decision in a back-and-forth battle with gatekeeper Luis Collazo in January 2009, and followed it up with a comprehensive points victory over the undersized Juan Urango in May. Inspired by the loss of family members in the Haiti earthquake -- an event that short-circuited a scheduled Jan. 30 date with Mosley -- I'm looking forward to seeing Berto's best Saturday night.

4. The deal for an Aug. 7 rematch between Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan is "just about done" according to Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. How badly do you want to see it happen?

MANNIX: I'm hoping this fight gets the right promotion and pub because it's exactly the kind of war that could drum up interest in the lighter weight classes. These two brawlers went toe-to-toe in a terrific fight in '07 that abruptly ended when Donaire hit a lunging Darchinyan with a counter left that rocked Darchinyan to his core. Since then the two have danced around a rematch but could never come to terms. Darchinyan, 34, is at the end of the line sees Donaire (who he insists he would have beaten had he not got caught) as a potential springboard back to relevancy. For Donaire it's a chance to perhaps elevate himself to superstar status with another jaw dropping knockout. Tough to lose on a fight like this and I expect this one to live up to expectations.

O'BRIEN: The counter left hook with which Donaire KO'd Darchinyan back in 2007 remains one of my favorite punches of recent years: short and crisp and devastating. (Of course, Darchinyan insisted in the ring afterward, in an interview with Showtime's Jim Gray, that he wasn't hurt -- "maybe knockdown," Darchinyan conceded. Right. And the Titanic had "maybe leak," but wasn't sunk.) Just the prospect of seeing that again will have me eager for the proposed rematch. Certainly Darchinyan is eager to redeem himself, which suggests that the second bout could be action-packed. It will be a great fight for fans and for TV.

Darchinyan, though, is 34 years old. He's had a loss (albeit at 118 pounds) and a draw in his eight fights since being clobbered by Donaire. And he has been fairly easy to hit in all those bouts. Donaire, meanwhile, has gone 5-0 over the same time period, and at age 27, figures to be in his prime. Darchinyan will make a fight of it, but I expect Donaire to be too fast in the end. Still, I want to see this one happen.

GRAHAM: Darchinyan managed to right the ship after the shock loss to Donaire in 2007, capturing super flywight titles with victories over Christian Mijares, Jorge Arce and Rodrigo Guerrero. But the hard-hitting southpaw has openly campaigned for a rematch with the "Filipino Flash" and, three years later, deserves one. Donaire, who cracked the the top five in the latest Ring pound-for-pound ratings, may be too sharp for the aging Darchinyan. But it's still one of the year's most compelling fights in the lower weight divisions.

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