1. How will you remember the Edwin Valero tragedy that's unfolded over the past several days?
CHRIS MANNIX: This is a tragedy that ranks near the top of the list in any sport. Valero's savage power and straight-ahead style made him as exciting as he was feared and a popular line of thinking was that, in a few years, he could have been a candidate to replace aging stars like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., as the face of the sport. But his life was a horror show. Before he was jailed for allegedly killing his wife, he set his career back years by getting nailed with a DUI in the U.S. last year that prevented his promoter, Top Rank, from putting him in bigger fights. But his win over Antonio DeMarco in February set him up as a legitimate challenger in the Pacquiao/Mayweather/Shane Mosley sweepstakes. We will never know just how good Valero could have been.
RICHARD O'BRIEN: What is there to say? Valero was truly an exciting figure in the ring, and the prospect of seeing him against Manny Pacquiao had to get any boxing fan's heart racing. But the reality of a murder-suicide sort of takes the bloom off of the thought of any in-the-ring violence. It's been a terrible stretch for boxing, with the deaths of Alexis Arguello, Vernon Forrest, Arturo Gatti and now Valero. Had another sport -- baseball, the NBA, NASCAR? -- experienced such a grim and bloody run, there'd have been far more headlines. But my sense is that unfortunately people expect such things from boxers. And, who knows, maybe there is more rage and more pain among fighters. That's for another essay or dissertation or something. Right now, it's just another blow to a sport that doesn't need any more.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: The first thing you always noticed about Valero was the beautiful symmetry of the record -- 27 fights, 27 wins, 27 knockouts -- and efforts like February's brave stoppage of Antonio DeMarco suggested that it wasn't simply a product of friendly matchmaking. As I skimmed the June issue of The Ring magazine that landed in my mailbox today, it was impossible to keep Valero out of mind: He'd climbed to No. 1 in the mag's monthly ratings of lightweight contenders; editor-in-chief Nigel Collins' letter at the front of the book fantasized over a Pacquiao-Valero fight; he figured prominently in a feature on boxing's most exciting fighters. The sport over the next several years was Valero's for the taking. No longer.
Some of the early reactions to Monday's tragedy have directed blame toward Top Rank's Bob Arum. That instinct may be misguided. Even if you believe Arum is guilty of a crime of omission and didn't have the fighter's best interests at heart, the self-destuctive pattern of behavior that led to Valero's demise long predates Arum's involvement. You just wish someone could have reached the young man and helped him address his demons -- alcohol and drug addictions, that notorious temper -- before they dragged him into the abyss. All that's left are two young people dead, two children without parents and an enigmatic legacy unfulfilled.
2. Sergio Martinez captured the lineal middleweight championship Saturday with a unanimous decision over Kelly Pavlik. What did you make of Martinez's performance and where does Pavlik go from here?
MANNIX: Style, check. Punching power, check. A little flair, check. There's really not a lot to dislike about Martinez, who is coming into his own late in his career much the same way Juan Manuel Marquez did. I doubt he will campaign at middleweight, not with a natural 154-pound frame -- his promoter Lou DiBella told me he ate a steak the day before the weigh-in -- and far more lucrative fights to be made at the junior middleweight division. But with due respect to Paul Williams, in my mind Martinez is the top fighter in the 154- and 160-pound weight classes.
Pavlik's got a few decisions to make. Weight is obviously an issue; when you rehydrate 18 pounds, it's time to move up. But I wonder if it might be time for him to split with Jack Loew. Loew has done an admirable job developing Pavlik into the middleweight champion, but by Loew's own admission he never should have put an ailing Pavlik in against Bernard Hopkins in '08 and watched his fighter abandon a more technical game plan in favor of slugging it out with Miguel Espino last December. Against Martinez, Pavlik never had a consistent jab and couldn't keep the smaller fighter off of him throughout most of the fight. At 28, Pavlik is at a career crossroads. A move up in weight to the loaded 168-pound division should be a lock. A move to a new trainer -- perhaps a jab master like Manny Steward -- should be considered.
O'BRIEN: A tip of the (extra-large) hat to Lou DiBella, who -- I learned from Chris's Inside Boxing column in SI this week -- spotted the potential still there in the then-33-year-old Martinez a couple of years ago and pushed hard to re-energize his career. Despite a winless 2009 (thanks to a draw with Kermit Cintron and a close loss to Paul Williams), Martinez clearly was a fighter with a lot to offer. And most of it was exactly what Kelly Pavlik did not need. Martinez's speed, movement and impressive work rate (a background in soccer and cycling will give a guy legs), were simply too much for Pavlik, who for most of the fight seemed a step behind and a bit complacent (and no doubt weak from having to make 160 pounds). In the middle rounds, Kelly worked the jab better and also cut the ring more efficiently; it was a blueprint for possible success, but -- whether from fatigue or a lack of commitment -- he abandoned it, and Martinez simply took over.
With his hands-down, in-and-out style, Maravilla is not my favorite type of fighter (give me Marvelous -- as in the aggressive offense of Hagler -- any day), but I'd be happy to see him against a number of 154- or 160-pounders, especially Williams again.
As for Pavlik, I wonder whether he -- as Chris has suggested -- has gone as far as he can under Jack Loew. Pavlik is a heavy-handed fighter, true, but he should be more than a one-dimensional plodder. He strikes me as a fighter who has a lot of tools -- reach, a decent jab, ability to put punches together -- but is unsure what to do with them. Emanuel Steward was providing commentary for Pavlik's fight last Saturday night; it's intriguing to think what might happen were Manny to be in Pavlik's corner the next time.
GRAHAM: A magnetic backstory helped Pavlik flirt with mainstream stardom early in his often-frustrating middleweight title reign, but Martinez's journey is just as fascinating. The Argentine was tabbed for a soccer career as a precocious striker for local club team Claypole during his teenage years, but a funny thing happened on the way to the Bombonera: Martinez turned down a contract offer from Club Atlético Los Andes, a decision that perplexed many in a nation where fútbol is sacrosanct. (Imagine a Biletnikoff Award finalist pulling out of the NFL draft to pursue an amateur boxing career.) The belated introduction to the fight game -- he was past 20 when he started -- makes Martinez a young 35.
Maravilla is not wanting for options. Rematches with Pavlik, Paul Williams or even disgraced ex-champion Antonio Margarito are realistic possibilities. But I'd like to see Martinez cede the middleweight strap, return to 154 pounds (he's got two weeks to decide which belt he's keeping) and face the winner of the June 5 clash between Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto.
Pavlik has 30 days to decide on the rematch clause in the fight contract. My guess is he'll take a pass and opt for reinvention in the stacked 168-pound division. Whether Jack Loew tags along -- you two seem to believe he's excess baggage -- is anybody's guess.
3. Super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute improved to 26-0 with a third-round knockout of Edison Miranda in Montreal. Where do you rate Bute among the sport's best pound-for-pound fighters?
MANNIX: Here's my concern about Showtime's Super Six tournament. What happens after they crown a new super middleweight king ... and that king promptly gets flattened by Bute? Bute is the real deal: He's powerful (Edison Miranda bounced on the canvas after that left uppercut like a Street Fighter character) and technically proficient. It appears that after running out of steam in his first fight with Librado Andrade, the 30-year old Bute has made conditioning a priority, making him doubly dangerous. I understand why he's not in the Super Six -- he's an HBO fighter and Showtime couldn't touch him -- but don't tell me there is a 168-pounder in the game better than him. Don't tell me there are more than 10 guys in the world better than him, either.
O'BRIEN: I'm not sure I'm ready to include Bute in the pound-for-pound discussion, but he's certainly among the best 168-pounders around, which means that the Super Six tournament, for all the entertainment it provides, will not be the definitive answer to just who's the top super middleweight. But that's all right. Bute can stand as the next attraction for whoever wins the tourney. In the meantime, how about matching him with Pavlik -- at 168?
Bute is a fascinating fighter. He's not a crushing puncher so much as he is a tremendously accurate one, who times his big shots perfectly and sets them up through a great command of distance. Ask Librado Andrade, a truly tough guy whom Bute finished with a single left uppercut to the body. And, of course, ask Miranda, who caught that same uppercut on the chin.
Add Bute's huge fan base in Montreal, and you have a major attraction, who's going to keep the 168-pound division in the spotlight for a while.
GRAHAM: Bute is the thorn in Showtime exec Ken Hirschman's side -- the incandescent talent whose absence from the Super Six threatens to undermine the whole enterprise. No box-off is perfect -- remember: tournaments only create the impression of order being restored -- but Bute's non-participation has gone from a footnote to a problematic omission over the past year.
It's far too early to count Bute among boxing's 10 best fighters at any weight, even with longtime pound-for-pound staples like Bernard Hopkins and Miguel Cotto trending down. I'm not even certain Bute cracks my Top 20. (Do you put him above Ivan Calderon? Chad Dawson? Juanma Lopez? Tomasz Adamek?) But a couple more performances like Saturday's destruction of Miranda -- Bute's trainer called the third-round coup de gracethe "orgasm of boxing" -- would make the Romanian's pound-for-pound case that much harder to dismiss.
4. Mikkel Kessler faces a must-win situation Saturday against WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch in the second stage of the Super Six tournament. How do you see this fight?
MANNIX: It's an interesting fight, because I don't think Froch is as good as most think -- and I don't think Kessler is as bad as he looked against Andre Ward. But I like Kessler. Lest we forget, Mikkel was once the odds-on favorite to win this little tournament. He ran into a buzzsaw in Ward who was fighting in his hometown. This time around Kessler will have thousands of his own fans behind him in Denmark. If he throws enough jabs to keep the brawling Froch off of him, I think he wins this fight pretty handily.
O'BRIEN: I really like the Super Six tournament (despite the absence of Bute). It's like an artificially-created (but still quite satisfying) version of the boxing scene in the 1940s and '50s, when the best fighters in a division actually fought each other on a regular basis and fans didn't have to wait months for the next overhyped "super bout."
Kessler-Froch may not scream "must-see" to the casual American fan, but there's a lot at stake in this bout between two accomplished 168-pounders, and I'm eager to see it -- even if it's through the ash cloud of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano (I threw that in just so I could blow out my spell check).
With his loss to Andre Ward last November, Kessler went from the tournament favorite to a guy desperate to stay in the running for the semifinals. At age 31, Kessler has to show that he can win the big ones. He's a well-schooled fighter with a lot of experience and, now that he has brought in trainer Jimmy Montoya to man the corner, I expect him to have the focus necessary to win against Froch -- who, honestly, was lucky in some ways to come away with the wins against Taylor and Dirrell. Add to that the fact that the bout is being held in Kessler's native Denmark and I see this as a chance for the Viking Warrior to reclaim some tournament momentum.
GRAHAM: It's all or nothing for Kessler: He's either going to win a decision or fall to the hard-hitting Froch inside the distance. I'm leaning toward the former.
The intangibles favor Kessler in what's become a crossroads fight for a guy who many considered the pre-tournament favorite. Froch is a hard-nosed, underappreciated boxer who can move into first place with a victory, but Kessler's advantages in hand speed and experience should be enough to win the day. It's not like Froch won't be wanting for motivation -- the Brit's controversial opening-stage decision over Andre Dirrell wasn't exactly a mandate -- but Kessler's desperation-fueled best should prove too difficult to overcome in the Dane's backyard.