Perugia Chairman Luciano Gaucci knew how to generate publicity. He once claimed he would enlist the services of a female player to take on some of the world’s finest footballers in Italy’s Serie A. He also signed the son of Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi to bolster his side’s chances. It didn’t matter that the boy could barely play the game or that his body was clogged with illicit substances.
For all his craziness, Gaucci realised that financial success wasn’t merely based on assembling a talented group of players; it was also about arousing the public’s curiosity.
The same principle applies in boxing. While promoters are constantly on the lookout for powerful punchers with mesmeric skills, they also source fighters who have the potential for broad public appeal. Many years ago we saw a procession of “great white hopes” in the heavyweight division; nowadays, we find a list of fighters aimed at certain demographics. It helps if they have a huge amount of talent, but world-class skills aren’t always a necessity when it comes to selling a fight.
Many average fighters have become cash cows as a result. In some instances, their talent has superseded their crossover appeal; but in others, you find average fighters leapfrogging more talented peers to fight for world honors on account of their sizable fanbase or the public’s curiosity.
The phenomenon of the cash cow isn’t always necessarily such a bad thing. It creates ripples of outside interest in a stagnating sport; but the financial milking of these marketable fighters often results in pointless matchups and the protracted – and sometimes stunted – evolution of world-class boxers.
Arguably, the following four boxers have seen their careers benefit from their striking marketability:
The Derry Destroyer is a promoter’s dream. His Irishness, earthy good looks, and steel-working background were certain to make him a hit with Irish-American fight fans. Add to this his refusal to take a backward step during fights and his propensity to throw barrages of power punches with little heed for personal safety, and you have all the ingredients for a new Micky Ward.
In the early part of his career, Duddy didn’t disappoint. The word “barnstorming” punctuated the column inches, and he generally won inside the distance. He packed out stadiums wherever he fought, and pattered on the Madison Square garden canvas on an amazing nine occasions.
However, despite his huge fanbase, there was a considerable dearth of top-quality opposition on Duddy’s resume. The standout victory of his career was against the slightly faded former world champion Luis Ramon Campas. Apart from that, he has traded fists with a long list of journeyman, until he faced the equally protected Julio Cesar Chavez, JR.
Unfortunately, the bout confirmed what many fight fans had long suspected – that Duddy had a world-class chin, but that he did not have world-class boxing skills. That said, when you have a fan base as large as Duddy’s, the route back to high profile fights is shorter than his recent defeat suggests.
Julio Cesar Chavez JR
For the most part, the ascent of Chavez JR. has made for frustrating viewing. He has spent years fending off the wiles of tomato can fighters; this has become increasingly difficult for boxing fans to stomach.
Chavez JR’s career seems to have been managed in a cynical manner. The idea seems to have been to bloat his resume with a large number of fights just as his father had before him. In contrast to Chavez SR., however, the quality of Chavez JR’s opposition thus far hasn’t seem to matter too much to his management. Rather, the emphasis seems to have been on compiling numerous victories while protecting the all-important 0 on his record.
Nonetheless, Chavez, JR., keeps the turnstiles spinning. Genetics, nostalgia, and hope for the next great Mexican fighter will probably ensure that he will endure several hollow performances in the coming years.
To his credit, Chavez, JR., did raise his opposition level somewhat in his recent wide points victory over John Duddy, but no world title challenge has been mooted yet.
Eventually, we will find out precisely how good Chavez, JR., is when he does challenge for a world title. Despite the expertise of Freddie Roach in his corner, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him go tumbling down once he is confronted by the hard hands of truth.
Of the boxers listed, Khan has been by far the most impressive, though question marks abound.
Promoters and television networks were clamoring to get a piece of Khan after he won a silver medal as a 17 year old at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Apart from his myriad pugilistic talents, Khan had massive crossover appeal – he was a young Muslim of sub-continental descent.
As soon as he turned professional, the BBC signed up Khan, and Frank Warren nurtured his career in its early stages. However, fight fans soon grew tired of the acute level of protection afforded the young star, until he was eventually put in against the dangerous puncher Breidis Prescott.
Khan may have rebuilt his career since that defeat to the tutelage of Freddie Roach and the crafty management of Golden Boy Promotions; but, despite his excellent recent performances, fans are still frustrated by Khan’s choice of opposition.
He fought a career-worn Marco Antonio Barrera, and then fought for a world title against the lightly regarded, yet durable, Andreas Kotelnik. His U.S. debut against Dmitriy Salita – and his superb recent performance against Paulie Malignaggi – also taught us nothing we didn’t already know about khan.
The boxing public knows he is a gifted fighter, but people want to see his flighty chin tested against both dangerous punchers and the best boxers in the world. Timothy Bradley and Michael Katsidis have lamented the fact that the Khan camp has avoided them and, despite all the talk of a matchup against the hard-hitting Argentine Marcos Maidana, we are yet to see any signatures on a contract.
Beware of the human-interest angle. Dmitriy Salita’s story reads as a triumph over persecution: His family left religious persecution in Ukraine and found acceptance in the United States.
It is a heart-warming story, but it has nothing to do with boxing. Salita may not fight on the Sabbath, and he may strictly adhere to Jewish dietary laws, but again, this has nothing to do with his boxing ability.
Bob Arum has touted his prospect as an example to people of all creeds, but the proof was in the pugilism. After a carefully cultivated resume that was bereft of world-class opposition, Salita lost knocked out by Amir Khan inside one round during their WBO light welterweight bout in 2009.