Max Kellerman

Tuesday, October 9
Max: Boxing in bad shape? Not this year

By Max Kellerman
Special to

Apparently, boxing's golden era will not be televised. At least not on free TV. It's a shame, because those who stopped following the sport due to its lack of network exposure are missing some of the best fights and fighters boxing has ever known.
You want to tell me boxing is in bad shape? I will put Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ricardo Lopez and Marco Antonio Barrera up against the top half dozen pound-for-pound fighters from any era you can mention.

In 1999, had an old-timer wanted to tell me what bad shape boxing was in, I would not have argued. First, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield disappointed with their lackluster heavyweight unification showdown. Then the judges disappointed even worse with their horrible draw decision (Lewis probably won 10 rounds). Oscar De La Hoya ran and then was robbed in his welterweight unification match with Felix Trinidad. It was one of the most boring superfights in history. By the end of '99, boxing had hit a nadir that was frightening to those who love the sweet science.

And then, suddenly, the boxing gods heard the prayers of disappointed fans and gave us the year 2000. It was the best year for boxing in recent memory. From Trinidad-Vargas to Barrera-Morales to Mosley-De La Hoya, every major fight seemed a candidate for fight of the year. So far 2001 has not delivered the same kind of competitive, all-action superfights, but it has produced much-anticipated matchups with surprising results.

In Hassim Rahman-Lennox Lewis we had one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, with the heavyweight title changing hands by one-punch knockout. Marco Antonio Barrera upset Naseem Hamed in an exciting (albeit one-sided) fight. Chris Byrd beat David Tua in one of those classic pure-boxer-vs.-deadly-puncher matchups, the kind hardcore fans love. Bones Adams and Paulie Ayala put on a terrific show (with Ayala, the Top Rank darling, predictably walking away with an unpopular decision). And, of course, Bernard Hopkins took Felix Trinidad to school, establishing Hopkins as a top pound-for-pound candidate -- No. 1 on my list -- and all-time great middleweight. Before the year is out, Zab Judah and Kostya Tszyu are scheduled to settle the undisputed junior welterweight championship, and Rahman and Lewis will rematch in a fight that has garnered mainstream attention as a result of a televised prefight beef between the two fighters.

You want to tell me boxing is in bad shape? I will put Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley, Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ricardo Lopez and Marco Antonio Barrera up against the top half dozen pound-for-pound fighters from any era you can mention. Hopkins is one of the three most dominant middleweights of the last quarter century (along with Marvin Hagler and Carlos Monzon). Shane Mosley is one of the most well-rounded fighters I have ever seen. For the past six or seven years Roy Jones has been challenging Sugar Ray Robinson as the most talented fighter who ever lived. So long as Floyd Mayweather's hands hold up (like many fighters, Floyd has had chronic hand problems), he will make a run at becoming the greatest junior lightweight in the history of boxing. Ricardo Lopez is a first ballot Hall of Famer and perhaps the most picture-perfect fighter I have ever seen at any weight. Marco Antonio Barrera has established himself as the greatest featherweight since a prime Azumah Nelson ruled the division about 15 years ago.

And let's not forget the fearsome Trinidad, who will now be underrated as a result of his loss to Hopkins, and De La Hoya, who probably already has Hall of Fame credentials. Almost all of these guys have been engaging in big-time showdowns with other top fighters in and around their divisions. This is a great time to be a boxing fan, even if most people don't know it.

In The News

  • The upset streak continued, as hot lightweight prospect Julio Diaz lost a decision in a fight he appeared to have won against veteran contender Angel Manfredy. Diaz may have offered some evidence in the "loss" that he is the best 135-pounder in the world. Meanwhile Manfredy is now in line for a shot at IBF lightweight belt holder Paul Spadafora. Spadafora-Manfredy is one of the more interesting matchups in boxing. Spadafora has looked like a budding star at times, and has looked like an overhyped clubfighter at others. Against Manfredy we will finally be able to gauge just where slick-boxing southpaw stands.

  • And finally, Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, the best flyweight of my lifetime, who I thought would establish his dominance at bantamweight as well, was outpointed by hard-punching Rafael Marquez, brother of top featherweight contender Juan Manuel Marquez. I'm still not convinced that a properly motivated Johnson is not the best bantam in the world. We'll see in his next fight, hopefully a rematch with his conqueror. Oh yeah, memo to all cable networks that televise boxing: try to make sure "Too Sharp" makes air next time. He's been one of boxing's elite for over half a decade, and any Mark Johnson fight is must-see TV for real boxing fans.

    Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

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