Fight rivalries, a common thread of previous generations, are a blank canvas in the contemporary boxing landscape.
Missing are the days when fans identified fighters with specific opponents.
A riveting and compelling first bout often resulted in rematches.
Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran and Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe personified the rivalries currently lacking in the sport. A rivalry’s impact was even more prevalent in the 1940s and early 1950s, when Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta faced each other six times and Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler engaged in a four-fight saga.
For the modern-day fight fan, one already has to reflect to memorable trilogies between Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward fought in 2002-03 and Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez (2007-09). Another recent rivalry was the four-bout set that ended four years ago and featured Marquez’s brother, Juan Manuel, and Manny Pacquiao.
Despite the current void, there is a glimmer of hope that rivalries again could surface as evidenced by upcoming bouts.
Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz will fight Saturday night in Las Vegas. Their world featherweight title bout is a rematch of their thrilling fight last July, when Frampton and Santa Cruz fought at an intense pace before Frampton won a majority decision
Frampton recognizes that the bout with Santa Cruz has the makings of a rivalry.
“I would like that — I would like a rivalry where in 20, 30 years from now people remember it,” Frampton said. “You always need a dance partner and Leo Santa Cruz could be mine.”
Clearwater resident Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia will fight in a welterweight title unification bout March 4 in Brooklyn, New York. Thurman (27-0, 22 KOs) and Garcia (33-0, 19 KOs) are in the primes of their careers and an entertaining fight could result in rematches.
“Danny Garcia is a fighter who I have asked for and who I have respect for,” Thurman said in a news conference last week that officially announced the fight. “But he’s going to learn, just as my past opponents have, that my power and speed will rise above any swiftness he has. I look forward to this fight and the fans should, too.”
Another bout with rivalry story lines but yet unscheduled is the rematch between light-heavyweight champion Andre Ward and part-time Fort Lauderdale resident Sergey Kovalev.
Ward overcame a second-round knockdown and won a close and hotly disputed decision against Kovalev on Nov. 18. Kovalev, who lost his three sanctioning body belts, vehemently disputed the judges’ decisions and has demanded a return bout.
Given the fallout from the result and that Ward and Kovalev are considered the sport’s best 175-pound fighters, a second match should occur and in the process, create yet another possible rivalry.
AROUND THE RING
▪ ESPN will resume boxing coverage after the cable network reached a multi-annual deal with Golden Boy Productions to televise fights beginning March 23.
The fights will be aired on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
The network is scheduled to televise 18 Golden Boy promoted shows in 2017.
▪ Davie resident Teofimo Lopez will have his second professional bout Feb. 24 in a Telemundo-televised card from Palm Bay.
Lopez’s opponent in the scheduled four-round lightweight bout will be announced soon.
Lopez, 19, is a former national amateur national champion who represented Honduras in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Lopez won his professional debut with second-round knockout over Ishwar Siqueiros on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas.
Friday (11 p.m., UniMas-Ch. 69): Erick De Leon vs. Jose Salinas, 8, super featherweights.
Saturday (10 p.m., Showtime): Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz, 12, for Frampton’s WBA featherweight title; Dejan Zlaticanin vs. Mikey Garcia, 12, for Zlaticanin’s WBC lightweight title.
Saturday (10 p.m., HBO): Francisco Vargas vs. Miguel Berchelt, 12, for Vargas’ WBC featherweight title.