As the lead commentator of HBO boxing since the late 80s, Jim Lampley’s voice has been the backdrop to many of boxing’s iconic moments. Saturday night, he covers a fight that on the surface is low-key but has big implications for the sport in Miguel Cotto’s defense of the middleweight title against Daniel Geale. Newly signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, Cotto has an agreement in principle to face Canelo Alvarez this fall should he get by Geale. To assist in that end, Cotto had a strict contract mandate that Geale, a natural 160-pounder, make a catchweight of 157 pounds.
Adding to the intrigue is undefeated middleweight knockout artist Gennady Golovkin, who’s been the #1 contender and frozen out of a title shot for several years. In order for Cotto-Canelo to happen, Golovkin would have to be willing to step aside (with financial compensation no doubt) with the guarantee of knowing he’d get the winner in early 2016.
Sifting through the convoluted business that is boxing is nothing new to Jim Lampley. The 2015 boxing Hall of Fame inductee gives his take on Cotto-Geale, balancing boxing business with sports competitiveness, and if Golovkin is the real deal.
KO Nation: Saturday we’ll see a middleweight title match contested at a catch weight of 157 pounds. We’re increasingly seeing bouts like this where the competitive nature is diluted due to one fighter being put an disadvantage. What is you take on the opinion that catchweights should not be allowed for title fights?
Lampley: Ideally, I’m in league with those who say the weight limit for the division should be the weight limit for a championship fight. It’s confusing to boxing consumers to keep up with the 16 different weight classes, four governing bodies claiming belts in those weight classes, and now possibly a new set of belts with PBC (Premier Boxing Champions). The more confusing we make it for consumers, the more difficult it is for them to grasp what’s important in the sport. In the best of all possible worlds, I would like to see title fights take place at the weight limit of the division.
On the other hand, Geale signed a contract that agreed to a weight limit of 157 pounds for the fight. Cotto has his very specific business reasons for negotiating the weight. He’s not really a true middleweight; he cherry-picked an opportunity against Sergio Martinez to become the legitimate middleweight champion although he’s not a middleweight. I understand from Cotto’s perspective why he does his business the way he does it.
KO Nation: We talk more about the “business of boxing” than what goes on in the ring. Has it gotten worse in recent years?
Lampley: Boxing has always been a business more than a sport. It’s short-sighted to say that’s a current rather than an historic condition. It’s the nature of the sport because it’s an entrepreneurial venture. There are no organized leagues to mandate that if the Heat win the Eastern conference finals and the Lakers the West, they’ll meet instead of the Lakers saying they’d rather play the Thunder. It has always been that way. The business goes hand in hand with the competitive aspect of boxing. Fans have to become sophisticated about it to fully appreciate the sport. The conditions that make guys choose fights for business rather than competitive realities isn’t new, this has always gone on.
On the other hand, back when guys fought 4, 6, 7 and 12 times per year, it was different. Now we have this giant money-maker called pay-per-view. Fighters are very conscious of trying to protect their undefeated records to get in position for pay-per-view fights. In that sense this is a current reality of people being much more careful about their matchmaking than before. It’s another thing that inhibits viewership and fan appreciation because people think they want abundance to see what they want when they want to see it.
The other side of that coin is because of the scarcity boxing creates in practice and in the mind of the consumer, you get these explosions like Mayweather-Pacquiao that would never take place in other sports when you know the Heat will play the Lakers if both win their conference finals.
KO Nation: Let’s look at the Cotto-Geale matchup itself. Can this fight resemble the problems Cotto had with Austin Trout, a naturally bigger technician who gradually wore him down?
Lampley: Well, I think it’s a lot harder for Cotto to knock out Daniel Geale than Sergio Martinez regardless of what Golovkin did, that’s a separate category. Golovkin is more than a true middleweight — he’s a monster. Even if Geale is starched making 157, he’ll still rehydrate to something closer to 170-172 pounds. It will be very hard for Cotto to knock out someone at that weight who doesn’t have a bad knee.
My expectation is the fight goes the distance and with that there’s always a crapshoot. Geale is an athletic fighter that generally prefers a faster pace than which Miguel fights. If Geale is able to accelerate the pace and fight at a pace that he’s more comfortable, and make it through the weight loss enough to keep his stamina in the late rounds, it will be a tough fight for Miguel Cotto.
KO Nation: Should Cotto lose, is Cotto-Canelo still a viable fight for the fall? We’ve seen precedent in Mayweather-Judah and Pacquiao-Morales II where anticipated bouts happen despite one party suffering a bad loss going in.
Lampley: It’s conceivable that Cotto would still go on to fight Canelo particularly if the decision is a controversial split decision for Geale with Freddie [Roach] shouting the claim that Cotto was robbed. I could see that preserving the Cotto-Canelo enterprise and the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. Geale could get the official win without being seen by the boxing public as a convincing winner and therefore Cotto gets to fight Canelo anyway.
KO Nation: When you have cases like Golovkin at middleweight where clearly the champion doesn’t want to face him, should GGG be viewed as the division’s champion anyway because of his middleweight resume?
Lampley: I do and am a big believer in the lineal champion concept. If you beat the man who beat the man, you are the man until proven otherwise. But in this one particular instance, it’s clear to me that people aren’t fighting Golovkin for the most obvious reason. The obvious reason is he’s the best and looks to the other middleweights to be unbeatable. I admire Geale, Rubio and others like them for stepping up and taking the fight. It would be a lot better for the fans, sport and all concerned to get our wits about us and turn out for Golovkin like he deserves to make people fight him. Create the demand — that’s the only way to make people take the right fight when they know they’ll make the most possible money. Whoever fights Golovkin deserves to be paid for it. The boxing public needs to see to it that’s the case.
KO Nation: Miguel Cotto is definitely one of boxing’s biggest stars, but his popularity amongst his own people takes a backseat to the likes of Felix Trinidad and Wilfredo Gomez. And you can make a legit argument that the buzz around newcomer Felix Verdejo is much bigger than what Cotto got climbing the ranks. Why is that?For the rest of this interview, head over to KnockoutNation.com.