Weighing in on a worrying trend

By Graham Houston

Friday’s weigh-in for tonight’s Andre Ward-Edwin Rodriguez fight on HBO (BoxNation in the UK) casts a shadow over the contest, with Rodriguez coming in two pounds over the super middleweight division limit and choosing to pay a forfeit of 20 per cent of his purse rather than trying to lose the excess. Rodriguez agreed to a second weigh-in on the morning of the fight, at which he agreed not to weigh more than 180 pounds. I’m starting to wonder if there is any point in having weight divisions. Why not just agree to fight at the championship weight “or anything from two to five pounds over?”

That would make sense in today’s boxing landscape of fighters failing to make weight, sometimes cynically. It’s as if some fighters take the view: “I’ll give a portion of my purse to the other guy just so I can be at maximum strength on the night.”

That’s what happened when Floyd Mayweather Jr. failed to make weight for his catchweight fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2009. Mayweather came in at 146 pounds for a match made at 144 and reportedly paid Marquez $600,000.

We had Adrien Broner not making weight for his fight with Vicente Escobedo and looking two weight divisions the bigger man on the night. “It looked like a little guy and a monster in there,” Escobedo’s manager, Rolando Arellano, told me in a phone interview after the fight. Arellano was very close to pulling Escobedo out, but the financial inducements to go through with the bout were too good to turn down, he said. However, the Escobedo team was poised to throw in the towel if it looked as if Escobedo was starting to get hurt, which they did in the fifth round.

Jose Luis Castillo, of course, came in three and half pounds over the lightweight limit for his rematch with Diego Corrales in 2005. Castillo was fined $120,000 by the Nevada commission — 10 per cent of his purse — with half this sum going to Corrales. To try to level the playing field, Corrales’s promoter, Gary Shaw, hammered out an agreement in which Castillo would not weigh more than 147 pounds at a commission supervised weigh-in at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of the fight. However, Castillo looked much the bigger, stronger man in the fight, blasting through a brave but outgunned Corrales in the fourth round.

When Castillo failed to make weight for the rubber match, Team Corrales said: “Enough of this” and pulled their man out of the fight.

Corrales was the guilty party when he came in five pounds over the lightweight limit for his rubber match with Joel Casamayor, dropping just one pound. The fight went ahead and the lighter man, Casamayor, used superior speed and sharper boxing to win a close decision.

The Nicaraguan fighter Rosendo Alvarez came in three and a half pounds over the mini flyweight 105-pound limit for his fight with Mexico’s Ricardo Lopez. The bout was almost cancelled but promoter Don King structured a fight-saving deal in which Alvarez would weigh in at 114 pounds on the day of the fight: Lopez won on points in a tough, bloody battle that King likened to Ali-Frazier in miniature.

Alvarez was up to his old tricks when weighing three and a half pounds over the light-flyweight limit for his title bout with Beibis Mendoza, of Colombia. Alvarez lost his title on the scales but the fight went ahead, with Alvarez winning a split decision.

Nate Campbell came in three pounds overweight for a lightweight title fight with South African Ali Funeka and had managed to shed only half a pound when he weighed in a second time. Funeka didn’t want to pull out of his biggest fight (and first appearance in the United States) so he went through with the contest, but Campbell’s greater strength showed as the American boxer scored two knockdowns to pull out a majority decision win.

Joan Guzman was notorious for failing to make weight, including coming in at 144 pounds for a lightweight title bout with Ali Funeka, who must have thought: “Oh no, not again” after his Nate Campbell experience of a year earlier — Funeka fought extremely well but Guzman was a little too big and strong in what came down to a one-point fight, with a knockdown in the sixth round giving Guzman his slim margin of victory.

Panama’s Rafael Concepcion came in four and a half pounds over the weight limit for his junior bantamweight title fight with Nonito Donaire. Concecpcion was fined 20 per cent of his purse but had an immediately obvious advantage in size and strength. “The win was what was important to Concepcion, not the money,” Donaire’s manager, Cameron Dunkin, told me later. “It would have been huge for his career.” Donaire won the fight clearly on points but it was a gruelling struggle. “I was hitting him with bombs and they weren’t having any effect,” Donaire told me later in a phone interview.

Mikey Garcia, normally an impeccably professional young man with an experienced team behind him, came in two pounds overweight for a scheduled featherweight title bout against Juan Manuel Lopez in June, coming in at 128 pounds while Lopez — the fighter everyone thought would be the one likely to have weight problems — came in three quarters of a pound inside the 126-pound limit. The fight was a four-round mismatch — Garcia was the better fighter but also seemed so much physically stronger than the hapless JuanMa.

Just a couple of months ago we had the absurd situation of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Bryan Vera boxing at a catchweight of 173 pounds for what was originally intended to be a middleweight fight, although this was a little different as Chavez let it be known well before the fight that he was having weight issues and Chavez’s promoter Bob Arum was able to appraise Vera’s promoter, Art Pelullo, of the situation and work with him in the days leading up to the bout so that the fight would not be placed in jeopardy due to weigh-in drama.

This business of fighters not making weight really is a never-ending problem, though.

It never used to happen in days of yore. You didn’t hear of fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan, Carlos Ortiz, Willie Pep, Carmen Basilio — not even the great Archie Moore with his weight fluctuations between light-heavyweight and heavyweight — not making weight. Welterweight great Emile Griffith agreed to a catchweight of 145 pounds for his bout with British lightweight Dave Charnley in London — and Emile made the weight like the pro he was (and this in the era of same-day weigh-ins, too).

It seems to me that the culprit in all of this is the day-before weigh-in of the modern era. Fighters who are tight at the weight seem to be rolling the dice that they will be able to squeeze in under the weight limit by drying out, then have 30 hours in which to replace lost liquids and nutrients — only to find that the last one, two, three or more pounds are very difficult to budge. So, the attitude is: “Sorry, I’ve done my best here — can’t do any more.”

What happens then? Thousands of people have bought tickets. Some of them may have travelled long distances involving seriously significant expense. The fight is due to be televised. Worldwide TV deals have been negotiated. Millions of people around the world are looking forward to seeing the fight. International TV crews are on hand.

The fighter who doesn’t make weight is in a very strong position. He knows there will be financial losses and massive negative fallout if the fight falls through.

What Cameron Dunkin said about the win being more important than the money has a very plausible ring to it.

No doubt — unless he’s Adrien Broner — the fighter who doesn’t make weight will be apologetic. You can almost hear the words. “I’ve said I am really, really sorry. The weight won’t come off. I can’t do more. It will just about kill me to lose any more weight. I lost as much weight as I can and I am willing to fight.”

In other words: “I’m not prepared to lose any more weight, and I’m not going to try any more — the ball’s in your court.”

Meanwhile, the other boxer has sacrificed — maybe even gone through agonies — to make sure he will be coming in at the required weight.

We’ve been through this time after time in recent years.

A fighter’s trainer can do only so much. The fighter presumably knows his own body. If the fighter assures the trainer that even though it’s difficult he can cut the last remaining pounds without weakening himself too much, then the trainer, it seems logical to assume, is likely to go along with what he’s being told.

Lou DiBella, Rodriguez’s promoter, was clearly not best pleased by today’s turn of events, even agreeing with a suggestion that a weight clause be inserted into fight contracts stipulating the exact amount of money that a fighter will have deducted from his purse should the fighter fail to make the agreed weight.

Something needs to be done. We have now arrived at a situation in which we can no longer be sure if both boxers are going to make the weight.

Fighters who find it hard making weight are, when it comes right down to it, being given a two or three-pound (or more) leeway.

Archie Moore, were he still with us, would no doubt be thinking ruefully that he was born at the wrong time.

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