Any time a ShoBox main event pits two 30-something "prospects" against each other and the most intriguing question of the accompanying fight is how the journeyman whose last opponent died after the fight will bounce back emotionally in his undercard fight against a future journeyman, you know it's time to kick the habit. Showtime, you must, must, must check into rehab for relying so heavily on Gary Shaw as your favorite promoter. ShoBox is called "The Next Generation," but these two fights Friday night represented "The Never Generation."
Out of curiosity, I counted up the 2009 Showtime boxing schedule, past and future. I came up with 24 events. Of them, 13 featured one -- often several -- Shaw fighters. I'm not attacking Shaw as a promoter. He's among the better ones, even with shortcomings that I've complained about before, and has a roster that includes many exciting and talented fighters. But for all the hell HBO catches for favoring Golden Boy -- justified -- Showtime's hooked on Shaw in a way that is just as obvious, but far less frequently mentioned. And let's not pretend it doesn't result in some bad programming. Case in point.
As usual, I say this with the caveat that I have nothing but respect for boxers, even journeymen, hell, even total tomato cans -- they put themselves in harm's way for our entertainment, and that is an inherently brave act, deserving of my endless admiration. But I'm not going to sugarcoat what we saw Friday. Victor Fonseca? Going nowhere in the junior featherweight division. Al Seeger, his felled opponent? Hasn't been anywhere, and won't get there. Freddy Hernandez? Slower than a barge, will get wrecked by the first good welterweight he fights. Damian Frias? He got beat by Hernandez. And if I'm wrong, I'll be thrilled (except for Fonseca, which I'll explain in a minute). I love it when an undertalented guy proves everybody wrong and overcomes his limitations to make it big.
Fightwise, here's what we got.
Seeger was the one coming off the tragic recent fight. And he was winning this fight. I had him winning the 1st, 2nd, 6th, 7th and 8th, often by pumping his jab and landing a big right hand or two each winning round. Showtime's announcing team, for reasons I cannot comprehend, thought Fonseca was dominating, because many of those rounds were close. Fonseca's corner, meanwhile, was panicking. The judges saw Seeger winning through eight, too. Unfortunately, the referee was totally blind. This being Texas, you'd guess that the blind referee was Laurence Cole, but this guy must have been his apprentice. Fonseca fouled far more than he landed punches -- the rounds he won, he won with the occasional well-timed left -- at one point bulling Seeger through the ring ropes with his head, which is not a legal move even in mixed martial arts, I don't think. Punching on the break, punching after the bell, head butts, low blows, arm twists, holding and hitting, hitting on the back of the head -- if diversity and frequency of cheating was how the fight was scored, this would have been a blowout. He hardly even got warned for any of it. Toward the beginning of the 9th, Fonseca landed a punch on the break that had Seeger staggering backwards, and after some more rough stuff and a few legit punches, Fonseca knocked him out. I will not root for Fonseca to make it. This was, hands-down, the dirtiest performance of 2009, and I don't respect that.
Hernandez made Antonio Margarito look like Speedy Gonzales. This may be the slowest welterweight you could even concoct with years of breeding. He made up for it, commendably, with a total devotion to ramming his slow-ass barge into Frias' ribs, and I do love a good body puncher. Frias spent eight rounds taking it, doing nothing. Then he came alive for no apparent reason in the 9th and 10th, even stunning Hernandez in the 10th. Hernandez survived with a convenient spitting out of the mouthpiece that forced a break, and the story ended, at least, on a dramatic note -- seeing whether Hernandez could make it to the bell. He got the decision when he did.
Seeger is not so good, although he can be a useful fighter in this sport because he's tough and can fight a little. Fonseca struggling with Seeger -- who had lost three of his last four and is a knockout waiting to happen with the way he fights with his hands so low -- means Fonseca is not so good.
Frias was not so good. Hernandez almost getting knocked out by Frias means Hernandez is not so good.
All of them will someday be the opponent for a legitimate prospect on ShoBox, I'd expect.
If this was a Friday Night Fights card on ESPN, I wouldn't be complaining so much. It's because FNF makes no promises, sells me nothing. If they schedule a fight between a #8 and #9 guy in a division, you're ecstatic. If you get to see a young prospect in action, you're happy that you got a look at him. If two journeyman slug it out, which is the bulk of the schedule, all you hope for is that they give their all and produce a little action.
ShoBox DOES make promises. And it has a great track record. I wouldn't be ticked off about tonight's card if it didn't -- this show was NOT up to the ShoBox standard, and I knew it wouldn't get there from the moment I saw it on the schedule.
And, frankly, the only reason we had to sit through this was because Showtime has overdosed on Gary Shaw. His roster is good, but it's not so deep you can just throw any Shaw fighter on ShoBox and expect it to be prospects in tough fights -- the whole concept of the show.
Put down the pipe, the spoon, the syringe, Showtime. If Shaw can't produce a card for you worthy of putting on ShoBox, find somebody else. It's not like there aren't some good prospects out there, promoted by other people, eager for the chance to prove their mettle in the proving fires of your program. I know they're out there because I've talked to them myself.