MUCH like an unruly child, boxing, when it comes to making fights, tends to all of a sudden complain of selective hearing. Typically, it hears only what it wants to hear and acts accordingly. It refuses to do as it’s told and will instead act on a whim, doing whatever it is that makes it feel good at any particular time. Often this leads to mismatches, as well as rematches nobody asked for.
Mismatches, it’s true, will forever be a part of the sport’s fabric, not only during a prospect’s journey but also during the journey of a so-called “world” champion whose aim is to keep hold of the belt rather than risk creating some sort of legacy. Just as frustrating as a mismatch, however, are rematches nobody asked for and nobody, save for the defeated fighter, needed to witness a second time – or, in the case of last year’s shambolic heavyweight fight between Tyson Fury and Derek Chisora, a third time.
That, sadly, was perhaps the mother of all pointless fights. We knew this going in and then received confirmation on the night when Chisora, for all his bravery, failed to land a glove on Fury through the 10 rounds they shared. Annoyingly, in addition to being a fight nobody wanted to see, it was a fight that would have benefited nobody involved, except for maybe financially, which, one could argue, is precisely what gives a pointless fight a point.
Still, as regrettable as it was, it happened and that’s all there is to it. (Only Chisora, the one seduced by the payday, will have to one day pick up the tab.) We can probably say the same about the two fights Devin Haney and George Kambosos shared last year as well. The first of those was dull and one-sided, while the second, contracted and therefore unavoidable, was pointless in the extreme, merely a replay of fight one.
Which is what a bad rematch is: repetition. It is repeating something nobody asked to see again on the off chance that it will be either better than last time or produce a different result. The desire to have another go makes sense from a fighter’s point of view, naturally, for they always believe they are better than they are – have to, in fact – and will, until the day they retire, never give up hope of winning. Yet, from the outside, when already granted evidence, it is sometimes hard to understand the value of a rematch clause beyond simply the need for control and a top-up payday.
Take, for instance, the proposed rematch between Chris Eubank Jnr and Liam Smith. That was as good as confirmed on Valentine’s Day and will presumably materialise later this year, just months after Smith stopped Eubank Jnr quite decisively inside four rounds in Manchester. It will, because of the names involved and the dramatic nature of their previous fight, no doubt garner plenty of attention and maybe even do some decent pay-per-view buys. However, given neither Smith nor Eubank Jnr were world champions before fight one, it could be argued that Smith, in beating Eubank Jnr the way he did, shouldn’t actually have to grant the loser a rematch.
By doing so, after all, Smith runs the risk of not only undoing his good work in February but also spending the entire year preparing for and fighting just one opponent. That, for Smith, might be okay when taking into the account the money involved. Yet, at 34, one wonders whether his ambitions stretch beyond the world of Chris Eubank Jnr. Indeed, with the WBO recently ordering Janibek Alimkhanuly to defend his belt against Smith, it would be interesting to know which of the two fights Smith, were he not contracted to rematch Eubank Jnr, would rather take: the one that constitutes going over old ground for a decent wedge of cash or the one that offers him the chance of becoming a two-weight WBO champion.
Smith isn’t the only one stuck, mind. This week former WBO women’s middleweight champion Savannah Marshall gave a bizarre interview to Sky Sports during which she both stated her intention to have a rematch with Claressa Shields and blamed a previous loss against Shields, last October, on the game plan concocted by her trainer, Peter Fury. Listening to her talk, it was hard to come to terms with (a) the ease with which Marshall had passed the buck and (b) how confident she was of beating Shields, someone who had dominated her last year, in a rematch.
The cynic, of course, will say pre-fight confidence and the pursuit of a payday are interchangeable concepts in a sport like boxing, which is usually true. Certainly, for Marshall there is no bigger fight than a Shields rematch and this she will have by now accepted. It is likely why she has once again taken to selling the rivalry and why, in that same Sky Sports interview, she mentioned wanting to fight at St James Park before reminding us all of the fact Newcastle United, the team who play there, are now Saudi-owned.
Anyway, if those are the rematches few of us need, think of the ones that could slip away. Think of the fact that Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan may never fight again, despite the thrilling nature of their 2022 “Fight of the Year”, and that Wood may now instead chase a return with Mauricio Lara, who stopped him in seven rounds on February 18. Think, too, how Jack Catterall must have felt when Josh Taylor withdrew from their proposed rematch in March because of injury and shortly after that turned his attention towards a fight with Teofimo Lopez, leaving Catterall confused and the rest of us fearing Taylor vs Catterall II may well be destined never to happen.
We should perhaps expect it by now, I suppose. This is boxing, after all; the sport that on Christmas Day would store a Haribo ring inside a Tiffany box just to see the look of disappointment on the recipient’s face upon opening it.