“THE sport is dying, man. There are no good fighters left, and the best never fight the best, like in the old days.” Give yourself a pound coin for every time you hear those lines.

Apparently, boxing doesn’t make great fights anymore. Everyone is busy marinating in jars in the kitchen (avoids mentioning pots and pans as per Canelo vs. Oscar at last week’s press conference – if you know, you know).

Flashback to July 2023. Remember when Inoue fought Fulton, and Crawford fought Spence the same week? Refusing to bask in the glow of unifying an entire division (bantamweight), Inoue moved up to challenge an unbeaten double champion infused with natural ability. 

Stephen Fulton held the WBC and WBO titles at super-bantamweight. The Philadelphian had dived head-first into the trenches against Brandon Figueroa and come out the other side. He was on a career-high, fuelled by winner’s momentum when the the pair met in their Ariake Arena summer sizzler.

Sounds eerily close to the best versus the best, doesn’t it? As for Crawford and Spence, the undisputed welterweight clash spoke for itself. All four titles, each fighter at the end of a pathway that led to one inevitable conclusion. Nowhere else to go. Nowhere else to turn. Outside-of-the-ring dramas, promotional politics, it had it all. 

Crawford crushed Spence, crowning the king of a generation, all just days after Inoue beat Fulton. Months later, Inoue would unify yet another weight class by defeating Marlon Tapales.

On May 4, 2024, Cinco de Mayo weekend, Canelo kicked off the latest quick spin of pound-for-pound punchers fighting within days. 

The 168-pound ruler dropped and outpointed unbeaten fellow Mexican Jaime Munguia. While it may not have been Crawford-Spence levels, undisputed status sat on the line, and a fervent nationalistic crowd was present in the arena to bear witness. The entire occasion seemed pretty special.

Two days later, Inoue fought Luis Nery. Munguia could’ve been Benavidez, granted. Inoue could’ve made his debut at 126 pounds against a world champion, it could be conceded. But still….

In the T-Mobile Arena, Canelo’s vast experience in big fights was the difference. He’d been there, done it and had the t-shirt created and sold all down the Las Vegas strip by unscrupulous merchandisers. This is his domain and Munguia, potentially the next Mexican star, took a deep inhale before stepping forward and daring to enter. 

Despite the poke and prods of the post-fight interviewer, Canelo downplayed his status with genuine humility, declining to label himself as the greatest Mexican boxer of all time. 

Unfortunately, he also downplayed the credentials and legitimacy of David Benavidez, the man he really should be fighting. All of the things Canelo said in the build-up to validate Munguia (young, hungry, undefeated, earned his chance) were reversed and used as reasons not to entertain Benavidez.

Over time, he’s offered a few different indications as to why the Benavidez fight seems unlikely. Pinning it down exclusively to money is a dangerous game to play, given the sudden influx of funds into the fight game. Supposedly unreachable monetary figures can be suddenly jotted into a chequebook – and it’s sink or swim time. 

Against Munguia, the Canelo engine took a little time to warm up. The reactions appeared a touch slower, the punch output, although his highest since Golovkin part two, was not as frantic as some of his contemporaries. 

That was a problem against Dmitry Bivol, and it would be a problem against somebody like Benavidez, who likes to throw hard and often, soak up anything that comes his way and roll on forward.

That’s what makes the fight so intriguing while so frustratingly unattainable. Yes, Canelo gave us an Erislandy Lara fight when it was suggested he’d duck out of it. Yes, he fought Miguel Cotto. Yes, he fought Golovkin three times. 

Floyd Mayweather? A free hit at the time. Invaluable in the long term. It taught him everything he needed to know about winning big fights on the biggest stage, against the likes of Jaime Munguia. But not yet Benavidez. The fitting career conclusion that we all want to see.

Naoya Inoue’s career, meanwhile, is far from concluding. Right now, there’s not really a “must-see” opponent waiting in the wings. No disrespect to Sam Goodman, who nervously clambered into the ring to sort of confront the “Monster” on Monday, but Father Time, higher weight classes and complacency are currently greater threats than any one name. Inoue nodded briefly, shook his hand and silently indicated that Sam needed to leave the stage.

Inoue (L) landing a shot on Nery (R)
(Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

It was possible complacency that helped write the story of Inoue’s Tokyo beatdown of Luis Nery, which ended in round six. In the first stanza, Inoue was dropped for the first time in his career. 

While not truly hurt, the apparently unshakeable stylist looked shaken enough to take a few seconds of the count and dance the rest of the round away. 

Nery has always been able to punch. He’s a pantomime villain who even had the notoriously reserved Japanese crowd pumped up. This was the same type of crowd who sat in peaceful tranquillity as James ‘Buster’ Douglas inflicted one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time, on Mike Tyson, at the same venue 34 years ago.

The Nery beating was dished out on behalf of a nation still seething over the ongoing treatment of Shinsuke Yamanaka way back in 2017/2018. Inoue didn’t forget either. 

Perhaps overly comfortable fighting at home, he woke up, walked a buoyant Nery onto his trademark left hook in round two, and normal, violent business was resumed until the stunning conclusion. 

It was the perfect finish to a packed few days. Just enough time to regroup, take a minute and prepare for the small matter of Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk. 

A battle to determine the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Then, what was supposed to be Artur Beterbiev vs. Dmitry Bivol, before Beterbiev’s hulkish frame creaked under duress and Bivol was momentarily left without a dance partner.

All that’s left is a five versus five undercard, topped by Wilder vs. Zhang. Just weeks before Vergil Ortiz Jr fights Tim Tszyu and weeks after Devin Haney fought Ryan Garcia, a fight where the underdog, seemingly melting in a mental malaise, only went and pulled off the upset. 

Of course, there was the damaging detritus of a failed drug test left behind that tainted the victory. However, at the time, as it unfolded, there was the type of magic only boxing creates.

Canelo’s pre-fight push-and-shove with Oscar De La Hoya and Inoue’s shock knockdown were reminders that boxing is a sport of emotions and moments. Expecting to see one thing and suddenly being presented with a live-action curve ball, smashing away everything you previously believed, leave lasting moments to be savoured.

It was suggested that Inoue would be too fast for Nery from the opening bell. His hands, head movement, footwork and punching power all sublime. Two minutes in, and he’s rising sheepishly from the canvas. This can’t happen. This wasn’t supposed to happen. This has happened. 

The What’s App groups light up as action unfolds in real-time. Saying, “I was there,” live in person or at home. You saw it unfurl, and you will still remember it years later.

A breathless weekend, ahead of a breathless few weeks. Imagine what boxing will be like when it gets good again.


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