Franchise Thoughts: First Half of 2009 Schedule Has Its Share of Intrigue

It seemed like new fights were getting added to the 2009 boxing schedule almost daily throughout the past couple of weeks. That's not a bad thing by the way, since the sport pretty much goes into hibernation for a month at the end of each calendar year, leaving looking ahead as the primary activity for boxing fans to pass the time.

There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about the short-term health of the sport. The worldwide recession is likely to drag on for the better part of 2009, forcing fans to think carefully before shelling out for tickets or pay-per-view broadcasts.

The unquestioned top draw in boxing, Oscar De La Hoya, appears ready to walk away from the ring, and while there are candidates to replace him, they are mostly unproven. Add in the fact that the heavyweight division continues to be short on excitement and it wouldn't be surprising if casual fans pay even less attention to the sport next year.

Things are a bit different for hardcore fans. The one sure-fire blockbuster fight (Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather) remains hypothetical at this point, but the first six months of 2009 are liberally sprinkled with interesting matchups.

Keeping in mind that things can always change in the fight game, here are the fights that are already signed or all but done that have caught my eye:

Jan. 17 - Andre Berto vs. Luis Collazo - I happen to think Berto is the goods. Others, including a whole group of posters on the boards at MaxBoxing.com, aren't convinced at this point.

One side of the debate will have more ammunition after this fight, because Collazo is no pushover. His only two losses in the last six years were to Shane Mosley and Ricky Hatton, and he gave the Hitman all he could handle.

That being said, he's not a top echelon guy, so the school of thought that Berto isn't ready for prime time will gain support if Collazo wins.

Jan. 24 - Antonio Margarito vs. Shane Mosley - Sugar Shane is one of my favorites, but I don't like his chances here. He can't fight the fight Paul Williams used to take down the Tijuana Tornado, and it doesn't seem like he'll be able to utilize the style that Miguel Cotto used effectively, at least at his current age.

You can't count a boxer as accomplished as Mosley out entirely though, and that should be reason enough to watch.

Feb. 7 - Vic Darchinyan vs. Jorge Arce - There won't be much subtlety in this one, which should make it rank high in pure entertainment value. Add in a lengthy war of words that included such gems as Darchinyan vowing to make Arce a "human piñata" and you've got a can't-miss broadcast.

It's way too early to be thinking about Fight of the Year candidates for 2009, but this bout has the ingredients to make it a contender.

Feb. 21 - Kelly Pavlik vs. Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Cotto vs. Michael Jennings - Two fights from two different sites on the same night. And both of the headliners are attempting to bounce back from defeats in their previous fights.

I expect Pavlik and Cotto to show the form that made them champions in the first place. If they don't, then the losses took more out of them than most observers expected.

One problem: this is slated to be a pay-per-view, and there's no good reason it should be.

Feb. 28 - Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Diaz - It's hard not to like Marquez in this one considering he came up just short of beating Pacquiao - twice. JMM is also a gifted counter-puncher, so this fight seems to set up nicely for him.

On the other hand, Diaz is a good bet to apply even more pressure than Pacman did, and he proved against Nate Campbell that he can take some shots and keep throwing. And there's always a chance that age could catch up with Marquez at some point.

Regardless, this should be a good show.

Mar. 14 - Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver II - My brother Uatu has already gone on record saying he has no problem with this fight, since it's two name guys fighting each other. I agree to a point, but the first meeting wasn't too competitive.

Tarver (a BoxingWatchers favorite) is the master of the rematch, but Father Time is gaining on him rapidly. I'll be cheering him on again even though I expect him to lose again, and there's a good chance this will be the last big fight of his career.

Apr. 4 - Timothy Bradley vs. Kendall Holt - I'm very anxious to see this showdown between two young boxers who aren't household names now, but could be in the near future. The winner will obviously have a leg up in that regard.

My gut feeling is that Bradley is more well-rounded and Holt is more dynamic. But I'm far from an expert on either fighter, and no outcome in this fight would surprise me.

May 2 - Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton - Unless (or maybe until) Mayweather comes out of retirement, this may be the biggest fight possible with today's roster of active boxers. Pacquiao gets his first chance to run with the torch passed from De La Hoya, and Hatton looked good enough last time out that you can't help but think he'll be more of a challenge for Pacman than the Golden Boy.

One thing's for sure: the atmosphere for this fight will be second to none. If a boxing genie magically gave me the ability to attend any fight that's been made so far for 2009 in person, this would be it.

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