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Canelo-Jacobs: A Guide to Highly-Mediated Middleweight Magic

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The worst part of organized fighting is neither the fighting (sometimes redemptive, often brutal, usually dull) nor the organization (historically secretive, frequently corrupted, still run more effectively than one branch of the government).  

It’s the very notion that violence can be streamlined and structured in the first place – that it can be judged like figure skating according to fixed set of criteria – tamed by a squared ring, made measurable by the countdown of a clock.

This is why the old judging system in which rounds were wholly handed to one fighter or another is scarcely bettered by our current 10-point must system (which usually devolves into a series of 10-9 rounds anyway).

Interesting tangles are just that – hydra-headed, knotted, poised to spread in every direction even as the strands come closer. So much outward action seeming so very ingrown.

How ya gonna properly capture that in numbers – or even a brief anecdote?

And what’s true in general holds even more so for Canelo vs. Jacobs this Saturday in Vegas – the first big middleweight match to be streamed in the US by DAZN,  exactly a year after former ESPN boss John Skipper took the helm of Blavatnik’s biz, and three years and one week from the time Skipper’s son Clay let his mom publicly mess with his Tinder account on video. 

Also, 105 years after Skipper’s former colonial house was first constructed, in 1914, the year the Great War began in Europe and Jack Johnson defended his heavyweight title against Frank Moran (pay close attention to the huge horn the MC uses as to introduce the combatants). 

All of which is to say, Dust to dust – we are outlived by buildings, regional conflicts, primal pugnacity. So who’s signed with which streamer, which outlet has more Emmys, the bachelorette whom Ma swipes to the right – it’s all utterly meaningless in the grander scheme, even if it seems anything but in the most heated Street & Smith’s moments. 

In the end, life just comes down to the exchange of sincere love. So I see you boxing people. I hope you see me, too.

Now, here’s why Canelo-Jacobs barely interests me (beyond the disaffection boxing’s lately bred by barring Spence and Crawford from actually boxing).

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Oscar De La Hoya told me in 2015 that we wouldn’t see Canelo-GGG for two years. When that actually became the case in 2017, I was more bummed than amazed at Oscar’s candor.

The longer the line, the better the roller-coaster must be. And by 2017, I had a firm sense Canelo-GGG was always gonna be more “Great American Scream Machine” than “Kingda Ka.” Exciting and occasionally twisty, but never seemingly unhinged from universal rules regarding human flight and gravity – Icarus ecstasy without any wing-melting.

 

The longer the line, the better the roller-coaster must be. We needs more “Kingda Kas.”

The longer the line, the better the roller-coaster must be. We needs more “Kingda Kas.”

 

A couple people involved in the making of the first Canelo-GGG fight – whose goals should have been the staging of an epic war– kept talking up the prospect of a close decision and a subsequent rematch. 

They didn’t think either man could KO the other. Those were dispiriting conversations for me – it was like hearing the safe word before I’d even entered the bedroom.

So I never cared whether GGG was slightly screwed out of a win in 2017 – neither man could do enough to impress upon the other middleweight superiority as it has historically been rendered – via barbarism: see Hagler-Hearns, Robinson-LaMotta. 

And when they ran it back in 2018, the story was perhaps less interesting and even more easily assumed: Canelo, whose evolution and growth should be more often credited to the father-son Reynoso training team, was given sufficient direction by the pair to adjust to GGG’s looks.   

GGG, by now old and showing it in spots, was pushed forward by Abel Sanchez as if the key to fighting was merely aggression. The Kazakh man was treated as if he still could walk through anyone – like walking, in fact, would suffice in a match requiring feinting, ring-cutting and level-adjustment. 

And if you think I’m baking in these observations after the fact because GGG just dumped Abel, look at what I said at the time. Or just consider that Sergey Kovalev – stubborn, possibly racist, but more alert to craft than his power led us to believe once – spent time with Abel and found the Big Bear trainer’s routines lacking. Found them to be too basic, almost purely calisthenic. 

So Canelo was handed an advantage by GGG’s trainer, and if he didn’t already have an edge due to his relative youth and Reynoso-refined shrewdness, that gift ensured he’d win regardless.

I’m sorry, but 12 rounds of one dude trying and failing to do one thing isn’t the unforgettable stuff of middleweight history – it’s a Charlo outing. That it added another W to Canelo’s long ledger of them (he’s now 51-1-2) was worrisome.

Canelo knows he lost to Mayweather. And perhaps he’d acknowledge in a moment of sincere reflection, after a good ride on a horse, that Lara might have deserved the decision against him so many years ago. Doubtful, but Canelo can be still be human in those moments when he doesn’t have to be someone’s product. 

And he’s a tremendously successful womanizer – so perhaps he’d be more open about his ring record were his potential conquests to withhold the cookie (as Steve Harvey might put it) – perhaps we’d hear from him the modifiers we apply to his record if all his interests pulled a limited “Lysistrata”: You don’t have to abjure violence – you just have to be forthright about your historical shortcomings in that realm.

The Cotto whom you beat was nearly retired. Chavez Jr was skeletal, gaunt, present only for the paycheck. Khan was never your size and the British guy named Liam whom you pasted never even played in Oasis.

So yeah, if fighting is already a difficult proposition to measure numerically or sum up in a few words, Canelo’s career, impressive as it has been, is particularly so. He has been excellent since his youth and near-menacing never (on the other hand, people forget how little love Hagler got for the first several years of his career, so maybe we’ll all evolve in our thinking about Canelo).

And Daniel Jacobs, soulful gentleman that he is, presents similar problems of career summation. It’s not the fault of Jacobs or any journalists who cover him that his beating cancer is a story incredibly often-retold. It should be, even if boxing folk have heard it enough already to know its outlines cold. To have grown somewhat tired of the tale. 

That’s actually not what complicates Jacobs’ career anyway – he was KO’d in a title fight years before his diagnosis, and his comeback, which felt so very real after he KO’d Quillin then decamped the PBC for the bright lights of HBO, seemed to peak at its start. That’s the issue.

He looked great against GGG – backed him up with cruiserweight power (Jacobs was heavier on fight night than several heavyweight champs of the 20th century). Inside the Garden I scored for GGG, but my view sucked. I’ve since scored it twice for Daniel on tape.

Jacobs couldn’t have begun his perhaps final boxing phase any better. As a result of that – and the community’s love of Daniel, ultimate Warrior-Gentleman – every boxing player has tried to give Danny an apt foil, an opponent who’ll bring out his very best, ever since. 

HBO, Matchroom Sports, the dude who sits in the Lunt Fontanne bathroom taking tips for paper towels and a shpritz of Cool Water. Confusingly, Daniel hasn’t emerged the better for having won any of these encounters. 

Arias, Sulecki and Derevyanchenko — in none of these wins did he exceed expectations or maybe even meet them. Sulecki out-slicked him in almost embarrassing fashion at times. The Arias bout was like a self-indulgent simcha speech. It went on longer than it should, and I can’t recall a detail.

Jacobs seems an old 32 – solid but also kinda stolid. Strong but rarely swift. Careful in his movements but perhaps also unattractively cautious.

#CaneloJacobs – it’s an octothorped face-off I want to feel strongly about but can’t – not now, maybe never.

A Jacobs upset or a Canelo win so vicious it forces Daniel to quit – those possibilities, however remote, could change my thinking not only on these two but on the trio, if you include GGG, of 160-pound stars now Skipper-signed and exclusive to DAZN. 

(Former Olympian Demetrius Andrade is not a star and may never be – it’s very strange, if financially sensible, that Star Boxing and Roc Nation are still in the early stages of a New York court case regarding his promotional rights, despite the fact that Andrade is no longer with either group and still hasn’t proven himself a valuable, interesting or popular figure; status conference 48 in the case continues at 11 am on Aug. 26 this year before Judge Andrea Masley.)

But barring that drama, I’ll continue to look at two of the three contracts as Moreno-esque – money given to Pujols and Hamilton-type pugs in Jacobs and GGG no longer the kings (if Jacobs ever was). 

And when with tremendous hesitation I re-enter the Twittersphere, comments on the Canelo-Jacobs clash seem Nilsson-esque to me: “Everybody’s talking at me / I don’t hear a word they’re saying / Only the echoes of my mind.”

I can’t speak for all pundits and punters – but surely, I’m not alone in feeling a disaffection born of slight deceptions in the fighters’ records – wins that don’t resonate with me, periods of technically-fine but uncathartic and unfulfilling work.

No amount of hype can alter my memory – or maybe it can. Do me a favor and listen to “Everybody’s Talkin’” for a moment:

Sound slightly unfamiliar? Like it’s not the cut from “Midnight Cowboy” – or even the same singer in Harry Nilsson?

That’s ‘cause it ain’t. Three years before “Everybody’s Talkin’” became a hit, it was written and recorded in 1966 by folk artist Fred Neil, whose obscurity is summed up thusly in the second line of his Wikipedia profile: “He did not achieve commercial success as a performer and is mainly known through other people’s recordings of his material.”

There are worse fates, obviously – for one, this dude is remembered enough to have been included in the great Internet Info Orgasmatron. On the other hand, he did die relatively young, 20 years ago, on an island in the Florida Keys. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about him recently – because I have a natural affinity, I think, for the artists we don’t know but should, for the near-winners of art/sport, the ones who at their very best, for some odd, perhaps illogical, cosmic reason, came up just slightly short. 

If that’s true, I probably should like Canelo, GGG and Jacobs all the more for being less impressive at certain junctures than their records would seem to indicate. And yet, I just don’t.

Probably because you gotta find the losers on in life on your own. They can’t be foisted upon ya or pimped. Once someone starts to sell you on their worth, that elusive authentic quality goes.

The scoring – forever artificial, helplessly incomplete – has begun.

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On the other hand, maybe it’s better that someone is hyping those forever in second, even if it gives them a most meretricious sheen. Because while this weekend, we have Canelo-Jacobs, the next one brings to US theaters the documentary “General Magic.”

It’s only the story of the first-ever smartphone – a truly revolutionary device designed and built 20 years before the iPhone was ever released but for that reason so purposefully obscured by Apple that you didn’t know until just now it ever existed.

It makes me wonder how many McDonald brothers were replaced in lore by Ray Krocs. More than we know about, for sure. I still don’t wanna see more Demetrius Andrade, though.

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About Gabe Oppenheim

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