Boxing
Clottey-Judah: A last sad straw for the IBF
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Pity the poor IBF.

The New Jersey-based organization will take one giant leap toward self-inflicted insignificance this weekend, when it somehow recognizes the winner of a 147-pound bout between Joshua Clottey and Zab Judah in Las Vegas as the "welterweight champion of the world."

Not sure if the good folks in East Orange caught it or not, but there's recently been a title fight in that very weight class under the bright desert lights of Nevada.

In fact, it took place just a week ago and ended with Antonio Margarito staking an inarguable claim to kingpin status in the contentious niche between 140 and 154 pounds.

Timing, as they say...is everything.

But bad timing...is everything but.

OK, let's be fair, the IBF did have it right in the not-too-distant past with Margarito -- rewarding him with a championship belt this spring after a violent six-round beatdown of incumbent Kermit Cintron just 120 cross-swamp miles away in Atlantic City.

But rather than championing Margarito's cause and sanctioning the July 26 match with WBA belt-holder Miguel Cotto as a genuine unification bout, the IBF instead held him to the letter of its mandatory challenger law and prompted him to ditch the belt to face Cotto rather than keep it to meet unheralded top contender Clottey.

Of course, there's no disrespect to Joshua intended. He's a gritty, talented and as-yet unappreciated fighter who gave Margarito all he wanted with two damaged hands when they met 19 months ago on the Jersey Shore, and he clearly deserves another shot at the big time.

But the best interests of the sport clearly dictated that the most prominent post-Mayweather champions square off first, guaranteeing a large pay-per-view audience and a week-long stay on sports pages throughout Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S., while simultaneously making Clottey's shot at the winner an even more significant prize down the road.

Thanks to the IBF, though, the Ghanan veteran will instead meet the long-past- vintage Judah -- who's not won a major fight in three years and is better known for past failures against Baldomir, Mayweather and Cotto than for recent successes against journeymen Edwin Vazquez and Ryan Davis.

And regardless of how impressive Clottey looks in downing a shopworn No. 3 contender Saturday, he and his title will get no better than second-class status in any discussion, while he at the same time becomes an unfortunate 2008 poster child for perpetual outside-the-ring politics.

It simply didn't have to be that way. And especially not now.

With just a little election-season forethought, the IBF could have co-opted the presidential campaign's perpetual platform for change and maintained an influential spot at the welterweight power table for each of Margarito's myriad title-defense options.

Rather, they'll give Clottey a worthless trinket that'll bring the classy veteran more derision than fanfare, and prolong the needless fracturing in a division that had seemingly healed when its two best fighters met in an instant classic six days ago.

It's the same old alphabet gridlock in North Jersey.

But don't worry, it's not all bad news everywhere.

In fact, there's still ample reason for hope... regardless of party affiliation or geography.

Perhaps feeling the heat from MMA's burgeoning popularity, promoters and fighters are starting to circumvent the whole sanctioning body process.

They're making matches people want to see, rather than ones solely dictated by titles. The big picture, slow but sure, is trending in the right direction. Already, in several divisions -- heavyweight (Klitschko), light heavyweight (Calzaghe) and middleweight (Pavlik), for example -- a legitimate champion has evolved and is recognized by fans because he beat the man who beat the man who beat the man, not because of the belts he does or does not wear.

Margarito extends that model to welterweight, where his next and subsequent fights will be considered for the "real" world championship, in spite of the WBC's dubious insistence that Andre Berto is king and the IBF's pathetic proclamation that the Clottey/Judah winner is superior.

Sure, Paul Williams' possession of the WBO belt adds an asterisk to it all because he defeated Margarito last summer, but that's punctuation better handled by arranging a rematch than by adding yet another name to a bloated roll call of claimants.

Bottom line, after all these alphabet-saturated years, it's finally become unnecessary.

The fans won't tolerate it. The fighters won't honor it. The media won't buy into it.

And the sanctioning bodies are going to get on board and embrace that new reality, or soon realize their "titles" have been reduced to cheap and gaudy seashore jewelry.

No matter the mantra of choice -- "Straight Talk" or "Yes, We Can" -- the time is now.

Vote early and vote often.

FitzHitz says: Clottey by decision.

Elsewhere, a four-bout weekend championship schedule has instead been trimmed to three.

According to an e-mail from the folks at Don King Productions, the IBF bantamweight title defense by champion Joseph Agbeko against mandatory challenger William Gonzalez -- scheduled for Saturday in Ponce, Puerto Rico -- won't happen because of Gonzalez's inability to obtain a travel visa.

Agbeko is promoted by Don King and Gonzalez is promoted by Warriors Boxing. King and Universal Promotions are co-promoting the card at Auditorio Pachin Vicens.

The event promoters petitioned for and were granted a visa for Gonzalez, a native of Nicaragua, to travel to Puerto Rico and participate in the match. However, according to King, Gonzalez's promoter was responsible for finalizing the visa and failed to do so.

The show will nonetheless go on, with the scheduled co-feature -- a WBC interim 105-pound title bout between No. 1 contender Juan Palacios and No. 3- ranked Omar Soto -- moving up to main-event status.

Now 23-2 with 18 knockouts, Palacios has won 12 straight fights since his last world title try, a split-decision loss to Jose Antonio Aquirre in 2002 in Mexico. He's been on the shelf for 14 months since his last outing, which he won by second-round KO over Geovanny Rayo in Managua, Nicaragua.

Soto began his career with 11 wins and a draw through 2006 but has since gone just 2-2, losing a 12-round split decision to Oleydong Sithsamerchai in an April 2007 WBC title eliminator and dropping an eight-round split nod to Francisco Soto six months later.

He last fought in November, taking a 10-round verdict from Marlon Chavarria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

FitzHitz says: Palacios in 10.

Competing with the Clottey-Judah bout on HBO, Showtime will carry Russian-born Dimitri Kirilov's second defense of the IBF junior bantamweight title against former flyweight champion and No. 4 contender Vic Darchinyan, from the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash.

Kirilov, a 29-year-old right-hander, lost by decision in his first two championship opportunities before cashing in with a unanimous scorecard win over Jose Navarro last October in Moscow.

He's fought once since, battling to a 12-round majority draw with Cecilio Santos on Feb. 28 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, and stands 29-3-1 with nine KOs.

Darchinyan won the IBF flyweight title in 2004 and defended with six straight stoppages before a shocking fifth-round TKO loss to Nonito Donaire on a three- title card last July at the Harbour Yard Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

The 32-year-old southpaw has fought twice since at 115 pounds, stopping Federico Catubay for the IBF's regional Australasian crown in October 2007 and going 12 rounds to a split-decision draw with Z Gorres four months later in the Philippines.

He is 29-1-1 with 23 KOs.

FitzHitz says: Darchinyan in 6.

Lastly, on Saturday in Zapopan, Mexico, longtime 122-pound champion Oscar Larios defends the WBC's interim featherweight crown when he faces No. 19- ranked challenger Marlon Aguilar at the Auditorio Benito Juarez.

A pro since 1994, Larios made seven defenses of the WBC super bantamweight title before losing it to Israel Vazquez in December 2005. He's 5-2 in seven fights since, including losses to Manny Pacquiao (TKO 3) and Jorge Linares (TKO 10) and a fifth-round stoppage of Feider Viloria for the interim championship on May 31.

Aguilar is 5-0-1 in six fights since his most last defeat, a six-round decision loss Noel Gomez last August in Nicaragua during which he broke his left hand. He fought to a 10-round draw against Antonio Meza in his last outing, on June 27 in Mexicali, Mexico.

FitzHitz says: Larios by decision.

Last week's picks: 2-3.

Overall record: 4-4.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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