Dearth of rematches isn't a bad thing
We're in a rematch recession.
Just look around. Bernard Hopkins likely won't get the retired Joe Calzaghe again, no matter how much he talks or keeps winning. Vic Darchinyan probably has seen the headlines calling a rematch against Nonito Donaire "unlikely." Any hopes for Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto 2 appear scuttled for a while. Ricky Hatton probably is just dreaming that he'll ever get Floyd Mayweather in the ring again. Steve Cunningham is having no luck seeking a return bout with Tomasz Adamek, and, try as he may, Glen Johnson can't get another appointment with Chad Dawson.
Manny Pacquiao seems to be done with fighting Juan Manuel Marquez for now. No more Israel Vazquez versus Rafael Marquez slugfests for the time being. Kendall Holt and Ricardo Torres likely met for the last time. And fans have lost interest in another Wladimir Klitschko-Samuel Peter tussle after big brother Vitali disposed of the Nigerian Nightmare in October.
As a matter of fact, there are practically no rematches on the major fights on the schedule right now is a rematch. But is that such a bad thing? The fact is, rematches are all too predictable.
Sure, every boxing fan can think of memorable rematches in which the other guy won: Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward 2, Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier 2, Vazquez-Marquez 2. Those results often set up legendary trilogies. But those cases are memorable because they're as rare as a boxer from West Virginia winning a close decision in Philadelphia.
Overwhelmingly, in professional boxing, the guy who won the first time wins the second time. All you have to do is look at the statistics to prove it.
So that's what we did. We looked at the results of every fight in the United States from the first two months of 2008. That's 622 fights in all, spanning venues from local legion halls to the MGM Grand, all weight classes and talent levels, men and women, main events and undercards.
The findings are revealing. Of those 622 fights, 40 of them were rematches -- about 6.4 percent. Based on that, for about one in 16 boxing matches you'll find a rematch.
And how often, in those rematches, do you think the other guy won? Think about it. Maybe half the time? One out of three? You always figure the guy who lost will "train harder this time."
Promoters love to hype a good grudge match. "This time it's personal!" What do you think -- 30 percent? The answer: five times. Out of 40. Actually, four of those rematch bouts were draws the first time, so there is no other guy to win. That leaves 36 rematches, and the other guy won five of them.
Conclusion: The other guy wins the rematch a little less than 14 percent of the time.
In fact, in 2008, the other guy didn't win a rematch of a previous fight for all of January. The first time it happened in 2008 was Feb. 1, when heavyweight Mel Bankhead won his first-ever victory, scoring a KO1 over Billy Greenwalt in West Virginia, to avenge a four-round decision loss three months earlier. Those guys were just barely professional.
It happened Feb. 9 in Austin, Texas, when middleweight Abdias Castillo avenged a loss seven years earlier to Jerry Perez. Vindicated!
Oh, sure, the time period we examined did include the memorable win by anything-can-happen slugger Travis Walker over T.J. Wilson, reversing his previous KO loss. But it also included 31 rematches in which the same guy won, notably (but forgettably), Kelly Pavlik's second win over Jermain Taylor. And, yes, we know that in June, Paul Williams famously avenged his prior loss to Carlos Quintana. But that thrilling turnabout was surrounded by plenty of rematches that faded from memory more quickly because the same guy won again: Margarito-Kermit Cintron 2 (April), Paulie Malignaggi-Lovemore Ndou 2 (May), Ivan Calderon-Hugo Cazares 2 (August), Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.-Matt Vanda 2 (November) and so on.
Sure, styles make fights. Anything can happen, any time sort of. For the most part, rematches are repeats. It's a good bet (really, call your bookie!) that the guy who won the first time will win again. Past results do predict future performance. Does anybody think Dawson-Tarver 2 will be any different from their last lopsided meeting? Asked to guess the number, boxing insiders seem to know the score.
"I would say about 90 percent of the time the same guy wins," said Eric Gomez, matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions.
How often does the other guy win? "Roughly 10 percent," Larry Merchant guessed. "My semi-educated observation is that the better fighter sometimes underestimates or is thrown off by the style of an opponent, resulting in a close or exciting first fight that occasionally leads to a rematch that the better fighter then wins more easily."
Don Elbaum, a longtime promoter and now a matchmaker at Philadelphia's Blue Horizon, guessed that in championship-level fights the other guy wins about 30 percent of the time (a valid theory; research is pending) but said 14 percent sounds realistic if you include local cards.
Locally, managers and promoters (and matchmakers) often want to build up fighters' records, and there might be slim pickings for competition, so often it just works out nicely to have a hot prospect fight (and beat) someone he's already beaten.
Bobby Goodman, a longtime matchmaker for Don King and a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, says that when he thinks back on the rematches he's been involved with, the ones he remembers are those in which the other guy won: Ali-Frazier. Ali-Leon Spinks. Ali-Ken Norton. Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran.
"In some of these rematches, the guy who lost the first fight did a re-study of his game plan and came out and won the rematch," Goodman said. "The smart fighters always do learn their lesson." But the 14 percent figure came as little surprise to him.
Face it, rematches are fun. After a good fight, we always ask the loser, "Do you want a rematch?" -- even if we don't advise him of the long odds. Crowds at local fight cards tend to be stocked with friends and families of the guys in the ring, so after a rousing bout, a rivalry sometimes brews.
"The people that walk out say, 'You gotta put them back together again,'" Elbaum said.
"People want to see a good fight again," Goodman said. "Fights sell fights."
Even if the outcome might be predictable. And what's wrong with that? In those great rivalries that became great trilogies, by Fight 3, it almost didn't matter who won -- they were just tremendous athletic performances to watch.
By the way, in boxing trilogies, the guy who wins the second fight almost always wins the third fight. But that's another story.
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.