The TV powers that be in the sport will put up with a good amount of B.S. and still book fighters into meaningful bouts. You can be a loose cannon, or a loudmouth who talks smack and then fights scared, or be prone to a party-boy lifestyle that leaves room for only intermittent training. But as long as you show up for the weigh-in, make the weight and the show goes on, you will get gigs.
But those gigs will be much more scarce if you screw up on the scale. If you throw a wrench into the gears of the promotion, as Joan Guzman did a few times, your viability in the business can tank hard and fast. And once you have that rep, as a fighter who is too friendly with the fridge, it can be a hard slog back to getting people to trust you so that they book you for decent gigs.
Guzman is one of my favorite fighters to watch when he's on his game. He is master of his domain between the ropes, using ring generalship and flashy combos and deft movement -- to the point that he had become one of the top Dominican boxers of his era. But recent struggles with the scale have left his rep in tatters, and he has embarked on a mission to make people forget a few years' worth of screwups.
Guzman, 35, will get another shot at the spotlight on this week's "Friday Night Fights," against Jesus Pabon at the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla. It looked like it would never again shine on him after Guzman showed up heavy for a September 2008 title fight with Nate Campbell, causing the cancellation of a Showtime show, and then was nine pounds over the 135-pound max for a March 2010 rematch with Ali Funeka. One might think a lesson would have be learned; but Guzman came in three pounds over in his next fight, against Jason Davis in December 2010, and then had that win changed to a no-contest because he tested positive for a diuretic.
The message Guzman sent on those occasions: I do not take this seriously, I am not an athlete-entertainer who respects the show and you put me on your program at your own peril. Golden Boy heard that loud and clear; the promoter dumped Guzman from his promotional deal after the Davis bout.
The fighter now swears up, down and around that he is a changed man, one who takes his craft seriously, who will show the fight world that he still has skills, enough to take another run at the big guns at 140 and thereabouts.
Guzman is ranked No. 8 by the IBF at junior welterweight. Though his nickname, "Little Tyson," has fallen into disuse, he was a major player in the pound-for-pound mix not too terribly long ago. He won a 122-pound title in 2002 and a 130-pound crown in 2006. He came pretty close to securing a bout with Manny Pacquiao, but that fell through and then the bottom fell out. Guzman told me not long ago that it stung when people shunned him after he lost some luster.
"I like the fans, I like the kids coming up to me. But I understand people are mad at me," he said. "People say, 'Guzman has no respect for the sport.' I feel bad for that. I changed everything. They say, 'Guzman had a lot of talent, he didn't respect that.' I had a lot of friends that are not friends anymore. I have a couple of friends now, they are good friends."
Emotional issues, stemming from his mother's fight with brain cancer, which she lost in the summer of 2009, took Guzman's focus off boxing and made him susceptible to eating to pacify himself. He says he's now dialed in.
"Me not making weight, that changed my mind. Now I'm focused on boxing," he said. "In the past, I had too many problems and didn't think too much of boxing. Now I put 200 percent into my career."
In his most recent outing, Guzman (31-0-1 with 18 KOs) shed some rust and worked toward restoring some of that shine when he showed up on weight and KO'd Florencio Castellano in the Dominican Republic last November.
Pabon comes into Friday's bout with a 17-2 record, with 11 KOs. The Puerto Rican lefty is 31 years old and last fought in June 2011, suffering a TKO2 loss to Javier Castro. He is of a higher caliber than Castellano. (Note: I watched and rewatched a replay of that ending, trying to see how much of Guzman's finishing uppercut landed on Castellano. It was my Zapruder film for a day or so.)
Jose Bonilla, Pabon's manager-trainer, thinks and hopes Guzman is a faded being: "I think he's not the same Guzman that he used to be eight, 10 years ago. Guzman is a big name. A victory against Guzman will be great for Pabon's career."
I expect Guzman to be too slick for Pabon. If so, we're left to wonder what comes next. The fighter has targeted Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana and Manny Pacquaio. Henry Rivalta acknowledged to me that Guzman needs to win about four or five more bouts to get suits and fans believing that his woes are ancient history.
"We want Pacman," Rivalta said. "We're the exact same size, height, reach. We're willing to go to 147."
Do I think Guzman can soldier on, keep on acting like a pro and get back to the bigger stages, ensuring his legacy isn't one of unfulfilled promise? I don't know. But as one who has been known to utilize a bowl of ice cream to pacify, I do root for him.
[On Thursday, Guzman came in over the contracted weight on his first weigh-in attempt. Rivalta said the fighter weighed 140.4, stepped off to skip rope for a spell, then made 140. Does it disturb the promoter that Guzman was over? "We had made him weigh in before the fight in our gym, and he was on weight," he said. "The commission scale read 140.4. I was confident he'd get that off, and he did. I'm very proud of Guzman and proud to be his promoter."]