That two reigning world champions have agreed to fight one another in a unification bout should be, in this day and age, cause for outright celebration. But while Saturday's Montreal collision between the unbeaten Timothy Bradley and the ever-resilient Kendall Holt looms as one of those affairs we like to describe as a "fight fans' fight," it remains to be seen how many fight fans will actually be there to see it.
Although the winner figures to be a major player in what co-promoter Bob Arum describes as "one of the most loaded divisions in boxing," the acquisition of a second belt seems of secondary importance -- even to the participants themselves. When Showtime Championship Boxing, which will televise Bradley-Holt from Montreal's Bell Centre, hooked up the principals in the hope that they would at least growl at one another for the edification of boxing writers engaged on last week's conference call, each revealed that his eye might not be entirely fixed on the other guy's jewelry.
"Show me the money," Holt said. "Manny Pacquiao."
Neither did the acquisition of Holt's WBO title seem to be of paramount importance to Bradley, who also appears to view the fight less as a chance to consolidate his championships than as a prelude to future riches.
"I look forward to fighting the best fighters in the world," said Bradley, who proceeded to rattle off names like Pacquiao, Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- none of whom, it might be pointed out, actually owns a recognized title. The May showdown between Pacquiao and Hatton casts a fairly long shadow over this one, even though in Pacquiao's case, that fight will represent his debut at 140 pounds.
Bradley is 23-0, and although more than half of his opponents have lasted long enough to hear the final bell, he reckons he needs a knockout in this one -- not because he anticipates a problem with the judges in Montreal but because, he notes, no one to date has managed to win a decision over Holt.
"The only way I know how to beat Kendall Holt is to knock him out, because in every fight he's lost he's been knocked out," Bradley said. That may be true, but there have been only two of those: Holt was stopped by Ricardo Torres in the 11th round of their controversial 2007 bout in Columbia -- a fight in which he may have been hit harder by a beer can fired from the audience than by Torres himself -- and in a mystifying one-round stoppage by journeyman Thomas Davis in a 2004 ESPN2 fight in Chicago.
Holt (25-2) was dropped twice in the first two minutes in the rematch, only to storm back and stop the Colombian later in the round.
Bradley came by his title with a split-decision win over the likely overrated Junior Witter last year in England. He has also made one defense, unanimously outpointing Bahamian veteran Edner Cherry in Mississippi, in a bout hastily elevated to main event when Joan Guzman failed to make weight for his fight against Nate Campbell.
But what might have been the career-defining fight for each was a bout that never took place. In Holt's case, the rubber match against Torres was scrapped when the latter phoned in sick on less than a week's notice and was replaced by Hopkins. Two months before he fought Witter, Bradley was scheduled to face the most significant opponent of his career in Jose Luis Castillo, on the Samuel Peter-Oleg Maskaev undercard in Cancun. But the fight fell apart on 24 hours' notice when the Mexican legend failed to make weight.
The two belt-holders present a contrast in both style and temperament. Their modus operandi would suggest that Bradley will be the early aggressor, with Holt biding his time in search of favorable openings. But Holt, maintaining that he can match Bradley's speed and power, has hinted that he might surprise us all by taking the lead himself.
Although no match for, say, James Toney, Holt proclaims himself a world-class trash-talker, while Bradley prefers to conduct himself with quiet dignity. A widely aired Internet video pokes fun at this perceived deficiency. After announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. notes that Bradley "has one glaring weakness -- he's a terrible trash-talker," Bradley gets a crash-course in opponent-dissing from Showtime stalwarts David Zayas ("Dexter"), Jenn Brown ("Inside the NFL") and MMA commentator Bill Goldberg.
(Even after a barrage of profanity-laced instruction, the best Tim can come up with is, "Yo mama smell like bacon.")
Saturday night's fight represents the fourth time in five months a U.S. network has televised a card from the Bell Centre (three on Showtime, one on ESPN). Each of the earlier telecasts, though, featured a Montreal fighter with a rabid local following, and though promoters Arum and Gary Shaw have touted Bradley-Holt as "the biggest international boxing event in Montreal since [Duran-Leonard I] nearly 30 years ago," it seems extremely dubious that it will draw anything close to the 16,266 who witnessed Lucian Bute-Librado Andrade at the Bell Centre last fall.
Although Canadiens owner George Gillett has stepped in to bankroll the April 4 show, local interests have been less enthusiastic. Canadian promoter Yvon Michel is running a competing boxing card (with Jean Pascal on top) across town at the Montreal Casino the same day, while the Canadian sports network TSN, which piggybacked coverage of the three previous U.S.-televised cards, is sitting this one out. TSN will, in fact, be airing a Fight of the Year candidate -- the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz replay -- in Canadian living rooms even while Bradley and Holt are in the ring.
George Kimball, who writes for the Irish Times and Boxing Digest as well as ESPN.com, won the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism in 1985. He is the author of the widely acclaimed new book "Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing."