De La Hoya – Mayweather: Boxing’s Image crisis in microcosm

mayweather27.04.07 - By Isaac Mcarthy-Lee: If the volumes of pre-fight hype are to be believed, May 5th 2007 brings us the most momentous spectacle in the long and glorious history of boxing. Difficult to ignore, the packed schedule of public engagements and the frenzied press attention has garnered the richest stadium gate in boxing history, approximately $19 million dollars. Oscar de la Hoya is hoping to generate pay per view sales of around 2 million buys, smashing the non-heavyweight record of 1.4 million buys set by his (date) clash with Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad.

Yet beneath the well-documented surface of this magnificent boxing showcase lies a sad reality, a reality that is slowly eroding the sport from the inside out. Underpinning the sugarcoated exterior of public interest stirred up by de la Hoya-Mayweather is an image crisis slowly and progressively debilitating the sport. For example, the current heavyweight division, in terms of its pool of talent, is less than inspiring.

If the state of the heavyweight division is lacklustre, then interest in it is at an all time low. One can argue that the seeds of the growing crisis were sewn way back when ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson exploded onto the professional heavyweight scene.

Regardless of what Tyson did, which, indefensibly, usually was shocking, controversial or loudmouthed and considering his raw, brutal, animalistic style of fighting, Tyson was always an easy target for the popular press. Eventually realising his audience had deep-rooted preconceptions about him, however misguided, his fall further from grace was assured as he began playing to that audience. Tragically, this is the way the sport itself is going. Since Tyson, no heavyweight has grabbed the press and public by the balls anywhere near as tightly. Now consider the two combatants of the Cinco de Mayo super fight.

To me, still the most compelling figure in international boxing, as well as one of the most brilliant and dedicated, Oscar’s triumphant blend of ability and work ethic are being overshadowed by his own outright likeability. It is reasonable to suggest the majority of Oscar de la Hoya’s fan base is comprised of ‘Oscar’ fans rather than ‘boxing’ fans, breeding a strangely contagious apathy within the boxing community. No longer appreciated as the prodigiously talented sports star, Oscar has become the smiling symbol of liberalism. Rejected as an icon of the majority of the Mexican-American populace for this transgression, Oscar is not representative of the qualities that make a classic Mexican warrior, nor is he any longer a celebration of the glorious qualities of professional boxing; intelligence, skill, showmanship in abundance. A clean-cut ‘golden boy’ Oscar is, in response to Brett Mauren’s previous article (20/04/07), rather like Alexis Arguello. Gracious, talented and blessed with matinee-idol good looks, Oscar is attractive to the Popular media. But, unlike Arguello, De la Hoya does not have the fierce support gained from becoming the embodiment of his ethnic background, and in lacking a hardcore fan-base has struggled to be respected as a talent rather than a transcendent into celebrity.

Conversely, the vapid egotism Mayweather persistently exhibits possesses an incredibly caustic quality and probably, although they would never confess it, erodes the patience of even his most ardent supporters at times. One can witness the patience of his least ardent supporter, Oscar de la Hoya, visibly dissolving with every derogatory retort, every flicker of cutting wit, and every public fracas.

I have to concede, though, that this corrosive brand of egocentricity is strangely engaging and adds another dimension to pre-fight anticipation. If we replaced Floyd with another Oscar, or, say, a Michael Moorer, public engagements would instantly lose their mass public appeal. This is symptomatic of the crisis facing boxing. In order to generate interest in an upcoming fight, at least one participant has to be shocking, controversial, or loudmouthed. To create polemics in public and in the press is necessary because it has been permitted to develop as the common identifiable image of boxing to the general public in pre-fight build-ups and is representative of a culture of self-deprecation in the boxing world.

Oscar has become the face of modern celebrity, and in doing so has been largely rejected by the boxing community. Mayweather has become the face of modern boxing – a dangerous route to travel. I don’t wish to lambaste a fighter worthy of considerable praise and sure enough Mayweather isn’t as bad as all that, but just part of a worrying process. If boxing continues to embrace only fighters with controversial tendencies as the role models of dedicated boxing supporters then the public image of the sport is always going to suffer. With their massive talents, both are capable of inspiring the next generation of young fighters but it is, apparently, a sin to be likeable in today’s world of boxing.

Article posted on 27.04.2007

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