Supreme Boxing Skill Vs. Fan-Friendly Style: Which Is More Important?

floyd mayweather jrBy Taj “Yuma” Eubanks, June 30,2007 - In the wake of news which indicates that the long-anticipated matchup between reigning pound-for-pound auteur “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton could become a reality in the near future, the usual back-and-forth rages between fans of either fighter.

Aside from the usual banter about who hasn’t fought who, which man is a media creation and which pugilist will finally be exposed, the main barb being hurled with abandon is that while one possesses much more talent, the other is flat-out more exciting and therefore more beloved. In other words, the classic brawler vs. boxer debate, which begs the question: If a fighter could only possess either a superlative boxing skill set or a rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing style, which would be the better attribute to have?

There are many boxers of times past who fit into either category. It is rare, however, that being fan-friendly and a superior technician co-exist within one fighter. Certainly they existed in the days of yesteryear, as there were Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Henry Armstrong, among others. In modern times, names such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Haggler, Oscar De La Hoya, Aaron Pryor, Marco Antonio Barrera, Lennox Lewis, Miguel Cotto, Roy Jones, Jr. and James Toney (the younger versions), Sugar Shane Mosley, the Brothers Marquez (Juan Manuel and Rafael) and Joe Calzaghe come to mind as guys who embody craftsmanship AND showmanship. Then there were technical masters that didn’t necessarily engender the blind loyalty of fans, guys such a Pernell Whitaker (perhaps the best defensive fighter ever) who was a marvel to watch but not necessarily the most exciting, as his skills rendered most matches into one-sided contests. Hardcore boxing fans could appreciate his mastery while others yearned for more bloodletting. Such has been the cross borne by fighters such as Bernard Hopkins, Winky Wright (who has added more of an offensive repertoire to his game as of late), Floyd Mayweather, Jr. (an offensive force at lightweight, to his credit), Zahir Raheem and Corey Spinks, all great fighters but a little too-defensive minded to please the palates of many fans and casual observers.

Then, of course, there are the all-action fighters, guys who may not be top-tier technically speaking but give a hell of a performance whenever they step inside a ring. Guys such Ricky Hatton, Erik Morales, Jorge Arce, Manny Pacquiao, Mikkel Kessler, Israel Vazquez, Naseem Hamed, Mike Tyson, and the poster boy for all things action-oriented, fan-friendliness incarnate, Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. One can debate from here to eternity about the degree of boxing skill that each possesses, but what isn’t up for debate is that when any of these guys fight (or fought), you were (are) assured of a barnburner. And to many paying fans, a damn good fracas is preferable to an Olympic-style boxing exhibition.

Those that look with disdain upon the action fighter argue that the sweet science is the art of hitting and not getting hit. They reason that anyone can get in there, eschew defense, and throw twenty punches to land ten. Economy and effectiveness are the order of the day for this train of thought. Besides, they reason, the less punishment you take, the longer you last in the sport of boxing and the less likely you are to be reduced to a witless invalid later in life. One certainly cannot argue with this last assertion.

However, boxing is not called prizefighting for nothing and in order for most pugilists to get that prize, they need to put butts in seats. And how does one accomplish that? By being exciting, fans of the action fighter exclaim. By going full steam ahead and trying to destroy the opponent at all costs. To hell with fancy footwork, defensive posture and backing up. In an age in which the UFC seems to be nipping at boxing’s heels (or leaving boxing in the dust, depending on whom you ask) and pay-per-views that are outrageously priced and often filled with undercards that reek of fecal material, the generation of excitement is more important than ever. Critics of all-action styles retort that “skills pay the bills” and that one need not fight like he is in a barroom brawl to get paid handsomely. The exceedingly large bank accounts of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Winky Wright and Bernard Hopkins drive this point home more effectively than any degree of debate ever can.

When all is said and done, most true boxing fans are going to watch fighters of all styles fight, if not as a fan, then as a detractor. What cannot be missed in this discourse is that boxing, whether we choose to admit it or not, is clearly at the periphery of sports consciousness and it would behoove promoters and the fighters themselves to stage performances that are not only pleasing to their core audience but also to other constituencies as well. The future of boxing depends on it.

Article posted on 01.07.2007

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