Do Super-fights really save boxing?

By Jason Peck: The mainstream sports press operates under this idea that De La Hoya-Mayweather “saved” American boxing. Obviously, both fighters would hype themselves, but sometimes I wonder what the masses are thinking. Their first bout proved that pugilism can still make millions in the States – provided that HBO spends untold millions more to relentlessly push a fight that probably would have sold anyway. In the process, fights that could really make a difference get no attention at all. Or even worse, they might never happen in the first place..

Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti proved conclusively that the fights which could really create fans just happen, regardless of whether HBO spends millions or not. And how many boxing junkies would have been born, if the first bout between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales had the kind of spotlight afforded to De La Hoya and Mayweather?

The whole concept of a super-fight doesn’t compute. Rather than proof of a healthy business, it seems troubling that boxing must work so hard for attention. The NFL, for instance, doesn’t need to hype the Superbowl. Bed Selig doesn’t have trouble hyping the World Series. Grease-stained bookies don’t need to promote the Kentucky Derby.

And when the fights ends, I’m skeptical that there’s been a positive impact for boxing at all. Sure, the fighters in question scored piles of money. But did the sport score any relevance? Did the excitement of the super-fight trickle down to boxing in general?

Of course not. When “The World Awaits” rolled around, every sports bar worth its salt broadcasted De La Hoya-Mayweather. How many had boxing the weekend after?

But hands down, the super-fight’s biggest evil is the way it sucks attention from much better fights. Boxing resists efforts to stage it, which makes a super-fight all the more unnatural.

The things I like best about the sport are its unpredictability and lack of pretension. Fights can end with a single blow, and have. Despite centuries of pugilism, match-making remains an educated guess.

And quite often, fighters with less-than-household-name status put on the shows that could actually save boxing, all for peanuts. The public relations budget for DLH-Mayweather could cover a dozen unheralded battles like that.

One of my favorite never-mentioned fights was Monte Barrett’s TKO victory over Owen Beck, an exciting heavyweight slugfest that never got its proper due because nobody was supposed to care about it. I wouldn’t chisel it in marble at Canastosa, but I’ve seldom had so much fun watching a heavyweight bout.

I think the boxing bloggers did a pretty good job calling attention to what I’ll call the “Vasquez-Marquez Situation.” On one hand, you have Israel Vasquez and Rafael Marquez, who proved three times over that their trilogy belongs in the same breath as the classics. Properly promoted, the fights could have done a hell of a lot more to energize the American public’s fascination with boxing.

On the other hand, you have De La Hoya’s highly-promoted upcoming farce with Steve Forbes, already subject of an HBO countdown. But Vasquez-Marquez – a sure thing – received no push from Golden Boy; no assurances that it would amount to anything more than a forgettable fight.

I have a hard time imagining a sports fan who wouldn’t have enjoyed that battle between the two Mexican warriors. But the public wasn’t supposed to care. And outside of the hardcore fans, nobody did. It was not a “super-fight.”

In the end, super-fights only promote future super-fights for the two boxers involved, not boxing as a whole. “The World Awaits” sold De La Hoya and Floyd, not boxing. It made them – not the sport – richer as a result.

Article posted on 11.04.2008

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