Imagine the day that would come after the long-promised Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Everyone thinks this hypothetical bout would “save boxing” and make it relevant again. What would that mean, exactly?
Would boxing gyms reopen? Would viewership permanently skyrocket? Would boxing appear on network TV rather than premium channels? Would a bankrupted Dana White start living in a cardboard box?
I’m tired of hearing about the salvation promised by a single match. One fight cannot save boxing, no matter how big. I cannot stress this enough –DOZENS of great fights WILL save boxing.
Mayweather-Pacquiao would have absolutely NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER on the long-term health of the sport because it would NOT change the politics of boxing in the slightest. Mayweather-Pacquiao would NOT eliminate the petty politics, horrible marketing, piss-poor match-making and outrageous PPV prices that keep quality fights away from the demographics most likely to tune in. The same underlying system that fails boxing today fails it tomorrow.
In the short-term, people would watch out of sideshow appeal. In the immediate-term, they would leave. In the long-term, boxing would quietly fade to the background again. Inevitably, those who watched before still watch, and those who did not will leave.
I’ve been a serious fan for more 10 years now – a paltry sum compared to the true-blood old-timers who have watched the sport since Marciano made them proud to be white Americans.
But that’s more than enough time to see plenty of these “Fight to Save Boxing.”
Off the top of my head I recall that Oscar De La Hoya vs. Mayweather was the fight to save boxing. Sports Illustrated even wrote that on the cover (of course, they put MMA on the cover of the next issue, but still). Oscar De La Hoya’s battle with Bernard Hopkins – more like Oscar’s over-hyped execution – was also to save the sport itself. And of course, my real introduction to pugilism more or less coincided with the massive failure of Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson to “save” boxing. Good thing my future interest didn’t hinge on a single fight. I’d never have stayed either.
The point is simple: Fights like these can’t save themselves, let alone a sport.
For one, marquee fights ruin themselves with their own impossible standards. Inevitably, the excessive lead-up creates unrealistic expectations for what actually happens. Short of a Rocky 4 reenactment, fans will inevitably bitch about a fight that didn’t live up to unrealistic expectations. You might get a decent fight. But you seldom get blood and guts. The promised Fight of the Year usually turns into the Event of the Year instead – an overblown spectacle for spectacle’s sake.
Everyone knew that Lennox Lewis would not brawl with Tyson; he was going to defensively school him. Anyone with a memory more than a few month’s old knew that Bernard Hopkins would not instigate a Leonard-Hagler-style scrap. And everyone should have known that Mayweather would take his fight against De La Hoya to the judges, rather than his opponent. He’s defensive, he plays it safe. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t expect an offensive bloodbath.
It’s the fights that are not hyped that end up captivating the audience. The legendary battle between Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti was never sold to people who didn’t regularly watch boxing. Neither was Castillo-Corrales, arguably the most action-packed lightweight fight of all time. And for what it’s worth, I recommend hitting up YouTube and checking out the underrated 2003 slugfest between Owen Beck and Monte Barrett. Loved that one.
You want to see Mayweather and Pacquiao fight? That’s fine. You want to obsess over every move and counter-move, over ever errant quote from anyone in either camp? I pity you, but that’s fine as well.
Just don’t pretend this fight goes any farther than the night it takes place. It will not “save” boxing. Nor will it “redeem” it, “restore” it, make it “relevant” or make it popular. It will make a difference in the wallets of those involved.