Boxing has Nothing to Fear Except Boxing Itself

Last weekend’s ‘Fight of the Century, between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, was neither surprising, exhilarating nor exciting, surely prerequisites for such a bombastically titled contest. While most observers outside of HBO, Showtime, Sky -you get the picture- predicted a snorefest, fight fans couldn’t help but hang on to that tiny thread of hope that a thirty-eight-year-old, nineteen year pro and his thirty-six-year-old, sixty-four fight veteran opponent would defy the relentless dream-thwarter that is logic and put on the classic that boxing so dearly needed. Or that we the fans too obviously wanted.

And, perhaps that is where the problem lies. Trawl through the truly classic fights from any era; Hagler-Hearns, all three episodes of Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Duran parts one and two, and you will find that none of the fighters were near as advanced in either years or ring mileage than last weekend’s combatants.  The contest had an odd carnival-like build-up, made even more bizarre by television host Jimmy Kimmel accompanying Pacquiao for his ring entrance. Kimmel now has a wonderful anecdote for guests on his Tonight Show but what does this say about Pacquiao’s pre-fight frame of mind? Was he just happy to be part of this global circus, content to have headlined the M.G.M. Grand with Mayweather? This was sold as an era-defining fight yet failed miserably, by any measurable standard, to deliver.

By contrast, consider 1975’s epic ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, the concluding chapter of the bitter feud between Geroge Frazier and Muhammad Ali. Sitting in his corner at the end of Round 14 Frazier, face an abstract mess, begged with his trainer Eddie Futch to let him return for the final round. “I want him, boss,” begged Frazier. Futch replied, before throwing in the towel, “It’s all over. No one will forget what you did here today”. Forty years later the ‘Thrilla in Manilla” still resonates as one of the greatest occasions, not just in boxing, but in all sporting history.  We say with borderline certainty that virtually nobody will remember what Mayweather and Pacquiao did –or perhaps more pertinently didn’t do- by even this time next year. Mayweather slowly, methodically ground out a victory in the same manner to which he has become accustomed in the last five years, with Pacquiao appearing mildly discomfited by the outcome.

Still, the wheels of boxing commerce must grind onwards so the immediate thoughts for Al Haymon, Mayweather’s adviser and Top Rank Promotions for Pacquaio must surely have been, ‘just how can we fool a global audience into actually wanting to see this dross again? Why, let’s just blame this atrociously uninspiring and overhyped letdown on Manny’s injured shoulder.’ Dr. Neal Attrache, Pacquiao’s surgeon, has already indicated that surgery on the thirty-six-year old’s torn rotator cuff has gone splendidly. Pacquaio will need between nine and twelve months to heal. In the meantime, Mayweather will sleepwalk his way to another predictably dull points decision -perhaps over Britain’s Amir Khan- fulfilling his mutually beneficial contract with Showtime and hanging up his gloves. But just think for a moment – Mayweather will have packed it in on 49-0, agonisingly close to usurping Rocky Marciano’s age old record. Then, from the east comes a rejuvenated Manny Pacquiao hell-bent on avenging his 2015 loss –which will now be sold as courageous in light of his ‘devastating’ shoulder ailment- to his nemesis Mayweather. Meanwhile, Mayweather mutters something about being ‘too old for this shit’ –and nearing forty he’ll have a point- but nothing talks to ‘Money’ like money. Perhaps we’re taking two and two and running off the deep end with it but this theory is probably depressingly accurate.

In any event, what do we really expect from a rematch? Mayweather is not going to change from a tried and severely trying –at least for spectators- style while Pacquaio, whose superhero left arm is rapidly weakening is not going to morph into the fighter of old just because his right jab is back in town. The truth is, no one saw what they wanted in Las Vegas –which would be a first- insofar as we failed to get a toe-to-toe brawl. Boxing is raw, animalistic. There’s no denying the buzz in the air when a clean shot causes the legs to buckle or the head to snap back. It’s hard to recall more than a handful of telling shots landing in this welterweight contest. According to reports, the M.G.M. Grand don’t even want the rematch, citing as deterrents the logistic nightmare of staging the first fight and the fact that fans were completely underwhelmed by what they saw. Instead, they’ve set the date aside for an as yet unnamed concert. Which is akin to saying that you’re busy that day, but you just haven’t decided why yet.

If we have seen the last of Pacquiao then so be it. He has lit up boxing, fighting all-comers, thrilling a worldwide audience while providing a symbol of pride to his native Philippines. If Mayweather fights no more after September then it will be farewell to a superb technician, whose boxing legacy may well be tarnished by his crass, vile nature.

Boxing needs to leave its greats to go to pasture gracefully and move in a new direction now. The masses believe what they are told, but it seems crazy to focus on two fading lights when there is such a bright constellation of stars to choose from. The man who should be cast immediately into the spotlight is Kazakhstan’s Gennady Golovkin, comfortably the most exciting man in boxing right now. The unbeaten, softly-spoken yet destructive prizefighter is on a streak of eighteen straight knockouts and has the highest knockout percentage of any middleweight in professional boxing history. Unfortunately, Golovkin has the entire division scattering for cover. Miguel Cotto, a former foe of Mayweather and Pacquiao stands between Golovkin and complete domination of the 154-pound division. But the Puerto Rican, who is the lineal champion –best let you figure this one out yourself- is steadfastly ignoring GGG and this is in itself is the problem with professional boxing today. The best fighters should face each other in their prime and fiscal considerations should not be allowed derail these potential classics.

Mayweather versus Pacquiao would have been a legitimate ‘superfight’ in 2010 but for well-documented reasons the bout was constantly delayed and when eventually consumed by the public completely past its sell-by-date. Gennady Golovkin –an absolute superstar in any other era- will, at thirty-three, probably be denied the chance to display his phenomenal skill-set to the larger sporting audience. And, for a sport which is meant to thrive on the conflict of its finest combatants, this is both nonsensical and unforgivable.


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