Boxing, Please Be What You Once Were
One of the most famous fights in boxing history is the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman on October 30, 1974. The two of them fought in Kinshasa, Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, because Muhammad Ali wanted to do a fight where he said humanity began and where his true home was. Foreman was the favorite going in to the fight, having punches so powerful that after a training session there would be a dent in the heavy bag the exact size of a boxing glove. Ali had already been to jail for refusing to join the army in the Vietnam War when he was drafted. Foreman was the reigning heavyweight champion of the world. Ali was considered to be on the downhill side of his career arc. Many people were scared that Ali would have to get carried at the ring.
A big time boxing fan I know said that instead of watching the fight he went to a Blazer game, and watching a Blazer game is a fine alternative, but he was a huge Ali fan. His reasoning for going to the Blazer game instead of watching the fight? He didn’t want to see someone get beaten up so badly their career would be over, or at worst, die (Now that we know more about concussions, both of them pretty much took some years off their lives). So when the announcer at the game said that Ali won in an eighth round knockout, many fans tried to figure out what happened. People were leaving the lower bowl to go outside and verify the information. Some people went up to the scorer’s table. If cell phones with data had been around then there would have been too much traffic for a 3G network. The announcer came back on and said that there wasn’t a mistake, Muhammad Ali had knocked out George Foreman in an eighth round knockout.
My first question was, “They announced a boxing result at a Blazer game?” This shocked me. For me, as a youthful boxing fan and the most dominant fighter that I can clearly remember is Roy Jones Jr., this was shocking. A fight was important enough to interrupt a Blazer game. I have seen Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman taped fights, but the only great no longer in his prime I’ve seen is Roy Jones Jr., who once again fell to the career arc.
You could say that boxing is also falling victim to the career arc. It may have peaked in the Ali era where there were tons of heavyweights in their prime. Today, HBO has decided to not broadcast heavyweight fights because of the lack of Pay-Per-View purchases, quality fighters (the same two fighters have been fighting for the championship belt), and almost all the fights have taken place in Europe.
Roy Jones Jr.’s career is almost over and his chances at winning titles are gone. “Sugar” Shane Moseley is on the downhill after his loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. Oscar De La Hoya left boxing a couple years ago to focus on his promotions company Golden Boy Promotions. Antonio Margarito had plaster found in his wraps before his fight with Shane Moseley and hasn’t been able to restore his boxing license in the United States. A lot of fighters are leaving the sport and it doesn’t appear that there are a lot of fighters to replace them.
The best fighters in the world currently consist of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto. Only two of the names are prominent in mainstream sports fans minds. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the polarizing fighter who claims he is the best fighter of all time, with excellent defensive skills and some of the fastest hands in boxing. He considers himself more of an entertainer than a fighter. Floyd has set the record for most Pay-Per-Views and highest gate for a fight.
The other name that people will recognize the most is Manny Pacquiao. The Pilipino fighter is currently ranked as pound for pound the best fighter in the world by the most governing bodies (More on boxing governing bodies later), an award that Floyd Mayweather Jr. says is rightfully his. Manny is a very tough southpaw fighter who has had some of the most exciting fights of the last few years.
Now how many names from UFC do most sports fans know? There’s Brock Lesnar, Machida, Pierre-Paul, Randy Couture, “Rampage” Jackson, and Chuck Liddell. The common bond between these athletes? They are all huge personalities. If there’s one thing that MMA organizations do well, it’s promoting their fighters. UFC does The Ultimate Fighter, which is the reality show that picks the next great six-figure fighter on Pay-Per-View. Through the television shows viewers can really like the fighters by the end of the season, so when the fighter goes big time in his first UFC fight there is a huge draw.
HBO does something similar called 24/7, which may be the best show on television. It’s a lot like Hard Knocks but the show travels to the training camps of the two fighters in HBO’s Pay-Per-View fights. It’s supposed to get people who are on the bubble of purchasing the fight or not, to purchase the fight. I swear they could take the same production crew and take them to a landscaping company and they could make that show interesting. I can already imagine a guy revving an engine on a lawnmower, another sliding on his gloves, and another pulling the rake off the ground.
In an individual sport like boxing, personalities are huge. A big draw to sports for the casual fan is the individual athletes. Having a favorite athlete is a reason why a lot of casual fans are fans of a certain team. For example, I will always be a fan of the Ducks no matter if Justin Roper is the quarterback or Joey Harrington is the quarterback. However, a lot of people liked Joey Harrington and therefore liked the Ducks. To a certain extent people like sports because they truly care about the players. Going back to Hard Knocks for a second, a year ago the production crew went to the Cincinnati Bengals training camp. Chris Henry was a storyline that appeared in every episode, and when he died later in the season, I felt like I knew the guy, albeit on a small level, but I felt shocked by his death. When sports personalities are limited to four people (Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Yuri Foreman, and Juan Manuel Marquez), it’s not a recipe for success. You end up with a few guys working the sweet science that is not entertaining to the average sports fan.
The average sports fan is probably not entertained by a guy constantly bobbing and weaving, working the jab, and occasionally letting a flurry go to the body. MMA and UFC is much more friendlier to the average viewer. There are kicks, punches, elbows and knees, and the constant surprise of a takedown to the ground game. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the action is coming from. When looking at the sweet science of boxing there is a lot of intricacies that can fly over people’s heads. People don’t necessarily like intricacies either, which may be a reason why soccer still is not popular (along with Americans viewing it as a semi-feminine sport and viewed as “the rest of the world’s sport”), and David Beckham didn’t spark soccer in America.
David Beckham is a great example of a guy who was a celebrity who played soccer, not
a soccer player who was a celebrity. Someone who could be placed in the same general bracket, the “I’m not a celebrity because I compete at the highest and dominate the sport” bracket, is Kimbo Slice. Slice was a YouTube demigod for knocking dudes out and making a gruesome, bare-knuckled fight, look easy. The strongest image in my head of Slice is him throwing a right-handed uppercut to a guy with dreads and as soon as Kimbo Slice connected the head went back and the dreads went up. It was a “holy s***!” moment. Now Kimbo Slice is planning on fighting for the boxing heavyweight championship, but his fame has run out after many embarrassing moments in UFC (see a last-minute stand in fighter knocking out Slice in seconds). His absolutely mystifying E60 report has lost its affect and I don’t think many people will tune in until he actually earns the fame at the highest level. The American public is now quickly able to tell the difference between chump and champion.
To contrast the UFC with professional boxing, there is a central organization seemingly running UFC. The UFC is an unofficial premier organization that signs the best fighters, has the best events, and whose champions are considered to be the greatest in the sport. Professional boxing has the World Boxing Organization (WBO), the World Boxing Council (WBC), the International Boxing Federation (IBF), and the World Boxing Association (WBA).
The reason why there are so many groups is because if someone is unhappy with one organization, they could start/join/be affiliated with another group. To compare it to college football, it would be like if the AP poll split in to two groups after Auburn was left out of the National Championship game. The writers that thought Oklahoma should have been the number two team would have held on to the AP poll name. The pollsters that wanted to vote Auburn number one or two could have made their own poll and called it the Intellectual Associated Press poll, or the IAP. From there it spirals out of control.
Unfortunately, we’ll never see the boxing organizations combine and agree on a superior ranking because there’s too many problems involved, mostly about money. It’s very similar to how the BCS refuses to adopt the playoff system, because currently the system makes a lot of money for the people running it. Once college football figures out how to maximize money on playoffs, then the switch will happen almost over night.
To contrast the UFC with professional boxing again, the UFC forces fights between it’s contracted fighters and has a face of the product, Dana White. Dana White is truly a fighting fan, and it’s great as a fan to know that there is an owner/commissioner/ruler of greatness, that is on the fans side and will force fights in order to sustain the product. With boxing’s lack of central organization and face of the sport that works in the central organization, fights like Pacquiao v. Clottey are going to continue (Clottey apparently decided before the fight that he was going to send a body-double out who would throw eighty percent fewer punches than Pacquiao. It’s either that or he died, I haven’t heard from Clottey since before the fight).
As stated earlier, the UFC does a much better job of marketing its fighters. They use The Ultimate Fighter and a promo show similar to HBO’s 24/7 that can be seen on cable. It also helps when there are guys like Brock Lesnar who flip off fans after winning fights, insult sponsors, and say euphuisms about post-fight activities with their wives. To this day that remains one of my favorite post-victory speeches because it’s the first time in a while an athlete has just let loose and hasn’t worried about being politically correct. I had a bunch of people over for the Pay-Per-View and people cheered after the speech and said the money was worth it just for the speech.
Floyd Mayweather is what boxing needs more of. Mayweather is the type of guy who is a polarizer. People either love him or hate him. He says himself that he “talks the most s***” and that he’s the “most flashiest.” There are people who love the fact that Mayweather is the best, and they love the way he so confidently talks trash towards the opponent but can back it up. There are some who are extremely turned off by Mayweather’s antics. The passion and support for a personality like Mayweather’s can also be seen in the Team Edward and Team Jacobs in the Twilight series (No, I didn’t read the books, never will, I just know they exist and the passionate Team Edward and Team Jacob exist). Each group is a full supporter of their person who they believe to be the best and will argue with anybody who begs to differ.
The opposing team to Team Mayweather is Team Pacquiao, which I am a member of. I think if Pacquiao fought next week, assuming that Mayweather had a mystical recovery bod pod that got him to a hundred percent by then and six weeks of training camp, that Pacquiao would win. Pacquiao has hand speed and defense to keep up with Floyd Mayweather, and is in his prime right now. Pacquiao has dealt with adversity in fights, he’s been beaten, and has had comebacks. Mayweather has almost always fought from ahead, it may be a close fight, but it was still ahead. Fighting, and playing sports, is much different playing from behind than playing ahead.
Boxing needs the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight to happen. The sport needs mega fights right now. There’s limited interest whenever one of the great fighters fights an up and comer, largely in part to the fact that anybody that doesn’t avidly watch boxing knows who the up and comer is. Unless ESPN turns every fighter in to a rectile deposit for it’s readers (like they did with Lyoto Machida before his rematch with Mauricio Rua). The two biggest fighters and personalities in the sport have yet to fight. They are the number one and two fighters in every ranking. Some polls give credit to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his undefeated record, and most polls give Pacquiao the number one ranking because he didn’t take a retirement, like Mayweather, and has been performing very well against the biggest names. The fight, if it happens, would be considered one of the greatest fights at all time. It would have a shot at filling up Cowboys Stadium. If it happened in Vegas, it could set every record based on attendance and Pay-Per-View.
It’s a shame that Mayweather won’t get past the drug testing. Although last time I checked on the fights status it was cancelled because Floyd Mayweather Jr. didn’t agree to the terms agreed upon by the deadline, which prompted Manny Pacquiao to schedule a fight with Antonio Margarito. Margarito was found with a plaster of sorts in his gloves before a fight with Shane Moseley and recently was licensed in the state of Texas, his first in the U.S. since the incident, and will most likely fight Pacquiao in Cowboys Stadium.
The drug testing complaints that Floyd Mayweather Jr. had, causing him to demand Olympic style drug testing, which Pacquiao declined because it allows someone to have blood drawn right before the fight, seems like a weird complaint just because gaming commissions have really strict testing to begin with. There hasn’t been a huge history of performance enhancing drug use in boxing relative to other sports.
It would have made more sense if Mayweather Jr. had come up with a better scoring system, judging improvements (such as using scoring systems provided by CompuStrike or Fightmetric), or even try to eradicate fixes in boxing. Mayweather Jr. may have been the victim of a fix or very poor, biased scoring by a judge in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Mayweather Jr. lost 12-11 in the semi-finals, forcing him to accept the bronze medal when he was a clear gold medal fighter. Corruption in boxing has a long history, even when compared to other sports. The clear fixes and sometimes questionable scoring by judges has cost professional boxing a lot of credibility.
UFC on the other hand tends to always end in knockouts, mostly because it has a lot of situations where the fight is over automatically. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not human cockfighting. It may be safer than boxing with its measures to prevent severe head trauma. Example: if a fighter gets stunned due to a punch or kick and falls, the fight is immediately over before the other fighter can jump on top and ground and pound. What probably makes people the most uncomfortable during fights is the fact that it’s one of the only sports where when someone gets knocked down, the first thing fighters try to do is jump on them and punch them in the head repeatedly. In every other sport the knocked down fighter is protected.
Back to the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Mayweather has said that he is a prize fighter (DUH!). Mayweather has said, “Brother, I’m 33, I don’t fight for legacy, I don’t fight for none of that, I fight for that check. I’m in the check cashing business (HBO 24/7, Episode 3, Mayweather-Moseley.).” For someone who says he doesn’t fight for legacy, and only for the prize, wouldn’t it be weird if he turned down what was rumored to be a $60 million payout? It would be like Kenny from MTV’s The Duel 2 turning down an opportunity to be on the biggest reality TV show ever, which could potentially get him so much fame they would build a sphinx for him outside the MTV Times Square office. You’re telling me the guy who said he only does the challenges for fame, and suddenly turns them down isn’t A) scared of something on the show, or B) decided he didn’t want more fame. It doesn’t make sense, like Johnnie Cochran’s dreaded Chewbacca defense. There’s no way Floyd Mayweather Jr. would turn down that money if not for good reason.
This shows that he clearly cares about his legacy. He is clearly not all about the money. Mayweather may not have wanted to fight twice in the same year after the Moseley fight. He may have not wanted to fight without Olympic style drug testing. Or, he may have just wanted Pacquiao to have too much going on before fighting again. Pacquiao grew up dirt poor in the Philippines, a level that isn’t even really seen by anyone living in the United States. He has become the hero of his country. If you added together Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Tiger Woods “post-Thanksgiving car accident,” you may be on the level of popularity that Pacquiao has in his home country. Manny recently came out with a movie where he plays a super hero and he was also elected to the National Congress. He may be on the downward arc just because he’s been defeated a few times, hit extremely hard in the head, and now he’s made it financially, politically, and socially. The only reason he has to continue fighting is to beat Mayweather and prove that he was the best of his time.
Regardless of when the fight happens, I have promised myself I am going. The fight is touted as potentially one of the best fights of all time. With the exodus of American fighters leaving boxing for the UFC, causing a rise in international champions (You used to never see foreign champs outside of America or Mexico until recently), I’m not sure when the next great fighters will be staging the mega fight. Mega fights and superstar boxers are a dying breed. This may be the best fight of all time, and it could be the last great fight. It will either spark a resurgence of boxing and remind people why they love the sweet science, two fighters who have perfected the art of boxing, or it could be the last great fight before the downward arc plunges. Hell, the result may be even announced during a Blazer game for those that couldn’t make it.