Monday, June 11, 2012

Boxing Will Save Itself By Destroying Itself: Or Something

Obviously everybody was watching the boxing match on Saturday. You know, the sporting event that you had to actually pay extra to see when the biggest game of the NBA season and Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals were on (I know the Belmont took place as well but come on).

In Coming To America, one of the greatest films of all time, the characters in the Queens barbershop constantly discuss who was the greatest boxer ever. Was it Cassius Clay? Joe Louis? Rocky Marciano? These conversations, however, do not occur anymore in the barbershops of America (as if I spend any time at all in black barbershops). Boxing has taken a back seat not only to the four major sports, but also to college football, perhaps golf and tennis, and perhaps most interestingly, UFC.

That's not to say that the Pacquiao-Bradley fight wasn't a major sports event. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather still turn heads significantly whenever they box. But it's not like the glory days of boxing in the second and third quarters of the twentieth century. There hasn't been a compelling heavyweight champion in the better part of 15 years, and seeing little guys like Pacquiao and Mayweather punch each other is a little weird. GROW!

Pacquiao is/has been the Major World Champion in the Flyweight, Super Bantamweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, and Light Middleweight divisions; these are classes from 112 pounds to 154 pounds. Timothy Bradley was 28-0 coming into the fight himself, and certainly was a fitting opponent for Pacquiao. But then Pacquiao dominated the fight and, in a split decision, lost inexplicably.

According to Bob Arum (Bradley's and Pacquiao's handler), Bradley said, before the decision was announced, "I tried hard and I couldn't beat the guy." Arum said that even Bradley's trainer scored the fight at 8-4 in favor of Pacquiao. Compubox, a service that keeps statistics for boxing, shows that Pacquiao landed 253 punches to Bradley's 159: 34% to 19%. Pacquiao landed 63 power punches (24%) to Bradley's 51 (11%). The Associated Press had the scorecard at 117-111 for Pacquiao. But two judges had it at 115-113 for Bradley (the other had it at 115-113 for Pacquiao), so the bout went to Bradley.

Why did the judges think the fight was closer than everyone else did? Why did they have the score closer than ultimate pro-Bradley people like Bradley's own trainer? Or Bradley himself?

One explanation is that the judges were paid to cheat. There was a lot of late money for Bradley, and this explanation seems fairly plausible. Doesn't that seem too blatant though? I think it does. Maybe the judges are incompetent. That's what Bob Arum thinks. But that just doesn't seem right. Not even NBA refs are this bad.

No, I think something else that's very weird happened. I think that the boxing world, and those who run it and have interests in it, wanted there to be a swarm of attention on this fight, and creating a controversy out of thin air was just the way to do it. It makes sense that short-sighted, money-grubbing, desperate boxing big wigs would want this to happen. Any press is good press! Look how many people are talking about boxing on Twitter! But the implications of this will ultimately lead to boxing becoming all but completely irrelevant.

There will probably be a Pacquiao-Bradley rematch in the near future, and Pacquiao will probably knock Bradley's ass out because he's the better fighter. That will be a much-anticipated and much-watched fight. But this travesty will hurt boxing's long-term future irreparably for this reason: it made a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight absolutely impossible. We can kiss that fight good-bye. Why would Mayweather, who has been ducking Pacquiao for years, fight a guy that lost to Timothy Bradley? This gave Money a "legitimate" excuse to duck Pacquiao, and the biggest fight since Lewis-Holyfield in 1999 won't ever happen.

Also, Pacquiao is almost 35 years old. He now has to wait for a rematch against Bradley (a date that's beginning to stick for the rematch is November 10th) before he can reasonably think about fighting Mayweather. So he has to wait 4 months to get his legitimacy back, and he's already old as hell. The buildup to a Mayweather fight would be months and months and months, and Pacquiao doesn't have that kind of time anymore. Neither does Floyd for that matter.

Boxing fans and sports fans, understand this now: C.J. Ross and Duane Ford -- the judges who chose Bradley in Saturday's fight -- made a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight impossible. Boxing has basically been on life support waiting for this fight, and it just ain't gonna happen. Other "studs" like Miguel Cotto and Juan Manuel Marquez were defeated roundly by boxing's two real contenders, and so there's no one waiting in the wings. It's just these guys, and if they don't fight each other like we've been waiting for them to do for years, boxing will shrivel and die.

And they won't fight each other. And the sport will shrivel and die, relatively unlikely to ever be resurrected. There will always be die-hard boxing fans, but we're seeing a double-edged shift in sports fans' tastes that will make boxing less and less relevant. First of all, UFC is taking over for boxing in terms of combat sports. Non-traditional sports fans look to UFC as a crazy awesome sport that's super exciting and sweet. Simultaneously, there is a movement taking off now among traditional sports fans, spurred by the Saints bounty scandal and the suicide of Junior Seau, for less violence in sports. Violence in football is suddenly becoming less and less cool, and if traditional sports fans oppose head injuries in football, then they certainly must oppose boxing, a sport in which head injuries are the point. An extremely compelling, Muhammad Ali-type person would have to come along for boxing to gain some relevance again, and that's just astronomically unlikely.

And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe boxing becoming irrelevant is a sign of America growing up, not wanting to see a spectacle that is predicated on guys knocking each other out. Until the next Mike Tyson comes around that is.

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