Boxing is Dead, Long Live Boxing
The money is bigger than ever, but the luster has all but vanished. Is “Mayweather vs. Pacquiao” boxing’s swan song?
There are days when you open the newspaper to an obituary of someone who, you could have sworn, died a long time ago. February 20thwas one of those days.
Well, not exactly. For one thing, the news of a Pacquiao-Mayweather title fight was on the sports page. For another, you were right this time: boxing did die a long time ago.
And yet, here we are again. Another “Fight of the Century.”
First thought: “That’s a little presumptuous considering we’re barely 15 percent of the way into the century.”
Second thought: “Not a very competitive category since hardly anyone can name both combatants in any other fight this century.”
And yet, Pacquiao-Mayweather will be the highest grossing bout of all time. In a moment of generosity, you can marvel at the American gift for squeezing more thin dimes out of a long lost money-maker. This fight is the boxing equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. The memory of Ali-Frazier stands in for Foxey Lady, Leonard Hearns for All Along The Watchtower. Only in America can the past still make a mint in a desolate present.
Okay, nice. But then, that’s about as much upside as you can contrive. Everything else about this “event” is so desperately dreary. Floyd and Manny sleepwalk through their media events, robotically miming their stare-downs, lip-synching their bombast and pressing “play” for their slack-jawed promises of an epic night in Las Vegas. All the while, promoter, Robert Arum, sits between the boxers, looking like he’s auditioning for the next sequel of “Weekend At Bernie’s.” Only a wisp of a smile occasionally crossing his 84-year old face that says, I can’t believe they’re falling for this again.
The whole charade, like boxing itself, reeks of a Civil War Reenactment. The rivals, all dressed up, go to great but sleepy lengths to make the past seem real.
Even the fawning, corrupt, in-bed-with-all-the-wrong-people ESPN isn’t totally drooling over Pacquiao-Mayweather. Never mind that its experts’ caveat — “They should’ve fought five years ago” — misses the point. The fact that the hype surrounding a huge bout comes laced with any disclaimer is the most significant aspect of the whole deal.
Boxing has always been a murky, morality-free zone appealing to people’s basest instincts. Magically, some beauty crept in with Ali and both Sugar Rays, but those moments of grace are so rare and so gone. The viewing public as much as admits this, evidenced by their taste for brain-damaged blockheads killing each other in cages.
Which brings up the final soul-crushing aspect of Pacquiao-Mayweather: It represents a last gasp of classiness. Two aging, once-great athletes will get in the ring on May 2nd. One will win, one will lose, both will most likely emerge unhurt and definitely richer than ever.
Hey, you know what? Maybe there is one more upside to Pacquiao-Mayweather: This should be it. There are no other notable names left in boxing. This really should be it. The last fight of this, or any other century.
Originally published for Five O’Clock, A Harry’s Magazine. Words by Peter Mehlman. Illustration by Reid Kikuo Johnson.