Saturday, May 2, 2015

Mayweather-Pacquiao: Hype of the Century

You ever notice that the best sports movies are always about boxing? Seriously, think about it for a second. Aside from The Natural, Field of Dreams, Hoosiers and maybe Slap Shot, the vast majority of great sports films are stories about boxing. It makes sense. Unlike other sports, boxing is strictly one on one; there's no team (aside from the supporting cast known as the corner men), just two individuals against each other, each usually with a trait that makes them heroic or detestable. And that's the rub; everything may be more interesting in shades of grey, but movie producers still prefer a clash of good vs. evil. No other sport over the years has created that atmosphere quite like boxing can, which is why it has continued to have its stories told on the big screen over the years.

Of course, there's more to it than that. You see, once upon a time, boxing actually meant a whole lot to the world of sports, hell the world in general. It was a place where giants, and worlds collided, where a man with nothing could become a man with everything, where a man could become a hero, a champion, no matter the color of his skin or the place of his birth. The great stories of boxing are limitless, whether it be journeyman fighter James J. Braddock working his way from poverty to the World Championship against all odds, Joe Louis (the greatest fighter you've never heard of) breaking color barriers and defending the title with the weight of a country on his shoulders or Muhammad Ali overcoming racism and political pressure to become the Greatest of All Time. These men, these stories, once made boxing matter, once made it one of the most popular sports all over the world, and once made it bigger than sports. Now, years after boxing has fallen to the waste side of the sports and pop culture lexicon, some would like you to believe boxing is about to do it again.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. You know it, even if you aren't a sports fan. You'll certainly know it by the end of tonight, after the fight between boxing's best pound for pound fighter (Mayweather) and his closest competitor (Pacquiao) concludes. To say this is the biggest fight since Tyson bit off Holyfield's ear nearly eighteen years ago is an understatement. The price of the fight for PPV is just short of $100 dollars. To get into the fight at the Caesar's Palace, you either have to be famous, a male reporter (sorry Rachel Nichols and Michelle Beadle), a member of Mayweather or Pacquiao's entourage or some wealthy heir to an overseas fortune. What does this mean? It means the fight is expected to make, in total, more than $300 million tonight, more money than most people will make in a lifetime. Basically, big is too small a word to describe Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. No wonder everyone, including the promoters, seems to be calling it the Fight of the Century.

The more appropriate title, however, would Hype of the Century, because the likelihood is the fight will never live up to the enormous buzz that has followed it. This isn't just anticipation generated over the course of several weeks; no, this goes back 2009, when Mayweather and Pacquiao first started negotiating over this super fight. In the end, it took over five years before the two agreed to terms, largely because Floyd ducked Pacquiao and Pacquiao initially refused to do blood testing of a whole slew of stupid issues that only made the public's hunger for the fight grow. Casual fans craved it because it appeared the two may never come to blows, a sports crime if you will. The media craved it because it would allow them to properly evaluate the legacy of each man, while also give them a reprieve from talking about supporting players like Bob Arum, Freddie Roach and Mayweather promotions. Sane viewers of ESPN First Take crave it because it means Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith can stop embarrassing themselves by giving the most biased boxing analysis in history. Whatever the reason, the buzz helped build the fight's anticipation all the way to its Fight of the Century title. But the price of hype is expectations, and the expectation here is one that Mayweather-Pacquiao cannot reach; the fight that saves boxing.

The last fight that actually mattered

Yes, boxing does need saving. As a massive sports fan, the last time I remember boxing getting this much play was the second Holyfield-Tyson fight, which, again, was a high school graduate ago. Since that fight, boxing has only been relevant on a couple of occasions (you can't count them on one hand), and has watched MMA and a lack of stars cripple the sport's popularity. No matter how much they want to deny it, hardcore boxing fans and media members are definitely putting their hopes into Mayweather-Pacquiao, that's it's indeed the fight to save the sport. It's a nice fantasy. But in reality, the only way it can save the sport is if it winds up being one of the five greatest fights in boxing history. I'm talking Thunder Meets Lightning, Rumble in the Jungle, Thrilla in Manila, actual Fight of the Century (the first Ali-Frasier bout) quality here. And if we're being honest, the chances of this fight equaling or surpassing one of those bouts is every unlikely.

That's where the five years of hype has become the problem. If this bout had in fact taken place back in March of 2010 as originally planned, this could've been the fight that saved boxing. Instead, five years have passed, and all we are left now is way too much hype and two once excellent fighters who are merely just good. Furthermore, for all the hype, there isn't really anything interesting about either guy, another unfortunate thing we learned over the past five years. Everyone hyping this fight wants you to believe that Floyd Mayweather is the modern day Muhammad Ali, while Pacquiao is the plucky underdog ala Braddock, Wepner, and George Foreman circa 1994. You know, the good vs. evil angle. The attempts, in my opinion, have been laughable. As great as Mayweather has been, the only comparison between him and Ali is that they were both loathed at their peaks, and even that's spotty. The negative reaction the public had towards Ali was because he lived in a time where racism and intolerance still ran rampant in this country; Floyd is hated by many because it appears like he's kind of a terrible human being. I don't know anyone other than Stephen A. Smith who is watching this fight and rooting for Mayweather. As for Pacquiao, aside from his journey to boxing, he's not all that interesting either, largely because everyone has been saying he has no chance at all tonight. Why are you supposed to care about a dude who evidently has no shot? It also doesn't help that, once you dig deeper, Pacquiao may not be as nice of a guy as you believe either.

So let's recap; this is the so called Fight of the Century, the fight to save boxing, and yet it features two past their prime fighters who are at best polarizing and at worst uninteresting? And again, what exactly is on the line here? Both Mayweather and Pacquiao are evidently champions, but they've won and unified so many titles that only the most diehard of diehards would know what is actually being defended or not this evening. For all intents and purposes, this is really just a massive exhibition bout for a whole lot of money between two guys who don't hold a candle to the greats of the past. And this is supposed to save boxing? I'm really not sure what to say about that. I'm all for being hopeful and trying to look on the bright side. I really am. But I don't see it here. All I see are a bunch of fans and media members hyping up a fight to be something more than it actually is. The fight that is going to save boxing should have meaning, it should have massive potential, it should give you the same feeling you got when watching Foreman achieve the impossible dream or when Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson. I ask you, what does this fight give you? Really, what does this fight give you?

I won't be watching Mayweather-Pacquiao this evening; I guess that puts me in the same category as Michelle Beadle and Rachel Nichols (two women who were bold enough to call out Mayweather for his domestic violence cases). Instead, I'm going to re-watch Cinderella Man, a biopic on James J. Braddock that remains one of Ron Howard's best films. There's a lot to like about the film (the performances, the fight scenes, the way it captures Depression era America), but the most important thing is that it captures what was great about a boxing match. The guts, the glory, the will to fight for something beyond your reach, and most importantly, the will to fight for something. That's what is lacking from Mayweather-Pacquiao, that is what keeps it from being the fight that saves boxing and that's why I don't feel the need to waste $99 dollars of mine. I'm not saying it won't be an event worth watching. It'll be a spectacle, it'll be memorable, it likely will be at worst a decent fight. But as someone who would like to see boxing get saved, as someone who would like to see it be more than a relic of another age, I need more than an over hyped spectacle to believe. I need the spirit of the sweet science that movies like Cinderella Man and Rocky captured. I need more than a maybe.

Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man
But hey, I know I'm not going to change your mind. So for those of you reading this who are going to order or attend the fight, I wish you nothing but a fantastic time. I hope I'm wrong, and I hope this does end up doing more for boxing than it appears. I hope this is more than the Hype of the Century. But ask yourself; if it isn't, what are you, and what is boxing, going to do tomorrow when the hype is all gone?

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