This being the Age of Wretched Excess, wherein hyperbole and mindless ostentation are givens as openers, you knew there was no way there was ever going to be anything remarkable about the big boxing fandango in the desert. From the start it had “con-job” written all over it. That in the end it turns out to have given new and precious meaning to the timeless adage, “much ado about nothing,” is a mild surprise.
The sporting world would much prefer to little note and not long remember the nonsense that took place in ever lusting Las Vegas the first weekend of May. But it won’t have that luxury. Rationalizing the folly of it will be required and that will be neither easy nor pleasant.
Billed as The Fight of the Century, Mayweather versus Pacquiao was supposed to be the Big Bang sure to revive boxing. Instead, it may have been the final straw for this once painfully noble but now pathetic and pointless pretense.
Boxing is dead! We need only bury it. For some few of us, it’s hard to know whether to cheer or weep.
Mayweather-Pacquiao should only be remembered as The Big Rip Off. Maybe by the measure that counts to those who had a stake in it – the almighty buck – it was humongous, but to the rest of us, it was a big flat yawn.
When every grubby nickel is accounted for, it will likely prove to have netted a total “gate” of well over a billion bucks, obviously including all that cable money, which is what most pumped up the fiasco. On top of that was all the street dough that made the weekend one of the fattest in the annals of Vegas, a town that knows a lot about The Big Hit. They say “the drop,” which is the extra money big events draw to the gaming tables, may have been historic. All the hustlers from the pimps on the street corners to the purveyors of the $1,600 a night hotel rooms made fabulous scores, too. The wealth was spread around nice, you should be glad to hear. Everybody got a whiff. Maybe all that adds up to another billion? Who knows? Tens of millions changed hands on bets. As for the fighters, they got to carve up at least $300 million, another all-time record for a one-night stand or, if you prefer, rip off.
The justification for all this was the promise of an event that would be epic, but the premise was preposterous for neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao were equal to such a burden. Granted, not all fighters would have been. But there have been plenty of better, more dramatic, more intense, more artistic and driven matches featuring more intriguing characters than these two. Thirty years ago this fight would have been lucky to get second billing on a Vegas card featuring a Leonard, Hagler, Duran, Hearns, or Benitez at the top of the card.
You’ll be thankful we’ll not be offering more silly comparisons to “the good old days” on this matter.
Boxers have always been rowdies. A high percentage has always been ugly characters. Too many have been rotten to the core. It’s a brutal business that has always attracted brutal characters. So when odd chaps come along who seem normal and conduct themselves with dignity, they stand out. It gets recognized. Those who have redeemed the dodge with class and courage are highly honored and well remembered. But over the game’s long annals they’ve been out-numbered by the bums. Bums have always controlled the agenda, supported by a system that’s intrinsically corrupt.
Yet even by that dreary standard with its lowest possible bar, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., is a deplorable lout. Ravenous in his appetites and indulgences it’s almost as if with his unfailing instinct for the craven and vulgar he yearns to serve his game as some sort of prototype of its dark side. He revels in all this, even insists on it while oddly and clearly enjoying the role of thug. It’s the very essence of his gig. Mayweather is a Freudian delight.
No doubt less of a choir boy than the comparison with Mayweather makes him seem, there’s nonetheless no denying Manny Pacquiao is likeable, although some of his charm derives from the big fight’s mindless hype with its determined striving for a good-guy versus bad-guy equation; the born-again Christian against the scary pagan outlander, etc. In Pacquiao’s case, the hype is unnecessary. With his devotion to the politics of his native Philippines and his interest in worthy causes, he stands firmly on his own well-established merits. He doesn’t need wily Bob Arum to exaggerate his virtues to promote his own agenda. On the other hand, as Pacquiao wanders the game amidst much ribald song and dance with an entourage of about 50 attendants and wildly costumed n’ere-do-wells, we’re reminded his apparent normalcy may only be relative.
Keep in mind, these are boxers we are talking about. I have found even the nastiest of them to be amazingly likeable. No sporting sort was more fun to chat with than Archie Moore. I found Jake LaMotta, a redoubtable hood, to be delightful. Rocky Graziano, ex-champ and ex-con, was hilarious. Joe Frazier was a sweetheart. And I considered Marvelous Marvin Hagler, a man of chilling complexities, a real pal.
I have always been fond of boxers and sympathetic to their sufferings. They are open books, for better or worse genuine. They are real and those that aren’t are soon gone. But I’ve also always understood they are from a different planet. Boxers are anachronisms. The need for them has expired. There is nothing left for them to prove.
In the end, Mayweather-Pacquiao was precisely what boxing least needed for a showpiece event on its ongoing and certain skid toward extinction. It was too loud and garish, full of bombast and short on substance, flushed with sham and farce and ruse, with all of it light years removed from its working class roots. If there was ever a game of the people, it once was boxing. Those were not real people you saw at Mayweather-Pacquiao. Real people don’t pay two grand for a seat in the bleachers.
Nor does this legendary cheapskate pay 100 bucks for an hour of cable viewing having had the pleasure as a kid of seeing Walcott meet Charles for the heavyweight crown and Pep slug it out with Sadler for the featherweight crown and Sugar Ray Robinson tangle with Jake LaMotta for a couple of crowns in truly epic brawls for zippo back when this game was truly still in flower flourishing on home TV four nights a week. Do you wonder if there was perhaps a connection?
So, I didn’t see the fight. But I’m confident I didn’t miss much. By all accounts it was ordinary and thereby very disappointing. Ron Borges, worthy boxing guru of the Herald, called it “lackluster” and added, “If you wanted to see a fight you had to go to a bar room to find it because one did not break out at the MGM Grand.” Sniffed George Willis of the N.Y. Post, “It was compelling, but not overly thrilling.” Speak of your damning with faint praise.
Still harsher critics agree it was more like fencing than boxing with two smart but too cagey foes seeming much more interested in outwitting each other than slugging it out, which is what’s demanded in “epics.” Consensus holds that Mayweather focused on defense at which he excels but is not exciting to behold while Pacquiao failed to force the pace, seize the moment, which the challenger must always do if he truly wants it. So the result, a unanimous decision for Mayweather, appears to have been valid, if wildly unpopular.
It ended with Champion Mayweather – the world’s richest athlete and highest paid jock and owner of a stable of exotic sports cars now undefeated in 48 professional matches –standing in the middle of the ring and asking the great vast raging ringside mob to listen to him and the boos showered down all over him and they grew louder and louder and he could not be heard.
Now that, I wish I had seen. It might even have been worth a hundred bucks.