Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A punch that never quite lands

You can sum up the current state of boxing in two sentences, now that Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather are finally scheduled to fight (and I used the word "scheduled" with all deliberate forethought):

The biggest event in the sport in recent memory will happen on May 2. It will pit two welterweights who are past their prime in a fight that would have been one of the great fights in history five years or so ago, but now will mostly just be a valedictory nostalgia trip for all parties involved.

Once upon a time giants collided in the ring, and the world stood still. Now the best boxing can offer  are two guys whose Giant Cards are either about to expire or already have. Pacquaio, once the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, is 36 now and hasn't been the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world for some time. Mayweather is 38 and, while undefeated, isn't what he used to be, either.

Call it the Rumble In The Rest Home -- if, in fact, you get to call it anything at all. Mayweather and Pacquaio have been ducking each other for so long it's only natural to be skeptical that this fight will ever come off. May is two months away, after all. Plenty of time for Mayweather to suffer a hangnail, or for Pacquaio to strain a deltoid reaching for the tapioca.

Then the mission will be scrubbed and they'll postpone it for six months. Or six years. Or six decades.

In any case, if it happens, when it happens, it will not be what it could have been, and once again boxing will have thrown the big left hand and merely grazed some porcelain jaw. It has a positive gift for doing this, if you haven't noticed. Having chosen to take itself out of the sporting mainstream years ago for the quick cash grab that is pay-per-view, it has made itself irrelevant year by year and fight by fight. Now its marquee heavyweight division is a dial tone -- Where are the Alis? The Fraziers? -- and the best it has to offer is a welterweight bout whose dominant meme is regret.

It could have been an Event, to the extent that any pay-per-view property can be an Event. Now it's just an event, small "e".

If there were any force in boxing that truly cared about the welfare of the sport and not just about how to make a fast buck off it, Mayweather-Pacquaio would have happened years ago. They'd have put it live on ESPN in prime time and marketed it as boxing's Super Bowl.  And Round 1 would have started at 9 p.m. Eastern instead of, as so often happens now, somewhere in the shadow of midnight.

It would have been the biggest thing since Ali-Frazier. And for once, boxing would have had a fighting chance to knock the NFL off the lead on SportsCenter.

Instead, Mayweather will likely win -- of the two, Pacquaio's skills have eroded further and more quickly -- and most of the country will be asleep by the time they climb in the ring. Not that they could have watched it live on cable/network TV anyway.

More's the pity.


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