by Fox Doucette
By itself, boxing could probably have survived the all-hype, no-substance boring fight that happened last night between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Really, anyone with an ounce of sense knew exactly how the fight was going to go—Floyd’s style was the Achilles heel of Manny’s strengths, which meant we’d see a low-output, play-it-safe approach that would be devastatingly effective as Floyd continued for 12 rounds to constantly catch Manny off the counter. Scores of 116-112 (twice), 118-110 saw to that. The fight went chalk, and social media lit up with underwhelmed people saying some variation on “I paid a hundred bucks for THIS?”
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, on TNT at no extra charge for cable and satellite customers, the NBA’s LA Clippers and San Antonio Spurs put on a 48-minute fight that featured 16 ties, 31 lead changes, a ridiculous referee call—Manu Ginobili getting three free throws when Austin Rivers fouled him, making two—and the call shaken off by a massive Eff You moment, with Chris Paul taking the ball back upcourt and hitting a three-pointer at the third quarter buzzer, swinging the final possession by a point. Then, as if that weren’t enough, Paul, on one leg thanks to a hamstring injury, hit the game-winning shot with one second left in the contest, delivering basketball’s equivalent of a boxer knocking out his opponent with a one-punch nighty-night shot five seconds before the bell in Round 12, giving the Clippers the 111-109 victory in Game 7.
What’s more, you want historical significance? The basketball game had it in spades. This was the first year for the Clippers under new owner Steve Ballmer, leaving behind the racist slumlord and “Worst Owner In Sports” Donald Sterling, who had his team taken away from him by the league and new commissioner Adam Silver, the kind of guy who makes fans of his sport proud to be associated with the league.
What’s more, the San Antonio Spurs were the defending NBA champions, with a seemingly ageless core of players, anchored by surefire Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who has been in the league for eighteen seasons. We might very well have just witnessed the last game the Spurs will play as the dynasty we recognize. If the saying goes that “you’ve got to beat the champ to be the champ”, the Clippers just seized the belt. They might drop it to Houston in the next round or Golden State in the conference finals or Cleveland for all the marbles, but right now, they are kings.
Who’s proud of being associated with boxing? Your columnist, rooting for Mayweather for a combination of boxing reasons and reasons relating to Manny Pacquiao’s rabid and infuriating fanbase (see this column from 2012 after Marquez knocked Pac out), got a shitstorm of “how could you?” from every woman he knows, including a former girlfriend whose life’s work is working with women affected by domestic violence. The NBA? Running public service announcements for NBA Cares’ support of the #LeanInTogether movement putting responsibility on men to help bring about gender equality at home and at work. If the measure of a man’s enlightenment is how he’s seen by women, this wasn’t even a contest on the moral front.
Boxing needs to recapture the elusive casual fan, the person who turns on ESPN2 or Spike or TruTV or even HBO (when they’re not watching Game of Thrones) and who buys the pay-per-view to throw a fight party. At some point, someone’s going to figure out that it shouldn’t cost a hundred bucks to get a bunch of family and friends together for a gathering—the recurring theme on social media among the casuals was that they don’t see those folks enough in their lives. You telling me a few pizzas and a basketball game, free of charge and providing the best sporting spectacle we’ve seen in 2015 so far, isn’t going to scratch that itch?
Mind you, boxing will never truly “die”—as long as men step into a ring to punch each other in the head until one of them falls down, plenty of people are going to want to watch, and there are a lot of great fights on free or basic-cable TV—but we witnessed the death of the “big event” last night. If Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao can’t move the needle, then nobody—not Saul Alvarez, not Wladimir Klitschko, not Keith Thurman, nobody—is going to be that level of drawing card ever again.
When you’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars to hype up the “Fight of the Century”, and all people are talking about on Sunday is a basketball game…well, maybe the NBA didn’t murder boxing. Maybe boxing committed suicide. Either way, we just witnessed the last time boxing will ever be this mainstream. The sport’s always going to be there in some form or fashion, but never at this level of the public conversation again.
Now if you’ll excuse me, gotta go get ready for Warriors-Grizzlies. League’s most electric offense at home against its toughest defense. Should be a great series.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for Boxing Tribune News and writes the weekly What If alt-history series for The Boxing Tribune. He’s biting the hand that feeds him here, but still gets to be vindicated for being right about the quality of the fight (and the winner, and even the scores). Fan mail, hate mail, and “seriously, what was Austin Rivers DOING on that foul?” comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.