Not what it used to be

The so-called fight of the century between Mayweather and Pacquiao was fought yesterday. Predictably it was a bit of a fizzer. It’s hard to live up to such hype, especially as it went over the top in the lead-up to the fight (hype is the lingua franca of the 21st century). On top of that, for all Pacquiao’s achievements, Mayweather was always going to be a strong favourite – undefeated over his career, a great technician and arguably one of the boxing greats, and taking on Pacquiao who had to gain weight to fight. Mayweather was always going to be stronger.

I didn’t watch it. I thought about it in the days before, but short of pay for view – not an option – I’d have had to turn up at a crowded and noisy pub to watch, and I didn’t want that. In the end I’m glad I didn’t bother. Mayweather won pretty easily.

A long time ago I used to like boxing. I boxed a little – sparring – while I was still a teenager, and loved the raw physicality of it. It’s just about the toughest sport in the world, and not just because some guy is clubbing you. Just throwing punches and dancing around a ring is bloody tough work. You get tired quick.

Then there’s the mental aspect of the sport. The really epic fights come down to a battle of wits and strength. When I was a kid watching this is what sucked me in. I understand why some people hate boxing because it can be a cruel sport. For me I always saw the nobility in that, and as a kid aspired to that kind of toughness. Boxing exposes character.

I loved the characters to. I was a big Ali fan. Not only was he a great fighter, but unless you were a redneck you had to love his wit and confidence. Then there was Frazier, Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, and so on.

Boxing is not what it was. It’s got untidy in the last 30 years. Too many competing and confusing boxing associations mean there are more ‘world’ champions than you can poke a stick at. It’s lost credibility as a result. Hype has overtaken the actual fight. This maybe a symptom of the times, but it’s really all about money. That’s where the biggest issue is.

Boxers were reasonably well paid back in the day, but just a fraction of the amounts they get now. Because there’s so much money involved they have to drum up the drama. The spectacle is amplified, more about the entertainment value than it is the contest.

It’s impossible to watch a decent bout on free to air anymore, which is one of the biggest reasons boxing is not what it was. Boxing used to be a working man’s sport. It was more real because the big bouts were on TV and everyone could tune in and watch. Boxing was more mainstream as a result.

The last fight I watched free to air was Sugar Ray Leonard taking on Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns in the early eighties. It was a great fight. Since then it’s all cable pay for view. There’s good financial reasons for that – not the least so they can pay boxers their astronomical fees – but what came first? I suspect the promoters got greedy and took it off free to air so they could pocket the much increased gate. Unsurprisingly the boxers then got in on the act. It became inflationary and changed the sport forever.

There are probably as many good boxers now as there were back in the day, but they don’t get the same exposure as they did then, and for all the hype, rarely the same news coverage. Boxing has been taken from the common man and been packaged up for the privileged view. Once upon a time you didn’t need to be a boxing fan to know who the heavyweight champion of the world (one of the most prestigious and toughly contested titles in the world) was. Admittedly I’m a lapsed fan, but I’m not even sure – is it Klitschko?

Boxing will never get back to what it was. There’s too much money in it now, and that’s not going to change.

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