By Sean Crose
Boxing fans who are tired of hearing that the sweet science is dead and that the future lies with names like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey can take heart in the spectacle that took place Saturday night in California between featherweights Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares. For this was a grueling, hard hitting and exceedingly entertaining affair which more than lived up to its promise.
Indeed, it was nice to see a boxing match not involving Floyd or Manny topping the US Twitter trends late Saturday night into early Sunday morning. Such things are a rarity, and that’s because there are so few fights like Santa Cruz-Mares to be found anymore, especially not on basic cable.
While there’s little doubt that pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather is the most talented, famous and wealthy person in all of combat sports he’s arguably hurt boxing as much as he’s helped it. Why? Because his dominance is personality based rather than talent based. People see Floyd fight to see Floyd, not to see his exquisite ring skills.
The truth is, I can’t think of another dominant fighter – not even Ali – whose ring dominance was so superseded by his persona. Mayweather is clearly the dominant fighter of the hip hop era, a figure whose success is based primarily on swagger rather than on thrilling fights. The hip hop era has already seen its zenith, however, both in American popular culture and in the world of boxing.
After the Pacquiao fight people want action, the kind of action which was delivered in grand fashion on Saturday night. I’ve personally defended the supreme craftsmanship of “Scientific boxers” like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Mayweather for years now. What’s more, I’ll continue to do so. But the fact is that their style of fighting is just that – a particular style. Fans in general want more exciting fare.
Purely defensive fighting is a bit like postmodern literature – it can be great stuff, but it’s just not built to be the most popular stuff around. Besides, fighters like Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson – and perhaps even recent arrival Gennady Golovkin – have proven that a high end defensive style can be overcome, sometimes in explosive fashion. If boxing wants a return from the margins of American society, explosive is what’s going to be needed.
Ironically enough, neither Santa Cruz nor Mares are close to being the best in the featherweight division. Vasyl Lomanchenko is an extremely gifted fighter, maybe even a once in a lifetime talent. Likewise, Nicholas Walters would most likely make minced meat out of both Leo and Abner.
Still, Santa Cruz and Mares proved to be just what the doctor ordered this weekend – brave, exciting fighters who were willing to put it all on the line for ring glory. Frankly, it was refreshing to see. Even boxing purists like firework shows. Now, can Santa Cruz avoid fighting tomato cans for a while? He’s fun when he’s actually being challenged.
Photo: Suzanne Teresa, Premier Boxing Champions