The “Fight of the Century” and Boxing’s Biggest Problem
By David J. Kozlowski
In last night’s supposed “Fight of the Century,” Floyd Mayweather, the much-despised, arrogant, undefeated champion beat Manny Pacquiao, the much-loved and quieter fading statesman. For four years, from 2008 to 2011, Pacquiao was The Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound champion. Mayweather was in his prime and building on his unblemished record.
Five years ago, this would have been a fight for the ages.
Instead, last night’s fight—in 2015—was billed the “Fight of the Century” despite overwhelming analysis and predictions by those “in the know” that Mayweather would win in a boring, twelve round decision. The irrational hype for this fight is caused by deep-seated problems, illustrated by the fact that three “world champion” belts were on the line in the bout.
The WBC, WBO, and WBA world champion belts were up for grabs. Pacquiao came into the fight holding one, Mayweather held two. Both were champions because of boxing’s lack of a central governing authority. Instead, boxing is run by promotional companies, each with a stable of fighters pitted against others on an ad hoc basis. There are no standardized requirements regarding number of fights per year, quality of opponent, mandatory opponents, activity schedule, or even equipment used (such as weight of gloves or size of ring).
Belts are granted by “governing (or sanctioning) bodies.” Promoters pay for eligibility of their fighters to compete for that organization’s belts. Belts can be vacated by failure to pay fees as easily as by losing a bout. Currently, ten (or more) different governing bodies are active in the sport.
This lack of a central organization means no party is looking out for the good of the sport as a whole. Unlike the MLB, NFL, NBA, or NHL, nothing in boxing is prospective; nothing is done to promote the future. Rather, the immediate payday is king.
It is in the interest of the promoters, boxers, and their camps and agents to hype upcoming fights and sell tickets (and pay-per-views) for as much as possible to as many as possible. Thus we have an $89.95 pay-per-view “Fight of the Century” that everyone who follows the sport knew would be a dud.
Coming into this fight with Mayweather, Pacquiao’s record since 2011 was 4-2. In those six fights, he suffered several knock downs, including one knockout by Juan Manuel Marquez. In the same stretch, Floyd was barely touched in going 6-0, the most recent five wins by decision. Floyd has perfected his dance in the square circle, and seems ageless.
All data pointed to a Mayweather victory on points. Most predicted Mayweather would fight defensively, as he’s done against almost every world-class opponent, throwing just enough straight right hands to keep Pacquiao at bay.
That is exactly the fight we saw.
Pacquiao seemed unable to pull the trigger in the early rounds. When he landed an occasional clean punch, he followed with a flurry that was mostly blocked by Mayweather. Pacquiao was unable to make Mayweather stand and fight, and Mayweather commanded the ring almost effortlessly.
The fight’s failure to deliver on its hype resulted in social media outrage among casual fans. They are disgusted that Mayweather won by “running away” for twelve rounds. They are offended that the perceived “better person” didn’t win over the “bad guy.” They feel deceived and used.
Casual fans won’t accept this disappointment. Next time, they’ll ignore the hype and not buy the fight.
Those involved decided to promote Mayweather vs. Pacquiao as the most anticipated boxing match since Ali-Frazier I. Their profits will allow them to live with their decision. But in failing on this opportunity, boxing can’t live with their decision—and it may die with it.