How big of a factor is Floyd Mayweather Jr. in boxing's quest to become mainstream again? (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
The Atlantic has a very interesting take on five reasons that boxing could come back to the mainstream, along with five reasons it might not. I highly recommend reading the piece, which touches on the usual topics that we as diehard boxing fans cover frequently -- globalization of the sport (a good thing), greedy promoters and "sanctioning" bodies (bad things), pay-per-view events (bad, though I disagree slightly there), etc.
What struck me as most interesting is that The Atlantic's No. 1 reason that boxing could come back to the mainstream is Manny Pacquiao. The No. 1 reason it won't? Floyd Mayweather Jr.
I wanted to offer a take on this, particularly from the Mayweather side, because I can't say as though I really agree with all of that. From the article:
His tendency to avoid opponents that could pose a risk to his undefeated record has earned him the scorn of the fighting world (even though he is no different in this respect than most other fighters, including Pacquiao), and there is a definite perception that he is ducking the Pacman at the moment despite being offered up to $50 million for the potential superfight. ... Many believe that Pacquiao v. Mayweather is necessary for the sport to grow, and it would undoubtedly be the largest event since Tyson-Holyfield II almost 15 years ago. Debate over who would win and who is responsible for the fight not happening continues to dominate message boards and ringside chatter, making it all but impossible to avoid the topic of Floyd in any discussion of the sport's future. For the sport to flourish, the greatest American boxer must resolve his legal woes and find a way to get back in the ring with world-class competition. A failure for the superfight to materialize may not condemn boxing to the margins forever, but it would be further evidence that the sport is not yet ready to return to prime time.
I have a few issues with this. First of all, Mayweather's fight with Oscar de la Hoya was, like it or not, "bigger" than Tyson-Holyfield II, and so was Lewis-Tyson. Neither fight is as famous as Tyson-Holyfield II, but that came after the world got to see Tyson gnaw Holyfield's ear, which led to increased fascination from those who didn't see it live -- or care to. But the gross curiosity in seeing one man bite a chunk out of another man's ear shouldn't count toward how big the fight really was. That's what came after.
But to assign Floyd this level of importance is, in my opinion, buying into hype more than it is anything else. Mayweather, like every great and popular and famous and hated fighter before him, is replaceable. Mayweather is one fighter, and there is great demand for one fight. But it's just one fight.
Boxing has bigger, more consistent problems than what Floyd Mayweather Jr. does or does not do in the next year or so. Mayweather is 34 years old and doesn't have many prime years left anyway. And while he does have a very large fanbase -- complemented by an arguably larger group of boxing fans who hate him but pay to see him fight anyway -- the chunk of the paying boxing audience that has long since lost respect for Floyd has taken a toll not just on his public image, but I would say on his marketability, too. Manny Pacquiao sells pay-per-view events against anyone at this point. He does not truly need Floyd Mayweather. Neither does the sport of boxing.
Mayweather has been inactive for a full year now, and it's hard for me to say that I miss him. Of course I want to see Pacquiao-Mayweather. It's an era-defining fight that I also think would be a brilliant contest in the ring, rather than a disgrace (Tyson-Holyfield II), a sad blowout (Lewis-Tyson), or a rather dull affair (Oscar-Floyd). There is nothing I don't like about Pacquiao-Mayweather in theory.
But I also don't think boxing or its "mainstream" hopes live or die on that fight.
Then again, I also don't hold out any great hope that boxing will ever be a truly mainstream sport again. There are too many other options. Too many other sports to watch out there, and besides just sports, too many other avenues for entertainment with film, television, music, video games, and whatever else. I am as thrilled as anyone that boxing has poked its head back into network television's front door, but I'm not going to be holding my breath waiting for SportsCenter to regularly lead with a boxing story, or for anything besides the fascinating Pacquiao and Mayweather -- fascinating for opposite reasons -- to be subjects on "Pardon the Interruption."
I know that the general public doesn't care as much as I do about the corrupt "sanctioning" bodies, the short-sighted promoters, and the often questionable decisions from the networks that support and carry boxing. Yet at the same time, I see those subjects are far bigger roadblocks to mainstream acceptance, or at least something like mainstream acceptance. If the constant political nonsense in boxing were to be eliminated, or at least done away with to a large degree, so many things would not be an issue. The sport would be a lot more about what happens in the ring than it is trying to figure out why something isn't going to happen because one promoter doesn't like another, or a TV network is playing favorites, or a "sanctioning" body decided to do something that makes no sense while continuing to strip their "championships" of all value. Every mainstream sport is ultimately boiled down to what happens on the field of play -- that's what people remember, and what they enjoy most of all. Boxing doesn't have that going for it a lot of the time, and while it's fair to say that perhaps Mayweather is part of the reason for that right now, he's just one of several contributing factors, in my opinion, and hardly the biggest problem.
But all of that aside, I do feel the article is very much worth a read for all boxing fans. The author is Gautham Nagesh, editor of StiffJab.net.