"The poetry is all in the anticipation, for there is none in reality."
- Mark Twain
Change and hope and giddy feel-good vibes and the fight week to end all fight weeks. The September 14 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez is a guaranteed business success. It has already broken the live gate record in Nevada, has a good shot at breaking the pay-per-view revenue record, and an outside shot, it seems, at toppling the record for number of pay-per-view buys in the United States.
No matter what happens in the ring next Saturday night between Mayweather (44-0, 26 KO) and Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KO), the promoters will leave the building smiling, and so will the network executives, and the managers. The Right People will be pleased as punch that they've all raked in the dough, and put a new, enormous spotlight on the Showtime boxing brand. 2013 has been the Year of Showtime in American boxing. By signing Floyd Mayweather to a long-term contract, they made their final and most significant move in their partnership with Golden Boy Promotions, and the war against HBO and Top Rank. Results varied when Mayweather fought Robert Guerrero in May. But this one's a slam dunk.
Financially, it's a hit. That's all done and over with. There's no question about any of that. But will the fight artistically live up to its hype?
Back in 2007, when Mayweather fought Oscar De La Hoya in what became the biggest gate, PPV buys, and PPV revenue fight of all-time, Sports Illustrated ran a cover for the fight that called it "The Fight to Save Boxing." As has been said repeatedly since the day that issue hit the news stands, boxing was not dying, it's not dying now, and it's really not going anywhere. TV talking heads and dopey outsider journalists may "passionately" scream otherwise, but this is not even because they're ignorant to the sport, which they are. It's simply because in their sensationalist media world, there is nothing in the vocabulary that translates to "niche sport."
Boxing is not a mainstream sport in the United States, or in most places, quite frankly. It's a second-tier sport with a niche audience. A few times a year, a fight involving Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao sneaks into the discussion. The same goes for a lot of sports. Hockey has become very marginalized in the U.S., but when the mighty Chicago Blackhawks went on their incredible streak last year, the sports world and even ESPN were forced to pay attention. I don't recall many articles on Jonathan Toews that discussed hockey's dying breaths.
But that is all beside the point, anyway. You know this stuff.
What I think is undeniable is that in '07, after Floyd had beaten De La Hoya by split decision in a fairly pedestrian fight, most fight fans weren't exactly thrilled. HBO was happy, the promoters were happy, and all that. And that's good. It's good for a fight to make money.
One of boxing's chief problems today may be the fact that for these "mega-fights," we rarely see anything worth remembering in the ring. Last year's Pacquiao-Marquez IV fight was an exception to the rule; it was the Knockout of the Year and the Fight of the Year in the minds of many. Pacquiao's 2009 win over Ricky Hatton was another memorable night, largely for the image of Hatton splayed on the canvas at the end of round two.
Floyd Mayweather doesn't have many fights that live on past the night of the bout. The greatest action we've seen came when he was shaken to his core by Shane Mosley in 2010, and after that, he dominated what became another Floyd domination. Miguel Cotto put up a solid fight in a pretty entertaining contest, but it was hardly a classic. His most memorable fight in recent years is probably his sucker punch KO of Victor Ortiz from 2011, and that's not exactly for good reasons.
The anticipation of these big fights has usually dwarfed the feeling of the resulting main event. I don't think a lot of the "casual" or curious fans come out of these events thinking that they just have to see the next boxing event on HBO or Showtime. Boxing isn't in dire trouble or anything of the sort, but there's also not a ton of real growth out there. Showtime's numbers have gone up, but those likely aren't "new fans" -- they're probably just people who now have to subscribe to Showtime as well as HBO, because Showtime has a lot of fighters they know and enjoy.
If Mayweather-Canelo can live up to the excellent promotion the fight has been given, then maybe we'll see some real growth in the sport. It's never going to be what it was in its heyday and up through the 1980s again. That ship sailed long ago. But maybe with something big, the sport can inch its way back to having two million regularly tune in for a big fight on premium cable. Maybe more than a handful of fights per year will draw any significant mainstream media coverage. And maybe Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser could be forced to pump the brakes on at least one subject. (Probably not.)
That's the question, though, so what do you think: Will Mayweather-Canelo live up to the hype?