I assume I am in the company of many when I say that today, I watched a boxing match on PPV for the first time. I guess if there was ever a time to do so, The Fight of the Century would be that time.
I’ve been peripherally aware of boxing only through the coverage it receives from the MMA and pro wrestling media. So going in I understood how big a deal it was, how big both guys are as drawcards and how much money was in the match. I just didn’t really know much about the boxing itself. Which, as it turns out, seemed to be the least important part of the whole affair.
It’s kind of funny when you see a sporting event like this that captures the attention of so many people who know little to nothing about the sport itself. These people go in not really knowing or caring about the nuance or skill of the sweet science. They just want, above all else, to be entertained. They’d prefer it if their guy won, but I don’t think they’d mind him losing so much if it was a hell of a fight. The problem with that is that Mayweather and Pacquiao don’t care about entertaining millions of people. They care about winning a boxing match. And sometimes, winning a boxing match is not entertaining at all.
This was the biggest boxing match of the century so far. That’s not just a tagline, that’s reality. This fight involved unprecedented amounts of money. Unparalleled hype and exposure. Between two of the best fighters of this generation, one of whom is undefeated. EVERYTHING was on the line here, there was more at stake than had ever been at stake in a boxing match. Neither man wanted to go down in history as the one who lost the fight of the century. I feel like they would have wanted to not lose more than they wanted to win.
Hence the fight that we got. As I understand it Mayweather is a defensive boxer at the best of times, so naturally he kicked defensive maneuvers into overdrive in a can’t-lose situation. The onus was on Pacquiao to bring the fight to him and out-punch him, and he didn’t really do that for most of the fight. In fact I think Money actually landed more punches than Manny, which is pretty amazing for a guy as defensive as Mayweather vs a guy who throws punches so prolifically as Pacman. It may not have been pretty, or exciting, or many people’s idea of what a boxing match should look like (I’ve seen a fair few people call Mayweather’s strategy “running away” and cowardly and the like…) but it’s what a boxing match DOES look like, and it’s how Mayweather won the fight. Score more points, win more rounds than the other guy, and you win.
You see that with a lot of sports when there’s casual interest, people get so mad when they aren’t entertained. You get the same kind of criticism in MMA, where people are bored by a guy laying all over someone for three rounds, or a guy “running away” during stand up. Football gets the “boring” treatment all the time, especially when there’s a 0-0 draw. Rugby union has been under major scrutiny for years now because the unimaginative kick-kick-kick-penalty style of play is turning off a lot of fans. Hell, Twenty 20 cricket was invented because actual cricket was too boring to attract new fans. There’s an inherent conflict of interest there between the participants and the spectators of a sport. Does professional sport exist as an arena for the highest level of athletic competition, or is it a form of entertainment for the masses? Or both? What happens when those two ideas are in competition with one another? What happens when winning isn’t entertaining enough? What happens when entertaining play is unsuccessful play? Is it the fault of professional athletes who take the safe route and make sure they win? Is it the fault of paying customers who want to get their money’s worth?
Tough questions to answer I guess. Sport and the nature of things. This train of thought has travelled a long way from watching two guys trying not to get punched in the face.