This past weekend brought us one of the biggest boxing events in recent memory, a superfight to top all superfights. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr.: "The World Awaits".
And, unfortunately, the world is still awaiting.
HBO and Golden Boy promotions handled the hype quite well. In particular, the HBO reality show ratcheted up the excitement level and attracted a whole new group of fans that wouldn't have paid any attention to the fight otherwise. But marketing can only do so much, and in the end, the sport has to win fans over by the action in the ring. On this weekend, boxing failed miserably.
Make no mistake about it - there was no water-cooler chatter about this fight on Monday morning. Both fighers seemed to be merely holding out for a draw. Maybe Oscar was just hoping for a controversial ending so he could do it again and make another $25-plus million. It speaks volumes when we can't even watch a boxing match anymore without wondering how the financials might affect the result in the ring.
Floyd hardly did enough to win. His defense was superb as he ducked and dodged in frustrating de la Hoya all night. So why settle for a decision, a split at that? That's hardly an appropriate crescendo to a hall-of-fame career. If he really does hang up the gloves after this fight, as doubtful as that seems, he will forever be remembered as one of the best defensive fighters of all time that had absolutely no punching power whatsoever.
And Oscar once again proved what we've known all along - that he is the most overpaid person in sports, period. Hard to believe a person can make $35-plus million by missing 465 punches. If you are a prizefighter and can't hit your opponent, you need to start inventing ways to hit him. You may need to press the action and leave yourself vulnerable, but that's the career you have chosen. It's not fair to the fans to just stand in the ring and swing at air all night.
A split decision in this fight was the worst outcome that could have been imagined. When even the judges can't figure out who won, don't expect the fans to be satisfied. No one wants to argue about the outcome of a sporting event - give us a clear winner and send us home satiated. A split decision might be appropriate when both boxers are physically exhausted and pushed to the limit. But after the fight on Saturday, both fighters looked like they could go another 12 rounds.
The only great thing about this fight was the HBO reality show. Without that, I doubt this bout would have had half the hype surrounding it. Neither fighter was ever really in danger during the bout, and that's a problem for a sport that depends on anticipation - the anticipation of an imminent knockout, the anticipation that a fighter can explode into a flurry of punches at any second. That was all missing Saturday night.
A major East-coast university had no bars screening the fight Saturday night. Zero - including the Hooters that has been packed for every UFC event over the past year (even factoring in a $10 cover charge). And while the fight may have overshadowed the Kentucky Derby for the college demographic, that is only because horse racing is even deader than boxing to the younger generation.
How can boxing consider itself a competitive sport when an athlete can come in and go 38-0, win titles in 5 different weight divisions, and retire without even having been legitimately knocked down even once in his career?
A lot of the problem is the focus on winning rounds, not on winning the fight decisively. Fighters are only trying to get the 10 points per round, not to finish their opponents. They know that if they just outwork their opponent by a small margin each round, they can get ahead on the scorecard and sandbag their way to a victory from there.
While purists appreciate the ballet of boxing, the casual fan does not. When a 12-round fight ends with neither boxer hurt, or even really tired, you have to question the competitiveness of the sport. When both boxers are smiling at the end of a fight (even the loser), you know something is wrong. Then again, it is hard not to smile when you just made $10 million or more for 36 minutes worth of entertainment. But who wants to shell out $55 to watch an hour of two men dancing with each other?
Sure, the hype surrounding this weekend proves boxing is not dead. But there is no doubt that it is still on its last legs as a major spectator sport. A lot of boxing journalists seem to think this is exactly what boxing needed - the glitz, the pomp and circumstance, the celebrities, the hype, the big-name fighters duking it out on the Strip.
The media is speaking as if the rematch is inevitable. I certainly hope not. If I need something to help me fall asleep to on a Saturday night, Major League Baseball works just fine.