Musings about Mayweather, Pacquiao, and the Death Knell of Boxing

Saturday, the “Fight of the Century” ended in what I can only attribute to a fizzle. From the aftermath analysis, I have gleaned that everyone deluded themselves into believing this was the Thrilla in Manila or the Rumble in the Jungle. Turns out, the fight wound up being a showcase of Mayweather’s technical superiority which–no surprise for Mayweather–went to decision. Mayweather won on all three judges cards. As you may have gleaned from the above, I did not deposit one hundred of my hard-earned dollars into Mayweather’s or Pacquiao’s pocket. Doing so, in my mind, would de facto sanction the domestic violence committed by Mayweather in the past–crimes for which he has been convicted. I would love to tell you that it was exclusively a moral stand which required great willpower on my part. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I just didn’t care. 

Nor did anyone else, it seems. The last number I saw indicated that the Pay-Per-View fight pulled in roughly $400 million. That seems high. Let’s look closer. 

For simplicity, let’s say the fight was $100 per TV–as opposed to $99.95 HD or $89.95 SD–and that an average of two people per TV watched the fight. Let’s also say that 40% of these TVs showed the fight at a bar, and that 20 additional people in each bar saw this fight. 

*Warning: Math Advisory*

Start with the take of $400 million. Divide the revenue by the cost per TV–four million broadcasts. Take 60% to account for households–2.4 million TVs–and multiply by the household average of two. This nets us 4.8 million viewers. 

Next, take the 1.6 million broadcasts, and multiply by 20 people for the bar viewership. This is an additional 32 million people, but most of these people made the bar money, not Mayweather and Pacquiao. 

Still, this gives us 4.8 million at home and 32 million people at the bars, totaling 36.8 million people. 

*All Clear*

So, 36.8 million people sounds really solid out of context–and yes, the calculation is rudimentary and subject to huge error. But, consider this: the U.S. population is roughly 320 million people. This amounts to complete viewer exposure of 11.5% of the total U.S. population. 

*I lied, sorry. You’re safe now.*

So, the “Fight of the Century” managed to captivate, at very best, 12 out of 100 Americans. In all fairness, that’s not bad. But, should we be surprised? It ran unopposed in the time slot, so all the marketing had to do was convince people to stay up, and pay of course. Furthermore, on paper, it made for a spectacular capstone to close out one of the best sports days in recent memory. But, paper hardly tells the whole story. 

As I mentioned in the foregoing, I didn’t watch the fight. But, in the live tweeting and the analysis that followed, it became clear that the millions of fair weather boxing fans that got swept up in the hype were, for lack of a better word, pissed. They tuned in expecting Ali-Frazier, instead they got a master tactician and a one-armed man, a fact we found out well after Pacquiao lost. 

The sports sphere’s obsession over this fight was peculiar to me. We ran all of the stop signs and deluded ourselves into thinking this would be the fight to end all fights. A little research could have saved us. One look at Mayweather’s resume and it becomes clear that he does not fight for knockouts; he is a pure decision fighter. Furthermore, Pacquiao is below .500 in his last five fights–he is a specter of his former self. This fight was either going to end with him knocked out by Mayweather, or, much more likely, going twelve rounds and ending as a decision for Mayweather. 

The most ridiculous part about all of this: more people bet on Pacquiao than Mayweather. The odds still favored Floyd, but Pacquiao had more people in his corner. Now I do not understand this at all. I get that Mayweather is a chump, but he wasn’t going to be dealt a decision loss as his first one. Additionally, Pacquiao looks past his prime–so does Mayweather, but less so. People were betting on Manny because they wanted him to win. I do not feel bad for these people. Manny was a bad bet. 

Moving past the specifics of the fight, let’s consider a couple of the bigger symptoms. This may have been the true Fight of the Century years ago, when both men were at the peaks of their respective careers. Now, that is just a moniker. Moreover, the fact that a title bout between two welterweight fighters was ever the “Fight of the Century” shows us how far boxing has fallen. 

Holding the reasons for its slippage to obscurity in reserve, the heyday of boxing relied on the heavyweight class–bruisers the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali. These used to be the headline fights, with the welterweights, championship or not, as part of the undercard. Considering them the main event shows that not only have we moved on as a culture, but we have forgotten what boxing is supposed to look like. 

Maybe that’s a good thing and indicative of our progress as a culture, but maybe it’s a sign that boxing can no longer limp along. The level of vitriol and disgust with the fight on Saturday may deal boxing the long overdue death knell. These guys are irrelevant to our cultural sport ethos, and the only reason they prosper is because we are ready to believe the hype. We believe in the romantic past of boxing where Ali fought for his civil rights and refusing to yield in the ring. Boxing may have a romantic past, but the corruption is insidious. It always has been. I think we’ve moved on–I won’t say evolved because we’ve graduated to MMA, which is more savage. I think it’s ok that we have. 

Eventually, the unnecessary violence of two people beating each other in a confined space will lose its luster. It has started to already. With each passing year, fighting falls further out of the mainstream. I wonder if it wouldn’t already be extinct if not for Vegas propping it up as the premier betting sport. 

This weekend showed that boxing needs to die. People don’t care, and they are angered by what is considered excellent boxing. We’ve tipped our hand, the only reason we tune in is to see someone get knocked out. As this happens less and less, boxing will become more boring and may finally reach a fan bottleneck it cannot recover from. 

One can only hope. 

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