Hyped-up extravaganzas don’t get much bigger than Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas (May 3). It’s the global showcase for a sport that is healthier than ever, despite the almost obligatory periodic predictions of its demise. Boxing has weathered the UFC onslaught and, deservedly, clawed its way back to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic.
The thanks for this go to imaginative promoters at local and national level, and a new breed of exciting, crowd-pleasing fighter. At the grass roots, in addition to its ever-increasing popularity with women, middle-class professionals, anxious for the holy grail of the ultimate fitness workout, but also the opportunity to test themselves, have been signing up for boxing classes in droves. As this demographic grows to understand the true nature of the ‘sweet science’, traditional bourgeois sneers about the ‘barbarity’ of the sport are invariably revised. A few years ago, I took a disdainful, white-collar friend along to a gym. Despite his initial scorn, he had a “life-changing” time. (His phrase, repeatedly deployed.) Now he’s never away, and is a better person for it, physically, mentally and socially.
So it’s with some guilt that I have to confess to being underwhelmed by this glitzy gala for a sport I love, centrepieced as it is by an event that features certainly one, and, possibly, two of the greatest boxers of all time. The problem is that it’s not just easy to forget that this is actually a boxing match, it’s probably essential, as when you recall this fact, the whole enterprise bears far less scrutiny. As a sporting contest it’s at least five years past its sell by date. We even know the result – a Mayweather win on points or by a late stoppage.
Mayweather’s risk minimisation
Floyd Mayweather has achieved the unique paradox of being one of the greatest boxers of all time, but without becoming a celebrated champion. To be remembered that way, you need to fight the best when they are the best. Manny Pacquiao once fitted into that category, but no longer. The true greats in the golden age of boxing – Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler – all realised that legacy went beyond cash in the bank, and that it was only the epic fights you took part in that truly immortalised you. They never dodged anybody, nor engaged in Mayweatheresque risk minimisation strategies.
Floyd Mayweather is unbelievably skilled at slipping a punch, but he’s better at dodging a potentially hazardous match-up. ‘Money’ is probably one of the best-ever boxers, but certainly the best ever promoter that climbed through the ropes. He cherry-picks his opponents with consummate skill. His career plan has been to wait out pressure-fighting peers like Ricky Hatton and Pacquiao, until they are past their best, knowing their style ages faster than his. In the meantime both boxing fans and spectacle hags are expected to be good consumers and buy into all this showbiz and pantomime, featuring guys who are a facsimile of the two great fighters that should have met years ago. (Mayweather 4/9, Pacquiao 15/8, draw 18/1).
Desperate, straw clutching stuff
The Pacman has looked a busted flush in his last two fights. With his motor gone, Manny won’t get close to his foxy opponent. And when was the last time Mayweather got anyone out off their seat? This time Floyd will be ultra-cagey, and mindful of his unbeaten record. It all spells snoresville and the losers will be the people who came expecting fireworks, stuck with the grumbling consolation of throwing more money away on the tables and hookers of Vegas.
Is there anything that can upset this gloomy scenario? Floyd has a populist, crowd-pleasing brainstorm, and comes out of his shell, throwing caution to the wind, deciding to put on a show. Or Manny really just needed this fight to get his motivation back, has trained like a demon, and somehow rolled back the years, rediscovering his phenomenal speed and engine. Nope, it’s desperate straw clutching and it’s not going to happen.
So the big question for me is: will I get caught up in the hype and tune in? I’m as easily influenced as the next person, but in this case I genuinely don’t think so. The head says: let the guys who put on the exciting shows and the great matches reap the rewards. Boxing belongs to the Golovkins, Crawfords, Framptons, Brooks, Khans, etc, the hungry men on the paths to glory. There are plenty of real fights to look forward to.
Why the undercard is more interesting
Ironically one of them is on the very tasty undercard, as a pair of undefeated emergent talents from two great fighting towns face off. Jesse Hart from Philadelphia and Chicago’s Mike ‘Hollywood’ Jimenez are dedicated fighters who are in that ring for all the right reasons; pride, hunger and a desire to see how far they can go in the most punishing of sports. With both at 16-0, each could have fought a few soft touches to bump their numbers up to the magic 20-0 figure that puts them on the matchmaker’s radar for a shot at a big world title. Instead they are meeting each other for the vacant USBA Supermiddleweight belt. The winner has a big purse ahead, and the loser will have to go back to the drawing board. That’s the sort of fight for the real boxing aficionados to look forward to, not two past-their-best veterans who have scammed the TV companies and the rest of us into caring. (1/10 Hart, 11/2 Jimenez, 40/1 draw).
What this massive (but not uncritical), interest in Mayweather v Pacquiao shows us, is how neatly our entertainment industry has dovetailed with the more psychotic elements of Internet media culture. We are drawn to this event not because we believe it will be anything other than a suffering bore, but because “will they, won’t they” is an ongoing drama we have emotionally invested in over the years and we believe it gives us some kind of closure on one element of our timelines. We’re being taken for mugs, but we sort of know it – a sobering thought to end on.
Oh, and did I mention that Mayweather wins on points or by a late stoppage? Anything could happen in Hart-Jimenez though, so keep an eye on that one.
Irvine Welsh is the best-selling author of Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Filth and The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. He contributes to the Paddy Power Blog each month. Follow Irvine, if you wish, on Twitter here.