Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way. Certain things are going to be said over and over and over again about Mayweather Pacquiao, by a mainstream media that doesn’t, frankly, know jackshit about this sport, and that would rather fall into easy, historically false cliches and stereotypes about boxing.
Example: When examining Floyd vs. Manny, the Economist was doing a pretty good job here for a while. (Disclosure: The Economist is the owner of my day job employer.) Kinda dumb headline? Sure, sure, but dumb, reductive headlines are a thing in journalism. Boxing has become somewhat irrelevant, in the larger and/or historical context? Sure, but there are some caveats to that. Boxing is still making money hand over fist? Good job, you accurately described one of the caveats, “S.D.” of San Fran! Most of the rest of the article is a pretty good examination of the fight, where boxing is now and is overall a solid piece of economic analysis. It tees up how well this fight might do, then it just flat ruins itself…
What is far harder to predict is whether the nearly unprecedented attention it is attracting will pave the way for a broader revival of public interest in boxing, or will instead with a final bang mark the sport’s passing from mainstream consciousness for good. There is a strong case for pessimism: both Mr Pacquiao and Mr Mayweather will retire within a few years, and there are no fighters on the horizon with remotely comparable name recognition. Moreover, if Hispanic immigrants to America eventually assimilate as fully as the Irish and Italians did, boxing could lose its precious niche demographic appeal.
So we’ll try to nip this in the bud, AGAIN, just the whole main narrative or two we’re going to see from now until May.
Maybe there will be a revival of public interest in boxing, maybe there won’t. But one fight, no matter how big, won’t do it. Boxing is a niche sport right now and it’s been making sporadic one step forward/two steps backward in-roads toward mainstream exposure for many years; OK. A big fight can surely help with those in-roads. But there are so, so many things boxing would have to do right for any kind of “revival” that Mayweather Pacquiao can’t fix alone. It’s part of the larger puzzle — a nice-sized piece, but no magical solution. Whatever big moves are afoot for broader exposure, asterisks and all, we’re not far removed from pure dysfunction.
Likewise, this isn’t the first time that a journalist has written about how the current biggest figure(s) in the sport might be the last. When Mike Tyson left, there was no one on the horizon, and then Oscar De La Hoya mustered the kind of name recognition that made him a frequent guest on the “Tonight Show.” After De La Hoya, there was going to be nobody to fill his vacancy, but lo and behold, here are Mayweather and Pacquiao, who have somehow become the next last names in boxing. That phrase is plenty instructive, “next last.” (And, uh, unless we’re talking some kind of Age of Aquarius utopia here where poor immigrant groups never again are a thing, there will probably be some demographic group to replace the Hispanic immigrants the Economist speaks of; after all, didn’t the Hispanics replace the Irish and Italians in that lineage?)
Regular old sports journos, economic journos, random journalistic/writerly visitors from other fields spilling ink about Mayweather Pacquiao: Be smart. The history of the sport is littered with fools who bought into one or even both of these cheap, false narratives. It happens every several years. Bill Simmons was just swimming in this shallow pool in 2007. This description of Mayweather back then should make you cringe today: “Mayweather, the best pound-for-pound fighter alive but also someone who could show up on ‘Lost’ as one of the Others and go unrecognized by viewers and everyone else on the island.”
Don’t be part of a trend of stupidity that is 100 years old, if not older. Maybe nobody else will notice what a goofball you are, but we, the unwashed masses who keep propping up the sport left for dead so many times, will be smirking at and scoffing at and mocking you. Oughta tell you something.
[UPDATE: We heard from the editor of the Economist’s blog Game Theory in rebuttal. That rebuttal is posted in the comments section below.]