The big fight Saturday, in the end, wasn’t a riveting masterpiece of blood-spattering havoc. Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao, did not, in the minds of many, match the hype. It was “boring,” so many said. Mayweather only ran away — he took no risks, was even a coward, and Pacquiao didn’t even try, and this “Fight of the Century” will bury boxing once and for all with casual fans.
There have been better fights, certainly, than the one we got. The rest is nonsense.
Floyd Mayweather has been the top draw in the sport dating back to approximately 2007, aside from some years where Pacquiao arguably was. He has fought 11 times in that span. There were a grand total of two of them (Miguel Cotto, Marcos Maidana I) that featured sustained competition. Some of the others were noteworthy in other ways (Shane Mosley’s big 2nd round, the bizarre Victor Ortiz knockout).
Almost all of them looked exactly the same, in other words. Mayweather might lose some early rounds, but eventually he takes over and coasts to the final bell. This weekend isn’t the first time he’s been labeled “boring.”
And yet, somehow, during that whole time, he has at least challenged for the top draw in the sport.
“How did this happen?” a person who connects one series of events to another might ask, before making sweeping generalizations about what the boring fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao might mean for the sport’s doom overall.
It happens because there are lots of reasons to watch a Mayweather fight. Because he’s the best. Because people hope he’ll lose. Because some actually like, God forbid, his “persona.”
Anyone going into Mayweather vs Pacquiao expecting major action was pinning a dream on thin air. Perhaps some who watched Saturday and complained had never seen Mayweather before; they must also not have read a single thing about him, and what his fights are like. The reason Mayweather vs Pacquiao was such a big deal had many fathers, but “because it’s probably going to be a rollercoaster of gore” wasn’t even on the list.
In and of itself, as an observation, complaining about a fight being boring is fine. It’s just a mistake to take one’s own impression as universal, even if others join in it.
(For instance: At my pay-per-view party, there were two total boxing newbies who remarked afterward, unprompted, that they enjoyed themselves and could imagine getting into boxing. And I enjoyed the fight, somewhat — it wasn’t a classic or close, but most of the first half of the fight was dramatically compelling, and it only turned toward boring after the outcome became obvious.)
Criticizing Mayweather’s style is also fair game, but only as an aesthetic matter. Mayweather may indeed be a coward in his personal life — the word sears when uttered by his own son about the battering of Josie Harris. To suggest, as Drew Magary did for Deadspin, that Mayweather was a coward in the ring… it smacks of being inflammatory for being inflammatory’s sake, because it’s ridiculous.
The reason Mayweather emphasizes defense-first is the same reason as any athlete who’s better at defense than offense — because that’s their best chance of winning. Mayweather doesn’t punch hard enough to brawl regularly. He hits hard enough to do damage — more on that in a moment — but not to win against most people that way. Pacquiao hits harder than Mayweather, as we saw Saturday. Trading more punches with him would’ve given Pacquiao a chance he never had anyway.
As middleweight Tureano Johnson said on Twitter: “I like action but sayin Floyd needs 2 stand & trade in pocket is like baseball player tellin pitcher 2 man up & throw only fastballs”
Mayweather is hardly the first fighter to box this way. Don’t forget that Muhammad Ali, at times, was decried as “boring” inside the ring, too. It’s not an issue of bravery for a fighter to play to his strengths. It’s a matter of intelligence. If you don’t enjoy it, stop giving him your money. Plenty of others will, and have been. And as much as I’m just some guy sitting on my couch writing this, some guy sitting on his couch and calling a boxer a coward — when a boxer shows more physical bravery stepping into the ring than most people can summon in a lifetime, even one who shows the gall to dodge punches and land enough to win — is shameful.
Also, that thing some saw where Pacquiao wasn’t trying? Nah. He made some bad decisions strategically, and his one long whine post-loss — legit or no, playing up the injury is sour grapes — has put him in a bad light. But there’s a reason that Pacquiao had so much trouble doing anything, and its name is Floyd Mayweather. His whole game plan is throwing a fire blanket on what his opponent does best offensively. Part of that is that Mayweather hits hard enough to dissuade reckless charges in all but the most daring, although the major part of it is his brain. Pacquiao looked discouraged and out of ideas by the middle of the fight; how many times did he corner Mayweather on the ropes, fire a left hand down the middle only for Mayweather to skitter to his left, ready for Pacquiao’s inevitable right hand as he came off the ropes?
Pacquiao was one of the best fighters alive coming into Saturday night. Mayweather made him look bad in the ring, more than anything Pacquiao did.
To suggest that this one fight being a dud (if you embrace that label) will make any would-be boxing fans turn away from the sport not only shows the kind of tunnel vision I talked about above, but it also ignores history.
There is no correlation whatsoever between the most anticipated fight also delivering an exciting outcome. History is littered with mega-fights that couldn’t match their hype.
When I compiled a list of the most anticipated fights of each decade over the last nearly 100 years for Awful Announcing, only two of them were truly nice action fights. Many of them ended up having famous or infamous moments — “The Long Count,” “The Bite Fight” — but there were plenty of non-competitive fights in the batch.
They’re far from the only major fights that didn’t live up to expectations. And this trend extends equally through boxing’s peak of U.S. popularity — time and again, fights failed to be awesome — to now. And still, even now, people keep coming back to boxing.
Suggest if you like that letdown fights are why boxing isn’t as popular as it once was. Letdown fights surely have scared off some fans, and it’s not a good thing when they happen, but there are a million other reasons, most of them bigger, as to why boxing isn’t as popular as it once was.
What’s more, let’s not pretend that other sports never let us down on the grand stage. As Cliff Rold said on Twitter, “People swearing off boxing today is as stupid as a non-football fan after most of the crappy Super Bowls in history saying never again.”
Hey, at least when a boxing match sucks, it only takes 45 minutes. A shitty Super Bowl takes hours and hours and hours.
That gets us to another reason people were watching Mayweather vs Pacquiao Saturday night, too. It’s human nature to want to look at what everyone else is looking at and talking about, isn’t it?
Horse racing is another of those “dead/dying” sports we’re always reading about, but once a year, millions tune in to the Kentucky Derby. Because it’s the Kentucky Derby. Hell, this year’s Kentucky Derby drew higher TV ratings than any since 1992.
If nothing else, the next time there’s a mega-fight — and who knows when that will be, admittedly, but rest assured, there will be another one — an audience will gather JUST because it’s a mega-fight. It’s not like the fight being a disappointment kept anyone from covering it, either. The New York Times led with it on its website, and ESPN spent hours upon hours talking exclusively about Mayweather vs Pacquiao
Boxing probably won’t ever get back to where it was in its peak, let alone, say, the 80s. Yet rest assured: No matter how boring you found Mayweather vs Pacquiao, no matter how much you dislike Mayweather’s style, the next time there’s a huge fight, plenty of people — maybe even you! — will be right back in front of their television sets.