By Chris Acosta - I’m as excited as anyone about Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao settling the pound for pound score early next year. It’s not only serious match of the finest pugilistic skills of this (and possibly any) era, but more importantly, it lifts boxing above sporting headlines and into mainstream awareness. Such a fiscal monster is this event that it is being wooed by cities across the United States hoping to conciliate their economic vagaries. Let’s face it: this is as big as it gets.
My thoughts, however; are not so much on the fight itself as they are on the moments after the final bell when we will inevitably ask: “What’s next?” It’s a question that we humans love to embrace, a narcissistic slight to futures without promise.. Whoever wins the bout will have etched a place among the boxing immortals and the loser left to lick the terrible wounds of what could have been. Regardless of the outcome, boxing will continue on in the days and weeks to follow: more anticipation, disappointment, triumph and all the variables that keep us coming back time and time again. But how many returnees will be newly recruited from the mainstream masses? How many of those drawn in by the hype of the “Money”- “Pacman” clash, are going to accept boxing as part of their regular viewing diet?
There was once a time when boxers used the amateur program as a platform for professional success. Not only were amateur fighters afforded the experience of competing abroad and being exposed to various styles in the ring, if they were lucky enough to find their way onto the Olympic team, they were instantly sought after by promotional companies and made recognizable to the public. Before they even threw the first punch for pay, we knew who they were and what their stories were and we followed them along the way. We saw their development and crossed our fingers for them. We witnessed their successes and failures. And we saw them take opponents without their privilege, with them into stardom.
But as we all know, the amateur boxing program gradually devolved into a political farce. We couldn’t identify with faces concealed in oversized headgear and it was awfully hard to get pumped up about an Olympic bout that aired at 2:47 A.M. Suddenly, boxing was devoid of the stars that symbolized pre-1984. Let’s face it #2: people want a story. We need to feel compelled by athletes in order to fully embrace them. It’s simply not enough nowadays to function solely on substance: consider that Shane Mosley- a dynamic boxer if there ever was one- never became the star he seemed destined to be after twice defeating Olympic darling Oscar De La Hoya. It’s not fair but we know that life just isn’t that.
So without a dependable amateur program, where can boxing display its finest practitioners to its largest audience? Duh…the undercards of its Pay-Per-View events.
The problem (and there’s always one, isn’t there?) is that there aren’t any promoters who have fully taken advantage of this outlet which quite frankly, is as staggering as the minutes following the third shot of Tequila. While waiting for the Pacquiao- Miguel Cotto main feature, we were force-fed Yuri Foreman dancing around a badly faded Daniel Santos and Julio Ceasar Chavez Jr. going through the motions against another overmatched opponent from the mid-west. Yuri Foreman? Chavez Jr.? What gives? What foul demon possessed promoter Bob Arum to pick an unexciting boxer and a glorified, untested one, on an occasion of this magnitude? Arum isn’t known for his ability to accept criticism and this was evidenced by his refusal to answer a fan’s question about said undercard while appearing as a guest on a radio boxing program. I believe that went so far as to hang up on the dude. He should have been tied to a chair and had a Bluetooth device shoved into each ear so that he had to answer the question because it warranted one.
To be impartial, I have nothing against either Foreman (who became Israel’s second boxer to ever win a championship) or Chavez who is fighting a most difficult opponent: filling his legendary Father’s shoes. But neither has a particularly exceptional following or style to command our hard earned (some days, at least) dollar. And what’s even more unsettling to this stomach is that I can see it happening again on a day when a record audience is expected.
I’ve given this quandary a lot of thought and even devised unrealistic plans: contacting Arum while disguised as a terminally ill child and asking that my final wish be a great undercard or slipping hallucinogenic drugs into his martini and then visiting him later on as the ghost of Pugilistic present. It’s enough to drive a devoted fan like myself, insane. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing the media spout off about boxing’s decline and MMA fans following suit. What hurts the most is that there is some truth to their assertions. Boxing rarely gives the fans what we want. We complain but put up with it and then find ourselves writing crappy articles about it to whoever is willing to read them.
But it’s not just Arum or Don King. I expected that Golden Boy Productions would upset the trend but they’ve been guilty of the same type of entertainment misallocation. De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley may know fighting and may even be genuinely interested in the fans but they aren’t running the show. Richard Shaefer is the CEO and the Captain of the seven-figure currencies. He’s a businessman, plain and simple and around and around we go.
Wouldn’t it be something is the two main combatants in this saga, Mayweather and Pacquiao, refused to sign for the fight unless the lead- in bouts featured guaranteed draws?
Initially, there might be some concern that they could be outshined but after careful consideration, both parties might discover that more big names added to the card means more money and everyone wins. Arum has been building for a Juan Manuel Lopez- Yuriorkis Gamboa fight and this card would net them more attention than any other HBO or Showtime main event could ever hope to achieve. Lopez is a popular Puerto Rican and Gamboa a Cuban with a steadily growing following. And their styles are more offensive than Chris Arreola’s mouth which makes the idea even more tantalizing.
There are potential stars out there that the average sports fan does not know about and assumes do not exist. Aside from the winner of the main event, it’d be likely that a few more fighters might come out of the night much more popular than before and one day, capable of headlining their own PPV cards. Did you read that promoters?
I know, I know; it’s wishful thinking at its most desperate. I’ve been guilty of being too optimistic from the time I asked out the head cheerleader in 7th grade. But as boxing fans, we have to demand that the product matches the price. Our sport has some serious momentum right now with this impending blockbuster, Showtime’s Super Six Boxing Classic, the Cuban invasion regularly featured on ESPN and assorted bouts like Shane Mosley-Andre Berto, Israel Vasquez, Rafael Marquez 4 (forgot the corresponding Roman numeral, sorry), Timothy Bradley-Lamont Peterson and others. These are promising times and the only thing better would be for that promise to be reached. I’ll cross my fingers, pray to multiple Gods, eat rabbit’s feet and whatever else it takes to make something, anything remotely close to what I wish, happen. Anyone with me?