At its best, boxing is beautiful to watch. Graceful and savage at the same time, it can force fighters to reach back and discover reserves of strength and desire that seem beyond human. If we’re lucky, we might see some of that Saturday night, when Floyd Mayweather faces Canelo Alvarez in the biggest boxing event since Mayweather’s fight against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
What we hope not to see is this — or anything similar to it:
Traditionally, there has been no place for long-term thinking in boxing. If fighters permitted themselves much contemplation of the lasting effects of what they do for a living, few would become fighters in the first place. The same goes for fans, who either block out images of their punch-drunk former heroes or rationalize them by asserting that these old pugs might have been dead or in jail much sooner if not for boxing. On the business side of the sport, the short-term mentality is equally pronounced. Promoters and networks have spent the past three or four decades “enhancing” fights with alphabet-soup championship belts, and in the process they’ve cheapened all titles. And the pay-per-view model, television’s ultimate get-rich-quick scheme, has steadily separated boxing from its cost-conscious fans. Sure, charging $75 for a fight helps make Floyd Mayweather the highest-earning athlete in the world, but it also denies potential fans access to the sport.
In light of all of this, yesterday’s announcement that Lucas Matthysse and Danny Garcia will fight for the junior welterweight championship of the world on September 14 is probably the most un-boxing-like thing boxing has done since HBO and Showtime partnered to make the Lennox Lewis–Mike Tyson fight more than a decade ago. It’s not just that a major, obvious, must-see fight was signed (although, given what didn’t happen with Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, that does qualify as an accomplishment). It’s that the September 14 date was already home to the biggest fight in six years, Mayweather vs. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. And Matthysse-Garcia isn’t competing with it. It’s supporting it. It’s appearing on the pay-per-view undercard.
In case you were busy picking the wrong Leonardo DiCaprio movie to model your life after and can't get that damn iron mask off your face, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Bryce Harper marked his return from an extended layoff with a home run as the Washington Nationals topped the Milwaukee Brewers, 10-5. "Guys, I spent the time off really pushing things forward," Harper said of his rehab. "And I think I've got it: The Babe. Bryce 'The Babe' Harper. ’Cause I look good. You know. Like a babe." When told that nickname was taken, Harper replied, "Babe don't care. Now someone get me my favorite candy bar: Snickers. Ol' Bryce 'Snickers' Harper."
Manic Monday at the All England Club was headlined by a massive upset on the women's side as Serena Williams was beaten by Sabine Lisicki in a three-set thriller, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4. Well, it was a massive upset for those of you who don't really know women's tennis. [Quickly Googles "Lisicki."] I mean obviously she's a great grass-court player, and despite her low seed is an instant favorite to win the whole thing. Us real tennis fans know [clicks down an entry] that Sabine Lisicki is also both German and tall. [Bings "Lisicki."] Also, I think we all remember her work in Jerry Maguire wait
In case you were busy stirring up debate, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
LeBron James was a near unanimous choice for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, securing 120 of the 121 available votes. About Last Night is all about starting debate, not shying away from controversy, and being real with the audience, so we salute the brave soul who decided that Carmelo Anthony had a better season than LeBron James. Unfortunately, that voter, who remains anonymous as of press time, didn't go far enough, placing James second on his ballot. That's no way to start a real debate about value in the NBA! For those interested in engaging in the debate, the official ALN MVP ballot (which was submitted to the NBA in the hopes that they would include it, though ALN is, despite much public pressure, still denied a vote) will be revealed at the end of this column.
The Chicago Bulls, again playing without Luol Deng, who was suffering the aftereffects of a spinal-tap procedure gone awry, still managed to close out the Brooklyn Nets, 99-93, to set up a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Now I know a lot of people in Chicago are up in arms about whether Deng and Derrick Rose should be playing at less than 100 percent. Here's my thing: I don't think any Chicago Bulls should be playing. Carlos Boozer's steadfast refusal to sit out games is an affront to sports, and he should not be allowed to continue any longer.
With apologies to Bernard Hopkins, Richard Alpert, and the girls of Lee High School, everybody gets old. The notion of an athlete growing old “overnight" is mostly a myth; it almost always occurs gradually. In the case of boxers, sure, one punch can ruin a man. But typically, that one punch was the logical successor to dozens of other punches, spread over several fights, that the boxer in question would have slipped in his younger days.
Floyd Mayweather is 36 years old. He’s 43 fights and 315 rounds into a professional career that began in 1996, when he already had 90 amateur fights to his credit. And none of those numbers account for sparring, the silent assassin in the boxing aging process. That Mayweather remains undefeated after all this time is remarkable. While his detractors will point out that he frequently found excuses not to fight the most threatening opponents, only a boxer with all-time, stratospheric skills could have run the particular gauntlet that Mayweather has and never once experienced defeat.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Floyd Mayweather’s ascent to his position as king of the boxing box office is that he’s done it without being an exciting fighter. Rather, he convinces fans to pay for his fights by distracting them from what will actually happen in the ring. He’s a master manipulator, the likes of which boxing hasn’t seen since Muhammad Ali. And with the official announcement on Tuesday of his next fight, Mayweather has done it again. He’s whipped the boxing world into a frenzy despite choosing the modest-profile opponent we assumed all along he was going to choose.
On May 4, Mayweather will take on Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. What makes the announcement worthy of talking-head analysis 10 weeks before the fight is that he’ll face Guerrero on Showtime pay-per-view. After a 15-year relationship with HBO, the network that aired 25 of his last 26 bouts, Mayweather, the biggest draw in boxing, has signed a six-fight deal with the top contender to HBO’s throne. His defection forces us to ask: Is HBO now the top contender to Showtime’s throne?
Rarely does the mere announcement of a fight pack as many angles and sub-angles as this one, but damn you, Floyd Mayweather, you’ve manipulated us into breaking down five questions worth exploring in the run-up to Cinco de Mayweather weekend, 2013:
1. Does anyone actually know which boxers are good, which are great, and which are fake?
I’m not sure. The sport is so balkanized that there just doesn’t seem to be a reliable way of determining who the best fighters really are. If you tried to make a flow chart of all the competing promoters, managers, advisers, television networks, state athletic commissions, and the fighters themselves, I imagine it would resemble the knot of greasy hair that accumulates in your bathtub drain. On top of that, there’s the very tired but very true old saw that styles make fights — a boxer can look horrible against certain opponents and transcendent against others.
This helps explain what we witnessed Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, when 154-pound champion Austin Trout won a unanimous decision over Miguel Cotto — one of boxing’s real superstars — in front of a mostly deflated Puerto Rican crowd that came to cheer Cotto. After the fact, it’s easy to see how Trout defeated Cotto — he was bigger and faster, with more crisp boxing skills. He fought busier than Cotto, and he proved capable of handling Cotto’s pressure and power. Was it possible to predict this before the fight? Sure, but that prediction would have been mostly guesswork. Just as easily as you could look at Trout’s age, size, and speed advantages, you could point to Cotto’s edges in experience, acknowledged punching power, and demonstrated willpower. And with Cotto, at least, you can feel confident in knowing what he would bring into the ring, since he’d demonstrated it against the best fighters of his generation — Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Shane Mosley, the list goes on. All the skills Trout demonstrated in his 25 professional fights before facing Cotto might not mean anything, since he’d been showcasing them against opponents worse than almost every fighter Cotto has faced in the past six or seven years.
It’s been a rough couple of years for athletes nicknamed “Macho.” In May 2011, pro wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage suffered a heart attack while driving, crashed his Jeep Wrangler, and died at age 58. Last week, 50-year-old ex-boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho was shot while sitting in a parked car, declared brain dead, and taken off life support four days later.
But for both Camacho and Savage, the “Macho” nickname came with some irony. Savage was a star in a fake combat sport, and in his heyday, his heel gimmick included putting his female manager in harm’s way to spare himself. Camacho squeezed out a 30-year career in boxing by developing perhaps the least macho in-ring style among high-profile fighters of his era.
It’s all relative, of course. In boxing, the bar for “macho” is set unreasonably high. And it’s set there because of fighters like Miguel Cotto. Seven days after Camacho’s death, his Puerto Rican countryman Cotto will step into the ring at Madison Square Garden (the Spanish-Harlem-raised Camacho fought there 15 times). Cotto is as earnestly macho as they come. Even Camacho himself wouldn’t deny that he was a showman first and a rare talent who left a sizable slice of that talent untapped, unlike the hard-earned, authentic “macho” of Cotto.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Tony Parker hit a jump shot at the buzzer to give the Spurs an 86-84 win over the Thunder in the season opener for both teams. Thunder star James Harden was noticeably quiet on the night, scoring zero points in limited action.
If you’re incautious enough to spend any period of time looking at online gambling forums, two things will probably occur. Firstly, your faith in humanity will quickly disappear, and secondly, you’ll be amazed by how gullible people can be. Any online claim of extraordinary betting prowess will immediately be met with the challenge “pics or it didn’t happen,” but if you add a photo of a betting slip, the natural skepticism of the Internet’s gamblers will disappear immediately. Have these people never heard of Photoshop? However, there’s one gambler who never needs to be prompted to post a photo of his winning bets, and his bankroll is so huge that there’s no reason to suspect foul play: I refer, of course, to boxing’s undefeated quintuple world champion, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather is famous for his enormous bets, largely because he’s been tirelessly promoting himself on Twitter as boxing’s answer to Nick the Greek. By my count, between August 2010 (when he began tweeting his slips) and February 2012, Mayweather tweeted photographs of 46 betting slips, totaling $3,890,833 worth of bets, and every single one of them was a winner, netting the fighter a cool $3,938,722 (and 87 cents) in winnings on those bets. Losing betting slips have been conspicuous by their absence. When asked about his losing slips, Floyd responded, “Why would I ever show a losing ticket when I’m 41-0.”
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Kevin Durant scored 22 points and Thabo Sefolosha nabbed six steals as the Thunder dealt the Spurs their first loss of the postseason, 102-82. "Tim's pretty upset at the weakening Euro, and the fact that the poor countries face default as resources flow to the EU's most prosperous countries," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich of star center Tim Duncan. "He feels like he can trace the ripple effect directly to our economy. In fact, he did. He traced it in a really complex flow chart on the locker room whiteboard. Pretty impressive, actually. But my point is, we lacked focus out there."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Kobe Bryant scored 48 points on 31 shots as the Lakers beat the Suns 99-83. "If I play bad or have one bad game like I did in Denver, everybody cries for a change or cries for the fact that I'm too old," Bryant said after the game. Reporters gently pointed out that the "bad game" against Denver had come in 1999, at which point Bryant looked frightened and repeatedly asked for Shaq.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday
Mariano Rivera now has the most saves of any closer in MLB history. Rivera collected his 602nd regular season save in a 6-4 win over the Twins, passing Trevor Hoffman on the all-time list. "The save is a way of life for me," said Rivera, who has previously saved a man's life, saved his newspaper clippings, saved the date, saved a soul, saved face, saved three dollars with a coupon for cake mix, saved his skin, saved his breath, and watched every episode of "Saved By the Bell." Twice.
The two most marketable boxers in the world are also the two best boxers in the world. If that were the end of the statement, it would mean that we’re living through a rare moment in boxing history. But that’s not the end of the statement. These two boxers, who are a tier above whoever is no. 3 at the box office and whoever is no. 3 on the pound-for-pound list, have one more thing in common: They compete in the same weight class. This is beyond rare. This is, arguably, unprecedented.
But there’s a problem: Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather aren’t fighting each other. Mayweather is taking on Victor Ortiz this Saturday night. In November, Pacquiao is set to face Juan Manuel Marquez for a third time. They’re both decent fights. Unfortunately, if our two protagonists win — and they’re expected to — it won’t make them any more likely to meet in ring.
And if the two best and most bankable boxers alive should somehow never face each other, it would be the greatest failure for the capitalistic boxing business.