How Pacquiao Versus Mayweather Changes the Face of Boxing
Issue   |   Wed, 02/25/2015 - 01:02

This past week, boxing fans were delighted to hear the news that Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao had finally agreed to terms for a fight in May. This ends the almost six-year period that fans have waited for a fight between two of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of all time. According to Pacquiao and Mayweather, a chance meeting at a Miami Heat game was a key factor in reopening the negotiations. In the past, disputes concerning revenue split and drug testing were the biggest obstacles in the way of one of the most-anticipated fights of the modern era. This fight is coming at a key point for the sport of boxing. For years viewership of the sport has been on the decline — perhaps this can be the spark it needs?

Boxing is a sport in which one big name is usually required to ignite interest. From Jack Dempsey to Joe Louis to Sugar Robinson to Muhammad Ali, almost every generation has had a defining boxer. Today, while we don’t have a generation-defining heavyweight, we do have two excellent boxers in the lower weight classes. The so-called rivalry between Pacquiao and Mayweather has constituted a large amount of the hype surrounding boxing these days. Unfortunately, the heyday of boxing ended around the turn of the 21st century. While the sport will always have its viewers, its popularity among those in the younger generation has greatly suffered. Instead of growing up watching boxing with their fathers, children these days watch other sports, such as basketball and baseball. Without these two boxers, there is no question that boxing would have been even less popular among the mainstream audience. Unfortunately, these boxers are no longer in the peak condition they were six years ago. Mayweather is about to turn 38, and Pacquiao is 36. If this fight had taken place six years ago, each boxer would still have been in his prime. Nevertheless, everybody expects this match to shatter every pay-per-view record. Mayweather, the highest paid athlete of 2014, is expected to take home around $120 million from this fight alone. Pacquiao, on the other hand, will receive around $80 million, as a result of the 60-40 split the two fighters have agreed upon.

The question is, does boxing have a place in this modern world? As science advances and elucidates the relationship between contact sports and neurodegenerative diseases, one can only expect that these sports will come under even more extensive scrutiny. If football, which usually doesn’t involve direct blows to the head, has been restricted as of late, one can only imagine what will happen to boxing. Considering professional boxers wear no protective headgear, they are almost certainly at a greater risk for degenerative disease than are football players. A fitting but unfortunate example of how boxing can affect the brain can be found in Muhammad Ali. Because of his use of the rope-a-dope technique, Ali was frequently pummeled by his opponents in the ring before using their fatigue to his advantage. These days, Ali is afflicted with a crippling case of Parkinson’s syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease frequently associated with a history of head trauma. Seeing someone like Ali, who used to be in peak physical shape, struggle to walk speaks to the severity of diseases such as Parkinson’s. I think that as the relationship between head trauma and neurodegenerative diseases becomes even more clear, sports such as boxing will eventually fade into obscurity.

Besides the potentially permanent brain injuries that can result from boxing, the sport is also dying because of its lack of coverage. While fights in the past would frequently be broadcast on network television, these days one would be hard-pressed to find a single fight on regular channels. Because all of the “big” fights these days, meaning those including Mayweather or Pacquiao are pay-per-view, the sport has a lot of trouble attracting new fans. Nobody unfamiliar with boxing would pay 70 dollars just to see a fight. In addition to this lack of coverage by cable companies, newspapers and radio also largely ignore boxing. What used to be a great American sport is now in shambles.

Another reason for boxing’s quick decline is the rise of other combat sports, such as mixed martial arts (MMA). MMA is similar to boxing, except competitors may grapple and throw opponents onto the ground. It is less traditional than boxing and has found a greater following among those of younger generations. The fact that this sport is thriving while boxing is declining suggests that the contact aspect of boxing is not the reason for its reduced popularity. I think that the popularity of MMA is, instead, a result of the different fighting styles in the two sports. Boxing is very traditional, in that opponents stay standing and throw only punches throughout the match. MMA, on the other hand, is dynamic. Each different fighter combines multiple different martial arts into his style, and thus there is also a lot of variety among the competitors. In addition, because of the fewer rules in MMA, many find the fights themselves to be more exciting.

A final reason for boxing’s quick decline is its association with drug use and corruption. While many boxers are randomly urine-tested for performance enhancing drugs, some, including Pacquiao, do not submit to blood tests. It is well known that some drugs can only be found through testing blood, but as of now, there are no regulations that force boxers to get their blood tested. Only time will tell if such regulations are imposed. In addition, boxing has always been associated with corruption. After the 12 rounds of Bradley, Jr. vs. Pacquiao, everybody assumed that Pacquiao had won. Instead two judges awarded Bradley, Jr. a 115-113 victory. Because the same promoter, Top Rank, represents both fighters, many suspect that this result was part of a plan to make more money off the rematch. While there is no proof either way, this incident definitely hurt boxing’s already reeling reputation.

While fans of boxing may be thrilled about the upcoming fight, it unfortunately also has negative consequences. Once Mayweather and Pacquiao fight each other, what’s next?

They’re both already nearing the end of their careers, and the fight between them would probably serve as a climax of sorts of each of their careers. As there does not seem to be an obvious predecessor to these two greats, how will boxing ever return to its glory days? Unfortunately, it does not seem very likely that this return will happen. There is and has been a serious lack of domestic heavyweight contenders. It is hard for a sport to become popular in a country that doesn’t produce any of the best competitors. A sport that is similar to boxing in this respect is soccer. While soccer is the most popular sport in the world, it has entirely failed to catch on in the United States. Unfortunately, the United States has traditionally been the epicenter of boxing, and so without the support of Americans, the sport will most likely disappear.