Boxing and I have had a tough year.
Aside from the several month dead zone created by the pandemic, the horrific state of the country has been, well, distracting.
But that’s only part of it. My other issue with the sport has nothing to do with the chaotic world around us, it has to do with the sport itself. For years now, I’ve made excuses for loving this bloodsport.
They go something like this:
1) Those are grown men and women and they know what they are getting into.
2) It’s not just violence, on the best nights, boxing has true beauty and grace.
And, when those aren’t convincing, I pull out the hammer. Which is number 3: Boxing produced the most important athlete in the history of sport—any sport—Muhammad Ali.
All of these things are true. There’s a fourth thing that I don’t often refer to though. And that’s the fact that I just like it. I love the drama, the grit, the ability to live vicariously through the sweat and blood of others. That’s the simple truth and it’s probably bigger than the other three arguments—however well made they are.
As I mentioned earlier, this awful year has knocked me off my axis and with that discombobulation, my attention to boxing has waned. But if I’m being honest, it’s not just the miseries of 2020 that have left me adrift when it comes to the sport I’ve loved since I was six years old.
Again, it’s the sport itself.
Being a fan of boxing has always been a frustrating experience. There are more belts, more shady promoters, more bad actors, and more malfeasance than one can shake a fist at. It is absolutely maddening how hard it is to see a decent match up between good fighters with competent judges.
Hell, due to the persistence of pay-per-view and subscription services, it’s hard to even see a boxing match without shelling out significant dollars. And if you do that, you have to be willing to accept a lot of nights of garbage fights.
This year, it has gotten worse due to a new level of nonsense: the exhibition fight.
I’m speaking primarily of Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr., and Manny Pacquiao vs. Conor McGregor.
Jones vs. Tyson is a flat out joke. An old dog and old pony show between two guys who have nothing left but name recognition.
Mike Tyson ended his career over fifteen years ago after quitting on his stool against a tin can named Kevin McBride. Before that, he had lost his previous bout by KO to someone named Danny Williams, who BoxRec tells me ended his career with 29 losses, 16 by KO.
Mike Tyson is now 54 years old.
Jones may be younger, but his decision to re-enter the ring is probably even more dubious. Aside from the fact that Jones (unlike Tyson) is no natural heavyweight, he is the fighter who will most likely be at greater risk.
I’ve been thinking Jones should leave the sport ever since Glen Johnson made him seize in the ring for what seemed like a horrifying length of time 16 years ago.
But Jones kept fighting and kept getting knocked out (the last time by journeyman Enzo Maccarinelli five years ago). After getting KO’d by Maccarinelli, Jones fought (and won) four more meaningless bouts against guys you’ve already forgotten. Jones is now 51 years old, and if the hype is to be believed (always a risky consideration), these guys don’t plan on pulling their punches. Meaning someone—likely Jones—is going to be at great risk of getting their egg scrambled.
(Click here and see what Jones said about fighting on back in 2017.)
But let’s say they do take it easy on each other? What of that? Do we really want to watch two quinquagenarians wander around the ring while we sit at home watching (after paying $49.99 for the “privilege”) and thinking to ourselves, “man, once upon a time these guys were really something.”
What are we even doing? Is nostalgia worth that?
And then there’s the matter of Pacquiao vs. the biggest, ugliest mouth my ancestral country of Ireland has ever produced, Conor McGregor.
Let me quickly get out of the way the one nice thing about this fight—according to Manny, a portion of the proceeds will go to aid people suffering from COVID-19–all well and good. But as a boxing matter, who the hell needs this fight?
To be specific, what has Conor McGregor done to deserve to be in a boxing ring against an all time great like Manny Pacquiao? Three years ago he got carried into the tenth round by the (always) defense-first Floyd Mayweather Jr. only to get completely gassed, unable to lift his arms, under what can only be called a mild assault by the Money Man.
I’m not even sure I’m asking the right question. It’s not just what did McGregor do to deserve a fight against Pacquiao, it’s what the hell did he do to deserve a fight against Floyd?
McGregor has no relevant experience in boxing. Sure, in MMA there is striking. There is also kicking, and choking, and quite often the fights end up being nothing more than two guys hugging up against a fence (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Is MMA fighting? Absolutely. Is it boxing?
So, here we are again having to listen to McGregor’s incendiary, puffed-up bloviating about the greatness of self while he’s getting ready to enter into a space he has no right or qualifications to step foot in.
And why is this happening?
For the same reason Tyson vs. Jones is happening: name recognition and money.
What we are seeing now is the equivalent of Michael Phelps swimming against a virtual shark…
..or Jesse Owens racing a horse (to be fair to Jesse, after striking down the Nazis at the ‘36 Olympics, he came home to a racist country that wouldn’t let him make a decent living—in other words, he ran against the equine because he needed the money).
Am I overstating the ridiculousness of Tyson vs. Jones and Pacquiao vs. McGregor by comparing them to two athletes who faced off against animals? Maybe, but I think only just. Because these two bouts are no more relevant than the contests Phelps and Owens took part in.
They are stunts. Freak shows. Something for the highway rubberneckers to glance at and tell their buddies about later over a Bud Light.
Is this what boxing needs? It’s already a fringe sport due to lack of casual fan access and the way the alphabet soup of governing bodies manage their respective organizations. Do we need to crossover into WWE territory? Is it necessary to make the portion of Rocky III where Rock takes on “Thunderlips” aka Hulk Hogan look like a documentary?
How am I supposed to take the sport seriously if it doesn’t take itself seriously? And yes, I suppose after reading this, some will think me the skunk at the party.
That’s fine. If this is what you want, if this is your world, well, welcome to it. I’ll spend those two evenings undertaking more worthwhile pursuits—like addressing my ear hair and clearing out my navel lint.
But if a year from now you see an announcement that Tyson Fury is going to wrestle a bear, don’t say I didn’t warn you.