The MGM Grand Hotel was stuffed to the gills with celebrities, the HBO pay-per-view help line was inundated with angry customers, and the eyes of the world—or at least those that could find a way to watch—turned to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. The seemingly inevitable bout was billed as “the fight of the century.” For years, boxing fans salivated over a possible Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and looking back, it’s hard to see why. The overwhelming reaction to the fight was one of disappointment: “How did we wait five years for this fight to materialize and then watch Floyd and Pacquiao dance round for 12 rounds?” was the general sentiment among the group assembled in the cramped dorm room where I watched.
The fight certainly does not bode well for the future of boxing. In the first major televised boxing event of the past five years, Mayweather and Pacquiao failed to produce a compelling fight. I believe the reaction among casual sports fans and the American public to this fight can be explained by the American love affair with brutality. Furthermore, the widespread disappointment with the fight has uncovered some fatal flaws for the sport of boxing.
To begin, one of the biggest complaints that I heard following the fight was that the boxers looked relatively unscathed following the fight. In a show of sportsmanship and camaraderie the two fighters even embraced after leaving the ring. The look shared between the two men said something along the lines of: “Congratulations on just making over $100 million in 30 minutes bud, glad we could make it happen. See you next year?”
This is not the way that Americans like to see their sports heroes after a competition. We thirst for a definitive winner and loser, the bloody and bruised stumbling out of the ring. This can probably be owed to a healthy diet of Rocky Balboa for the average American male. It seemed like it took at most 10 seconds for Rocky to be on the edge of consciousness dripping his crimson soul onto the ring. We do not deal in nuance as sports fans. Who gives damn if Mayweather was “masterful”? We want to see a champion who has raw power or some incredible technical finesse which they use to destroy their opponent.
After winning the fight Floyd Mayweather is positioned as the best boxer in the world and this could not be more detrimental for the sport. Mayweather is not America’s champion. How could America, a country obsessed with aggression and violence, support a man that won “the fight of the century” by using his masterful defensive tactics. The rules of boxing as they exist today, reward Mayweather’s tactic of clinching, or grabbing onto Pacquiao during the fight.
Boxing has developed in the past 40 years to reward defensive fighters for avoiding opponent’s punches and fighting not to lose, rather than looking for a knockout. Many viewers pointed to Mayweather’s tactics as the classic “rope-a-dope” idea utilized by Muhammad Ali against George Foreman in the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle.” However, one key difference exists: Mayweather had no intention of tiring out Pacquiao and then fighting for a knockout. Mayweather, the deft tactician he is, knew that all he had to do was play defense for the course of the fight and he would be awarded a decision after 12 rounds.
If WBO officials do not change how boxing is scored, they risk losing the American sports fan. We thirst for blood, brutality, and violence. We are not getting our healthy dose of these elements from boxing because the system encourages boxers to hide behind their gloves and dart around the ring, avoiding their opponent. Renowned boxer and commentator Evander Holyfield published an article through the Player’s Tribune on Wednesday, May 6 calling for the re-imagining of boxing. Specifically, Holyfield advocated for a wholesale overhaul of the WBO’s judging paradigms.
If significant changes to the judging and scoring of bouts do not occur, boxing will not be consumed in America in 5-10 years time. By rewarding landed punches and aggressiveness in the ring, the WBO can create a more brutal and satisfying experience for the average viewer. Our animalistic desire for savagery was not fulfilled when Mayweather and Pacquiao walked out of the ring, and as a result, American sports fans will continue to walk away from the sport.
The future doesn’t have to be bleak for boxing. American sports have always had the ability to adapt and make rules changes in order to appeal to fanbases. Baseball is working on speeding up its game. The NBA is looking into realigning or doing away with the concept of conferences. The point is, change is possible and the WBO must embrace the messages of change so obviously being expressed by boxing fans.
However cruel it may be, people want to see a more aggressive type of fighting. If judges stop awarding decisions to defensive fighters, the style will certainly change. Perhaps, if the style changes, boxing can step back out onto center stage in the American sports landscape. As Evander Holyfield said in his May 6 article: “If fighters know they’ll get points for being aggressive, believe me, guys are going to fight.”