Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao fight tomorrow night. And there are, like, 12 people who care.
Sure, tickets for the thing went like the latest iPod on Black Friday, reportedly selling out within hours of the time they went on sale. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer attributed this to “the overwhelming interest in this mega-event,” which is equal parts laughable and naïve. Of the 16,000 strong that will be setting up shop in the MGM Grand, only a handful will be immersed in the proceedings. Yeah, most of them probably threw down some bones on Manny Pac or Golden Boy. Yeah, most of them will cringe, cover their mouths, do the “Ooh, did you see that?!” thing when one of them lands an audible blow. But how many people actually, you know, know what’s going on in the ring nowadays? How many people actually study this stuff? How many people are going to be observing whether or not Oscar’s reach advantage is deciding the fight, Manny’s tenacity is getting into his elder opponent’s head, etc.?
Maybe it’s always been this way, but today’s major boxing events are chic. People in the stands at the Super Bowl take from the game the satisfaction that they were part of the ‘in crowd’ and little more. So will be the case Saturday night. The television cameras will pan around the arena and we’ll see things like six 30-something playboys clamoring to get in the same shot as Toby Maguire and Leo, Jamie Foxx rocking the smile and the shades, and who knows, maybe Carrot Top will even show up. Guys purchase the pay-per-view to be that cool dude on the block who can raise his hand when someone at work, the bar, the coffee shop, pilates asks, “So, who’s got the fight this weekend?” Townies drop their 20-spots at the doors of sports bars to receive their complimentary t-shirts and a seat at a converted billiards table to check out the action, buy overpriced beer and lukewarm appetizers, and have the knowledge that, “Yes, I am here, and I am cool.” Professional boxing: where hip happens.
But what’s worse is the notion that these fights—these fights being the “fights of the year” of recent times that predominantly feature weight classes from lightweight to middleweight—are somehow worthy of their hype. When the casual boxing fan thinks of boxing lore, he or she thinks of names like Louis, Marciano, Dempsey, Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holyfield, and Tyson. What do these names have in common? They were all heavyweights, and not just in the technical sense. These guys were larger than life, some using brute force, some using blinding speed and exceptional defense, some using combinations thereof. Their fights were of the exciting variety, fights that kept the viewer on the edge of the seat cushion. I recall watching the De La Hoya/Mayweather fight with 50+ other people; most, if not all, were peeved at the fact that Floyd was a wicked smart fighter and a master tactician. Oscar landed a few decent blows, but nothing mind-boggling. Everyone felt they were left empty-handed. What else did they expect?
There’s no aura to this stuff, either; not the levels of anticipation, excitement, and thrill befitting a fight of alleged greatness. Back in the day, the trash talk got us talking. Now, the trash talk gives no impulse, other than to think our current generation of fighters are populated with nothing but watered down copies of a copy of a copy, ad infinitum. Yeah, the HBO 24/7 shows leading up to the fights (whether it was/is Floyd/Oscar, Floyd/Hatton, or tomorrow’s) are kind of cool. Then again, so was Survivor once upon a time. This so-called Saturday “Dream Match” isn’t even a title bout—it may as well be a glorified exhibition along the lines of Balboa vs. Tarver, err, “The Line”. It will determine nothing, other than to show the world that, yes, Oscar De La Hoya is still capable of moving up and down weight classes to make his millions. Are we really so desperate that each great bout contested in the 21st century has to be waged between a couple of guys who have to cut ten or gain ten to make weight? Do we really have to finger pick lightweights, featherweights, and middleweights to play out these fantasy matchups? Is boxing really this thin?
Perhaps it is. But then again, I don’t care. Saturday, December 6, 2008 is the night of the Big 12 Championship game. I’m more interested in that particular fight. I think a majority of sports fans are with me.