By Jason Keidel
In case you’ve been comatose the last week, a boxing match was announced last Friday.
The tectonic bout, pitting Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao – or at least the possibility of it – has been the San Andreas Fault of the sweet science. It has felt like the entire sport has hung on every whisper of the negotiations, with almost any other big fight pivoting off what Manny and Mayweather decide.
But now it has mutated from an ideal to a deal.
So… what does it mean?
Everything about this fight, from the fighters themselves to the peripheral players – fans, casinos, Las Vegas, cable networks, promoters, yes-men, luxury cars, rappers, and rap sheets – has the trembling energy of an epic event.
The financial ripples are wide, lapping up on all shores of commerce. A normal Mayweather bout – and nothing about this one is normal – squirts about $100 million into the local economy. Double that number for this fight.
Then you have the hotels that can charge $300 for the very room that cost $70 the week before. The minions, sycophants, and scavengers will be in full flower the week leading up to the fight. Men up all night, and ladies of the night awaiting them, drunk and loose with their wallets. All the watered-down Scotch and Bourbon flowing through the veins of tourists. Vegas will morph into Mardi Gras for a week.
And if any town knows how to throw a party, it’s Vegas. Even the more sterilized, soccer mom theme park we now call Sin City can throw the switch on a boxing match like no other town. Put the kids to bed, stroll down to the high carpets of the casino, spread your fresh bills across the green felt of the blackjack table, and enter the ephemeral portal of fantasy. For one night you’re a high roller, imbued with $500, fresh cologne, and a slick, sleek card you hand to the pit boss, imbues you with aristocratic status.
He thanks you. takes your money, and doesn’t give it back. But that’s no matter. It’s the illusion of unlimited riches that draws you to Vegas, and the reality that the house always wins is what catapults you back to your eastern enclave.
Then there’s the fight itself. What does it mean? Talking heads insist that boxing prospered long before Manny/Mayweather and will do so long after both men are in repose. So, essentially, boxing does not need this fight.
Nonsense. That’s like saying the NFL doesn’t need the Super Bowl. Football is infinitely healthier than boxing, yet it still needs its monolithic event, a way of putting an ornate bow on the long season.
Likewise, baseball and basketball need playoffs and universally respected champions. Even in ardently solitary affairs, like tennis, need a Roger, Rafa, of Serena. Star power fuels any and every sport.
So let’s discard the nonsense that this is just another fight, or that it doesn’t feed a starving sport. There’s been a slow drip on boxing’s soul for a decade. Once the icons began to decay, and we lost crossover stars with singular handles – Iron Mike, Golden Boy, Sweet Pea, and The Executioner – boxing became a niche sport that tapped way more into nostalgia than potential.
So let’s celebrate this. There are exactly two boxers on earth who are also A-List celebrities. And they are now fighting each other. The ancient boxing template of the best fighting the best is what made the sweet science so gripping for so long. And it wasn’t that long ago when boxing had a conga line of luminaries clashing on canvas.
Leonard. Hagler. Hearns. Duran. Just four stars plucked from one era, all Hall of Famers who also all fought each other.
Ali. Frazier. Foreman. Norton. Except for Norton and Frazier, all four fought each other. No matter the sport, the algorithm for funneling fans to your sport never changes.
Roy Jones Jr. Bernard Hopkins. Oscar De La Hoya. Felix Trinidad. An iconic quartet that even millennials remember. So it’s not like we need a time portal to appreciate contemporary boxing. Pretty recently, these aforementioned four bogarted the bold ink and compelled you to jam the PPV button.
No need to be so macabre and assert that this is the last big fight in big-time boxing. But there’s no reason to bend the other end and say the sport can do without Manny/Mayweather.
We need this. Yes. We. I speak in the collective because those of us, those of you, who gave pugilism a pulse deserve this bout.
Maybe it’s just one night, a gala for a grumpy old game that flowered long before social media and has since been usurped by MMA, poached of its talent pool by team sports. Maybe.
But what other sport can generate nearly half a billion bucks in one night? No matter how fleeting, boxing can still deliver that splash of action, adrenaline, and anarchy. Boxing still lives behind a mysterious cloak. It’s the only sport where a crazy man can parachute into the ring, three judges can miss an entire fight and give the wrong man the victory. It’s the only sport that can be controlled by Frankie Carbo and Don King and still endure.
It’s the one sport that perfectly blends character and characters. Just watch the red carpet leading up to this bout. For one night, Las Vegas will be the most important city on earth, and boxing will be its most important sport.
An old school sport and old school city are crashing the new school sensibilities – one big, boxing steak dropped into a vegan sports world. Hard not to smile.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.