By Jason Keidel
There’s a fight on May 2, in case you haven’t heard. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are squaring off in the squared circle in Las Vegas.
Beyond the Captain Obvious analysis, there are endless layers to this fight. Not just the styles of the fighters, their celebrity or their wares as boxers.
Since I work for The Eye, I can’t comment on HBO’s laborious approach to the bout. But CBS is throwing more cash and cache at this fight than any event you’ll ever experience. Picture the Super Bowl on steroids. (Okay, bad analogy.)
A Super Bowl has two weeks to bogart the bold ink. And the first week is more about the prior game than the next game. Only in the six-day, Super Bowl prologue is the media singularly obsessed with the Lombardi Trophy.
We now have two months to analyze and proselytize, to muse profoundly over perhaps the last royal match in the sport of kings, that last great princes of boxing finally stepping into the same ring at the same time.
Haters will assert that this fight arrives five years too late. In a strict, sweet science sense, there’s some merit to that. But we are increasingly enveloped by the blinding waves of promotion. We are part of a hyperbolic, advertising machine that is rolling across the country.
The fight is so naturally radiant that the two participants eschewed the obligatory, cross-country, promotional tour. Normally the combatants stroll up the flank of a freshly-fueled LearJet, wave goodbye to their minions, then hopscotch the nation, from New York to Nashville to Los Angeles, scowling at each other from some improvised stage. Turns out the five-year wait was a de facto publicist.
That’s not to say this isn’t a potentially great fight between great fighters. We won’t know until May 3 if we witnessed magic in the ring. But there’s no doubt the bout is a home run already in terms of excitement and anticipation. Renowned boxing analyst Al Bernstein told my colleague, Lyle Fitzsimmons, that the fight has more buzz now than it would have years ago. He’s right.
Why? Many reasons. First, there’s more of a dearth of decent talent now than there was in 2010. Five years ago, we still lived off the fumes of the recently retired, bejeweled generation – Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr, Oscar De La Hoya, and Felix Trinidad.
And there’s Bernard Hopkins, who stuck around long enough for us to finally appreciate him. If you were lucky enough to inhale the thick air at Madison Square Garden in 2001, you watched a master at work.
The bout was postponed two weeks because Satan chartered two planes and crashed them into two buildings. My press pass read September 15, 2001. But we actually entered the Garden on September 29.
It was hard, of course, to focus on a fight while the embers still churned a few blocks south, incredibly brave men grunting and grabbing steel beams, toiling in the rubble of the most horrific graveyard in American history.
That fight, like the Yankees later that year, in their scintillating World Series against Arizona, sports morphed into a public tonic. Even non-sports fans clung to Mike Piazza’s homer the first game back, to the Joe Torre Yanks, and to boxing. Alcohol consumption mushroomed into unprecedented numbers during the fall of 2001, as did our sports intake. We grew a shared palate of sympathy, empathy, and consolation.
And Hopkins made the scene all more surreal. The largely Puerto Rican crowd came frothing for their hero, Trinidad, who had not lost a fight, and had largely vaporized his opponents leading up to B-Hop. The boom boxes blared, they banged their cowbells, like an ad hoc ethnic parade. It was beautiful, in a New York sense, the flavor of the five boroughs condensed into a robust and romantic crowd of 20,000.
Then Hopkins left us stunned, the cowbells silenced, the salsa music muted, Puerto Rican flags solemnly folded.
I was writing for Trinidad’s personal Web site. So while I didn’t lose nearly as much as he did, I felt my fledgeling career twirling down the toilet before it began.
Why does this matter? Because boxing was once an epic sport, not that long ago. Say what you will about the sweet science – most of it justified – but no sport drains the adrenal gland the way Fight Night used to. And it will at least one more night.
There’s something about boxing that trumps team sports. Maybe we love the idea of combat from the safe proximity of ringside or the bedroom. Maybe we remember when the best athletes gave boxing a serious look. Maybe we realize that if the right kid watches this fight he could be the next boxing luminary.
Boxing needs nostalgia and nightly relevance. Much the way baseball trades on its history while putting Mike Trout on TV, boxing has to develop a similar, two-tiered approach to this fight.
Maybe young athletes will be impressed by the new metrics – PPV buys and gate receipts and copyrighted clothing. Assuming the cable gods reach their number of 3 million homes and stuffed arena, we’re talking over $300 million off the top. And a most handsome payday for the two fighters. Mayweather will make approximately $120 million, while Pacquiao will bag about $80 million. For one night’s work.
Boxing will survive this fight, will still have its army of ardent followers. But if its to capture its magic for more than 12 rounds, it needs Mayweather and Pacquiao to summon the ghosts, so that we can talk just about the present as much as the past.
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.