By Jason Keidel
The mind games have begun, the semantic subterfuge and machismo that has become a boxing tableau.
First it was Floyd Mayweather, Jr. poaching all potential sparring partners from Manny Pacquiao, so that he could not be properly trained for the pound-for-pound czar.
Then it was Team Pacquiao who shoved $5 million onto the table, begging Mayweather to match it and make a wager that the fighter who fails a drug test forfeits their stack of cash.
Then Freddy Roach, the esteemed trainer, who sauntered up to the dais at the Nokia Theater and said his man Pac Man, would kick Mayweather’s behind.
There’s the dual broadcast from dueling cable entities. A simple fight between two fighters has mushroomed into a referendum on an entire sport and its periphery, staring contests between industry titans.
Pacquiao vs. Mayweather
Bernstein vs. Kellerman
Roach vs. Mayweather, Sr.
Lampley vs. Kenney
Top Rank vs. Mayweather Promotions
HBO vs. Showtime
Call it the publicity undercard. There are more showdowns here than you’ll see in a Spaghetti Western.
CBSSports.com even is working on a March Madness facsimile, pitting Mayweather and Pacquiao against the best non-heavyweights in history. Brackets always seem to touch the right male nerve.
This is the requisite buzz and bravado for a fight of this heft. We can’t even decide if this is the final flagship fight or a portal into a new era of boxing. Those of us who have been devotees of the sweet science since the 1970s hope the latter is true, of course.
But one common assertion, mostly among Millennials, is hogwash – boxing is dead. How can a dead sport generate close to a half-billion bucks? In one night? Name some cage match that guarantees both combatants a combined $200 million. Name a UFC marquee that does a $74 million gate.
Ronda Rousey – the first name to twirl around the rumor mill as the only celebrity to get a free ticket for Mayweather-Pacquiao – was paid a whopping 130-grand for a fight this year (before her PPV cut). She’s reportedly due to make her first million-dollar payday soon, which Floyd Mayweather makes in literally less than one minute of boxing.
Nothing against Rousey or MMA or any constellation of consonants that make up other sports, but the idea of Fight Night is a boxing domain. You don’t close the lid on Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson simply because you aren’t old enough to remember them.
The past matters. All sports trade on their historical prerogatives. It taps your nostalgic bone, and hence you project your salad days on the present. The haters insist this fight is five years too late. While it would have presented both fighters in their relative prime, it would not have yielded this kind of cash or cachet.
And the boxing is doomed cliche just doesn’t compute. Try getting a ticket, hotel room in Las Vegas the first weekend of May. Try booking a flight. Try finding an event that is so nuclear that it doesn’t need advertisement or promotion.
I have yet to see a commercial, billboard, or print ad for the fight. Maybe there are some or will be some soon. But there’s so much organic excitement that the fight is literally selling itself, each of us a de facto publicist for that singular Saturday night.
Maybe the sport is on life support. But don’t try pulling the plug before May 2. Before you know boxing’s prognosis.
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.