May 11, 2007

Boxing missed a “Golden” opportunity

Floyd-Oscar fails to deliver to targeted mainstream audience

By Mike Indri
Retired Boxers Foundation

When all the HBO Pay-Per-View numbers are officially announced, this past Saturday night’s fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather will further confirm the fact that boxing is not dead; or at least not the business of boxing.

It’s the sport of boxing which has been squeezed off practically all the sports pages of daily circulated newspapers, very rarely gets any mainstream sports news or magazine coverage (Sports Illustrated, ESPN Magazine, etc…) and currently is getting put into a sleeper hold by WWE Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Golden Boy Promotions claims to have spent close to 50 million dollars promoting this mega-bout, and HBO did it’s job with producing “De La Hoya/Mayweather 24/7”, a four part series shown repeatedly on the cable network, building up the crescendo to mass hysteria right before the big event. The fight was even billed by many as “the fight to save boxing”!

Any fight would have had virtually no chance of living up to all the hype that this event had drummed up.

From a boxing standpoint it was not a bad fight. It was a strategic clash between two highly skilled and brilliantly prepared ultimate professional fighters.

Floyd Mayweather solidified his claim as boxing’s premier fighter. A defensive master and blessed with unequalled hand speed, it was quickly apparent that De La Hoya was over matched. No discredit to De La Hoya, it’s just that Mayweather is that special fighter that only comes along every generation or so…Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather.

Defending his World Boxing Council 154-pound title, De La Hoya showed his championship heart and tried to make a battle of it, which would have been to the bigger and stronger Mexican fighter’s advantage. Mayweather was content to sting De La Hoya, 34, with counterpunches or simply block and slip most punches; thwarting any chance of an offensive attack.

According to Compu Box numbers De La Hoya was the busier fighter, throwing 587 punches, to Mayweather’s 481. The problem was that De La Hoya was only able to connect with 122 shots against the slick and elusive, Mayweather, who in turn landed 207 of his pinpoint shots. Mayweather also landed more power punches than De La Hoya, 138-82.

De La Hoya was able to make it a competitive fight for the early going, quite similar to Zab Judah’s effort in the beginning of his unanimous decision loss to Mayweather last year. Once Mayweather followed his fight plan to simply box, and out box, his opponent, it was a rather mundane performance from that point on, especially after De La Hoya all but abandoned his jab from the eighth round on.

Not an exciting fight, but a very compelling match up. This was known from the fight’s inception.

Boo’s rang throughout the sold out MGM Grand Arena, 16 thousand plus fans, most rooting for De La Hoya, as the judges announced Mayweather the winner by split decision.

New Jersey’s own Tom Kaczmarek, well respected and revered, apparently was listening to Jim Lampley rather than watching the action and scored the bout 115-113 for De La Hoya, while Jerry Roth 115-113 and Chuck Giampa 116-112 saw it for Mayweather. Still a bit closer than the fight appeared.

While De La Hoya slipped to 38-5 (30 KO’s) with the defeat, Mayweather proved he was more “Pretty Boy”, rather than “Flamboyant Floyd”, as he managed to come away unscathed with the win, still perfect at 38-0 (24 KO’s), yet could not provide that command performance on boxing’s biggest stage

The problem with “the fight to save boxing” wasn’t De La Hoya, or Mayweather; they came and did what they had to do. Both made tons of money, as did Golden Boy Promotions.

The problem is that there never was any attempt to “save” boxing. The business of boxing needs to be saved from itself - multi-millions of dollars, billions of dollars are made in the boxing business, yet no one seems compelled to do any thing about the “sport”.

Here was the supreme opportunity to showcase boxing to hundreds of thousands of casual boxing fans, or non-boxing fans, who were sold on the promotion and were tuning in to see the guaranteed “boxing event of the decade”.

Even if for whatever reason you feel you must increase the PPV price, why not introduce some young, hungry talent to the mainstream audience and allow growth within boxing, at $54.95 a pop.

Some action packed undercard fights would have served boxing well.

The Rey Bautista-Sergio Medina WBO Super Bantamweight title eliminator bout was hard fought, and both fighters did have their moments and send each other to the canvas with knockdowns, but Bautista ran away with the “no doubt” unanimous decision victory.

Rocky Juarez’s win over a game Jose Hernandez was a listless effort, which lulled the capacity crowd prior to the main event. A very disappointing televised undercard portion, which Golden Boy Promotions should have been ashamed of putting their name on.

Boxing has me; I’m addicted to it.

I have the utmost respect for the sacrifice the fighters make, physically and mentally, to survive and thrive in the toughest, cruelest and most demanding profession. For the fighters, boxing is not a sport; it’s a dangerous and uncaring business.

For the majority of the people within boxing, the drive is the love of the sport - because there is no money. 5% of the people in boxing are making 95% of the money.

Yet, the Don Kings and Bob Arums also need to be commended and admired for their business wisdom and savvy, which allows them to retain control and prosper in the infested waters.

While boxing does have me, and many like me, Boxing does not have the casual fan, the mainstream sports fan. In today’s era of the ESPN highlights and the SportsCenter “play of the day”, fans want the up to the minute score, the walk off home run and the fight-ending knockout.

There’s no time to appreciate the beauty of the skilled boxer slipping and jabbing his way to victory and there’s no time to admire a masterful pitching duel - that’s the reason for the skyrocketing popularity of MMA and UFC. Total non-stop action and no leaving it to the interpretation of judges.

The people that profited the most from it could have better served boxing Saturday night, and now the talk is about a Mayweather-De La Hoya rematch. While it was not even the most exciting fight this year, let alone the decade, I will be watching it - that’s for sure.

The real question is, how many that paid Saturday night will watch it?

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