“Well, that happened.”
That was my friend’s reaction to ‘the biggest fight in boxing history.’ The statement, made moments after the final bell, unintentionally but very concisely reflected a collective sigh of deep disappointment from the boxing world.
Mayweather vs Pacquiao, after six long years of hype and preamble, was over. To say that the long-awaited showdown had not delivered would be an understatement of epic proportions. It was so bad it would be almost misleading to call it a fight.
Sure, both guys wore eight ounce gloves and flung punches at one another, but the shots were curiously devoid of bad intentions, and neither combatant seemed willing to lay it all on the line, to grasp for the kind of mythic glory that had been promised to the victor. What we got instead was 12 rounds of high-class fencing, a lulling contest devoid of sustained action. After the final bell it was easy to tell who had won, but it was just as easy to identify the losers: us.
There was a bitter aftertaste to it all, a perception that fans had been duped, unfortunate victims of a clever bait-and-switch manoeuvre manufactured by a cadre of slimy snake oil salesmen. This sense of grievance was perhaps best summed up by Hamilton Nolan in his article “The Triumph of the Hype.” Or by Rafael Garcia in his aptly titled screed “We Waited Five Long Years For That?” One felt shamefaced at having anticipated a remotely memorable spectacle.
Of course, with a little foresight we could have predicted such a non-event: Floyd Mayweather fights are very rarely heralded for their entertainment value. And there was, for many, the sense that Pacquiao, for all his preternatural gifts, would run into the same insuperable difficulties as past Mayweather opponents. And so it proved.
One year on, and Messrs Mayweather and Pacquiao are winding down their careers, their pockets still jangling with the loot they earned from their lucrative mega-fight. While Mayweather supposedly said goodbye with a pointless victory over Andre Berto last September, Pacquiao’s apparent swansong was an impressive defeat of Timothy Bradley in their April trilogy fight. The fact that Floyd has all but officially announced a return and that virtually no one believes we have seen the last of Manny is beside the point. Added together, the two “farewell” bouts sold just shy of one million pay-per-views, 3.4 million fewer than their record-breaking May 2 face-off.
Before the fight, I predicted boxing would “experience a fallow period” after #MayPac and if the pair’s farewell fights were any indication, I have been proven correct. That said, has the boxing landscape changed in any major way in the 12 months since Mayweather-Pacquiao? Did the bout’s anticlimactic nature seriously damage the sport? And is there any hope of the pay-per-view record being broken in the near future?
While the paying public punished Floyd and Manny by snubbing their sayonara fights, there are no obvious signs the game has suffered lasting impairment. You need only look at the success of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez for evidence of boxing’s rude health. November’s middleweight title fight, which was itself something of a letdown in the action stakes, though not on the same scale as #MayPac, generated 900,000 buys, clocking up $58 million in domestic revenue.
Gennady Golovkin, currently plotting a course for Alvarez’s WBC strap, appears on his way to becoming one of the sport’s biggest attractions. The Kazakh powerhouse gives great value every time out, and is amassing fans while cutting a merciless swathe through the middleweight division. Triple G made his PPV debut last October, with his characteristic beatdown of IBF champ David Lemieux drawing 150,000 viewers. That figure is microscopic compared to #MayPac, but it’s not bad for a PPV debut.
Golovkin’s most recent outing, a two-round mauling of forlorn challenger Dominic Wade, drew well over a million viewers on regular HBO. If he and Alvarez agree to square off in the fall, the viewership will be enormous. The fight could well crack the all-time top ten list, though it’d have to hit around 1.4 million buys to do so.
Aside from Golovkin vs Canelo, there are several fights in the pipeline which could intensify the glare of the spotlight on boxing. Unbeaten super-middleweight king Andre Ward recently made his light-heavyweight debut and is on a collision course with fearsome divisional ruler Sergey Kovalev. The showdown between two seemingly unconquerable foes is certainly one to get excited about.
There are other big talents making waves in the lower weight classes. Talented junior welterweight Terence Crawford makes his first foray into the PPV market in July, putting his WBO bauble up against gritty WBC titlist Viktor Postol. While a relatively low buy rate is expected, an impressive showing by the winner would go some way towards cementing his star status.
In Britain, the latest cash cow is 2012 Olympic gold medallist Anthony Joshua. His December 12 grudge match with Dillian Whyte was reputedly purchased by roughly 400,000 homes and word is his recent IBF title tilt with Charles Martin hit 600,000. Provided Tyson Fury beats Wladimir Klitschko in their July rematch, and if Joshua manages what should be a straightforward assignment against Dominic Breazeale, a unification between the two super-sized countrymen could shatter UK records.
Mayweather vs Pacquiao might have been a damp squib, but take heart boxing fans. It’s behind us now and there’s a crop of ambitious fighters looking to serve up boxing’s next must-watch fight. We’d do well to keep our eyes open. And pray a rematch never happens. — Ronnie McCluskey