Remember when you were a kid and you’d be all alone in your room because your parents wouldn’t let you go outside and then you’d hear all your friends playing cops and robbers out on the street right in front of your window and they looked like they were having all the fun in the world and you’d get mad and give ’em the stink eye because looking at them laughing and running and enjoying themselves while you were stuck inside made you feel like shit? Well, that’s exactly what this tweet from Stephen Espinoza reminded me of:
So last year, a PPV main event with a 15-1 favorite was a mismatch/travesty, but this year, a 15-1 matchup is fine, no complaints. Gotcha.
— Stephen Espinoza (@StephenEspinoza) October 17, 2015
I have to admit picturing Stephen Espinoza sulking (even more hilarious: tweeting about his sulking) was very satisfying, mainly because most of the time Stephen Espinoza acts like an insufferable douche. While reading his tweet I pictured the Showtime Sports honcho cuddling on his couch in the dark on Saturday night (yes, I know this is probably not accurate at all, he was more than likely at some bimbo-infested party somewhere fabulous, but it’s funny to imagine otherwise) staring at his phone, watching his twitter feed come alive with reactions to HBO’s PPV show. Just think what a painful stab in the cojones it must have been to have all that fun and praise and excitement rubbed in his face after the shitty boxing year his own network has had.
Yes, I said it: shitty. Because it’s impossible to recall a single quality card featured on Showtime this year. And while their massive haul from the #MayPac bonanza was impressive indeed, no one knows better than Espinoza that a large majority of fans felt downright robbed for paying for the Dud of the Century. (For the sake of preserving the dignity of everyone reading this I won’t even bring up Mayweather vs Berto).
However, once the giggles stopped, I started to wonder if maybe Stephen Espinoza had a point. The particulars of his tweet may be off but, if anything, correcting them only adds to his case. Floyd Mayweather was a 12-1 favorite for the first fight with Marcos Maidana (with those odds decreasing only slightly for the rematch); meanwhile, Gennady Golovkin was a solid 15-1 favorite over David Lemieux this past weekend. (Small aside: how cute is it that Espinoza alluded to Mayweather vs Maidana instead of Mayweather vs Berto, as if hoping no one would call him out on it? Oh, wait, I promised not to go there.) So his tweet points out a very obvious, yet very important, fact regarding this Saturday’s HBO show: much like Mayweather vs Maidana, Golovkin vs Lemieux was a mismatch from the moment it was announced.
Espinoza’s tweet might have emanated from dark bitterness, but read it objectively and you’ll find it poses a very interesting question regarding the very unequal responses evoked by Mayweather’s PPV mismatches on the one hand and Golovkin’s lone PPV mismatch on the other. Why should the former be met with such opprobrium and criticism, while the latter was welcomed as if it were the second coming of Marvin Hagler? We’re not saying one response is more warranted than the other, but if a mismatch is a mismatch is a mismatch—as Espinoza implied—then fans would be expected to react the same way to them, no matter whose names are on the marquee.
The answer to Espinoza’s conundrum is that not all mismatches are the same, as fans usually feel happier paying for one in which they get to see action and violence, even if it’s one-sided, than one which features less punches thrown over twelve rounds than characters are allowed in a couple of tweets. Most who paid to see Mayweather perform did so because of the promises of action that emanated from his opponent’s name and mouth, if not necessarily from his own; sadly, those promises were seldom fulfilled. This inevitably resulted in a frustrating string of Cinco de Mayos and Quinces de Septiembre on which fight fans would’ve been better off trying the new Mexican restaurant in town than forking over hundreds of dollars in PPV fees for ho-hum fights.
Moreover, while Mayweather was considered the best boxer in the world for a big chunk of his career, he hadn’t been a “fighter,” in the true sense of the word, for quite a while by the time he took on Maidana. Instead he increasingly focused on defense at the expense of offense, while supposedly trying to make up for the lack of action in his contests by showcasing his skills and ring nous. At least that’s what he would try to convince fans they were buying after they’d already paid for yet another tedious and entirely predictable contest.
Golovkin, on the other hand, is a prodigious puncher, and the fact he’s also an accomplished technician means he can bypass the either/or proposition Mayweather was subject to. GGG can both outbox opponents and beat the shit out of them, usually at the same time, so that both the purists and the blood-thirsty can get their fix. His punch output—outrageous by Mayweather standards—and the visual manifestations of his sheer violence make for an irresistible spectacle, no matter who is at the wrong end of his fists. Taking this into consideration, is it really surprising to see so many people happily putting down good money to watch a fight with a preordained result? After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Mike Tyson made millions of dollars with the same business plan at the same network that employs Espinoza.
Which leads us to conclude that if there’s an anomaly in this two-way mismatch race, Mayweather is it, because he became the richest sportsman in history by denying fans what they craved most; that’s not usually a recipe for success. Alternatively, Golovkin and others like him earn their cash not only by catering to those same cravings, but by doing so in style. Still, there’s also something to be said about Mayweather’s and Golovkin’s mismatched opponents and the roles they played. Maidana—like almost every Mayweather opponent since his return in 2008—was seen as a less-than-great stand-in for Manny Pacquiao; Lemieux, however, was considered Golovkin’s biggest test to date, no matter how dismissive the odds were against him, and in light of the fact the biggest names in the division want no part of GGG.
Mayweather called himself “TBE” yet refused for a long time to face the guy everyone thought would give him the most trouble. Golovkin has never thought that highly of himself, but his fight with the titlist from Quebec, mismatch or not, was in fact a clear step towards fulfilling GGG’s number one priority: becoming the unified, undisputed middleweight champion of the world.
So Mayweather may have proved fans are willing to pay good money if the A-side ramps up the antagonism high enough, even if that same boxer fails to deliver excitement or drama. Golovkin, for his part, just proved that fans will follow and cheer for a warrior who takes on all comers as he patiently awaits his chance to prove his greatness against the very best. So no, Stephen Espinoza, not all mismatches are created equal, and they certainly aren’t received in the same way by the paying public, especially when it’s so easy to see that some of them are more full of shit than others.