Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Slant on Sunday - Haymaker-weather

I realize that I haven't written anything here in over two months. To be quite honest, nothing has really jumped out at me in the sports world. However, I can't let this one go. These opinions are mine. Don't like them? Oh. Okay. I'll love you anyway.

Since the 1890's, one sport has been deemed one of the most violent and most unique sports to ever exist. Long before martial arts left the particular regions of Asia, everyone settled an altercation in one way: their fists.

Boxing was a common sight in North America, even before professional wrestling became more mainstream among the people. Shoot, men did it outside of the ring for money and for show. Early boxing matches didn't even have gloves, for cripes' sake. For the next century, boxing went from being extremely popular, to a thing of the past that may come on at 2AM for willing viewers. Mixed Martial Arts is becoming the more popular sport in North America, and boxing is not a much-talked about phenomenon, unless if you're an avid watcher of NBC Sports' Boxing Night in America or ESPN's Friday Night Fights. However, this slightly changed when a dream fight originally concocted in 2009 came to fruition Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are arguably the two biggest names in boxing world today. Mayweather's undefeated record and Pacquiao's multiple title wins have been huge stories all throughout the 2000's and 2010's. These clash of boxing titans were sure to bring the house down since Mayweather was pinned down for it after six longs years of waiting. But was it worth the hype and would it make boxing a topic at the dinner table and bars again?

Before this fight, there was a heaping metric ton of controversy all around the bout. For those who aren't familiar with Mayweather, he's had quite a history of domestic violence cases against him, and none of his cases led to any specific resolution to them. Allegedly, he had barred three journalists--one of which was ESPN's Michelle Beadle--who had covered his cases and were against him. The public relations representative (who cracks me up, by the way) did a terrible job of trying to clear that fact up. Not only that, the money value of the fight and the winnings that he and Pacquiao were going to receive (on top of the whopping $100 pay-per-view price) was deemed as preposterous. Plus, the Internet community likes to jump on the fact that Floyd Mayweather is somewhat illiterate. I could go on and on about the controversies, but then this would turn into an ethics post that would not be worth reading unless you were totally into politics and morality and such.

I digress.

After the fight, I'd read a lot of reactions over social media--believe me, there was a lot, and reactions weren't that hard to find--and those who are involved with either mixed martial arts or boxing praised Mayweather for his boxing "art" of evasion and how he made every punch count [according to statistics, his punch accuracy was higher than Pacquiao's]. The huge point of this is simply: there is strategy in boxing, but this was never meant to be a form of martial arts. Sure, you can evade, you can strategize, but the original point of the sport was to make sure your skill, speed, endurance, and accuracy of punches was so great, that you either knock out your opponent, or had enough credibility to be deemed the winner of the fight by decision. Taking all of 12 rounds to do something that could have lasted eight or nine (especially with Pacquiao's alleged nagging shoulder) was the problem that most "outsiders" to any sort of involvement in organized fights had with Saturday night.

But, all things considered, this is the main argument for the sport now: the game has changed. Because of the risks and spoils, the sport has become a lot more strategic and counter-heavy than it once was. Defense has taken more of a front seat, and leaving the slugfest era in the dust. Why is that? It's not just for the money, but it's also for "the art," as some people call it. They would much rather show a display of evasion and "smarts" than more offensive pushes. Thanks to YouTube, I (along with thousands of other people, it seems) did a little digging to find classic matches to see the overall differences between Saturday night's fight and ones from long before. I found a gem from 40 years ago between an undefeated George Foreman [Grill] and an older Muhammad Ali--that's right, I'm talking about "The Rumble in the Jungle."

Considering Ali's age--he was 32 at the time, which was considered older in that age--and the fact that Foreman took down the two guys who had defeated Ali (the lates Joe Frazier and Ken Norton), this fight seemed like it was not only one of redemption, but of: "Oh man, how great is he if he took down the two men that took me down in two rounds?"

You're going to notice something very interesting here--Ali is evading and moving around and stalling the same way Mayweather did in his fight with Pacquiao. However, the major difference is that Ali still took the opportunity to wear down Foreman through any kind of punch (regardless of accuracy) instead of having Foreman wear himself out. It proved to be a good strategy. [I'm not spoiling this fight for you if you've never seen it before.] What Mayweather did was bide energy and punch sparingly, and take advantage of his wider reach over Pacquiao.  This ultimately led to the fight going to the decision of the judges.

Now... I present to you this little gem. Not a lot of you may know this, but Mayweather was also an Olympic fighter as well...

At this level of boxing--one that Mayweather actually specializes--punch accuracy actually counts here in a point-based system. While there was a lot of controversy surrounding this bout, you can tell that the only kind of defense that exists here is parrying and dodging. No stall bait here, my friends.

Because of the kind of fight that occurred, a lot of people were disappointed. In fact, a lot of people were expecting an amateur-style fight where both men would go out punching like in the Foreman/Ali fight; instead, it was the total opposite. People on Facebook and Twitter were saying things such as: "When's the next time Ronda Rousey fights? I bet she could put Mayweather in an armbar and make things right. Yeah, MMA is better." The type of match left a bad taste in people's mouths, and because of the numerous opinions of so many, this may not look good for the future of boxing in the United States. It doesn't matter that the film Creed (a.k.a. the next Rocky movie) is coming out in the Fall, or that we have boxers going to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. What matters the most is that the sport has fallen by the wayside in favor of the more physical, less dancing-filled MMA giants like UFC. These two big names failed to deliver what the lesser-informed masses wanted, and what the people are talking about now are the controversies surrounding the match instead of the match itself.

I won't go so far as to say that "boxing is dead," but the changes it has undergone over the past ten years and the situations surrounding the sport, the judging, and the spoils of it haven't meshed well at all with viewers in North America. Boxing is trying to reestablish itself as a separate entity to MMA, and still try to be a big draw at the same time, but unfortunately, it seemed like a way more glitzy Oscar-styled Super Bowl that I was watching. It certainly wasn't the stuff I watched with my father on Friday nights 10-15 years ago. The game has definitely changed, whether it's for the better or not remains to be seen. It was never meant to be an art in the category of MMA; it was meant to be a sport of wit and power, with minor focuses in evasion and defense, because the main point was to knock your opponent down in any way possible. It's certainly an awkward time for boxing in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, and it could be costly.

The aftermath of the fight seems to be a massive cleanup, and when we least expect it, we're going to hear about the domestic violence cases again and allegations that the fight was fixed. Because that's the way the sports world works today. The only thing that could really bring the masses back into boxing again is to see younger guys come in and take out these titans. That's what guys like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield did in the late 1980's and most of the 1990's. It's time for a new breed, and more faces to make things interesting again.

Well, that's the way I see it, at least.

-- Stephanie