On May 2nd, two generation defining boxers- Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio- took to the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas for a bout described as the ‘fight of the century’. The pre-fight hype had reached fever pitch and millions of people- including non boxing fans- tuned in to witness boxing’s biggest commercial and sporting event in years. In the end, Floyd Mayweather retained his undefeated record while Manny Pacquaio reportedly blamed his loss on an injury. With the dust having relatively settled and the cheques having been signed, an important question needs to be answered: did this fight make or mar boxing?
In recent years, boxing as a sport had been crowded out and many enthusiasts feared for its long term sustenance. One of the many reasons experts thought boxing was on a decline was that it was perhaps deemed too brutal in the modern age of civility with the serene swings of golf clubs preferred to the swift punches of a boxer. The dominance of team sports like basketball, soccer and American football also meant that boxing has struggled in recent years.
Regardless of the fears of a potential decline, big names remained in the airwaves as the Klitschko brothers, Floyd Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquaio all became household names and thus had thriving super star brands.
However, experts increasingly felt the sport needed an epochal event- one that pitted to supreme boxers against each other and captured imagination and attention like the Muhammad Ali versus Joe Fraizer fight in 1971.
Enter Mayweather and Pacquaio
Despite many suggesting that the fight was happening five years too late, the fact that two of the greats in modern boxing were facing each other was enough to put boxing firmly and squarely under the limelight. Living up to the hype, the fight practically broke all existing boxing records but crucially those records were more commercial than sporting. Pay per view buys and revenue records, previously 2.4 million buys and $150 million respectively, were broken. Sponsorship revenue from the fight more than doubled the previous records and international broadcast rights sales lent even more credence to the fact that the world was watching.
Despite watching, the primary post-fight sentiment has been disappointment as the fight was anything but a classic. While true boxing enthusiasts argue that it was a brilliantly technical fight, even they will struggle to put the Mayweather versus Pacquaio fights in their ‘top five fights of all time’ lists.
Mayweather versus Pacquaio was more of an ‘event’ than a ‘fight’ and only the boxers and promoters were the winners. In essence, the sport itself was least rewarded as many wonder if, following the disappointment from the fight, boxing will ever command such attention again.
In truth, boxing might well recover as soon as new names and greats emerge but in the long-term, it will struggle to match the attention it got on May 2nd. The Mayweather versus Pacquaio fight was defining but not in the way that boxing purists would have wanted as rather than truly live up to its billing as boxing’s biggest ever fight, it turned out to be little else other than the richest fight ever with the sport overshadowed by thick layers of marketing and Hollywood style glamour.