Boxing's questions laid bare
First Bobby Thomson, then Jerry West, then Dwight Clark. Now this.
Sometimes in sports a moment transcends the moment. A home run is greater than a shot heard 'round the world or a desperation jump shot is greater than a 60-foot heave or a catch is greater than "The Catch."
When Juan Manuel Marquez's right glove violently sent a shock through the ethmoid, lacrimal and zygomatic bones of Manny Pacquiao's skull with one second left in Round 6 of what easily will unconditionally be considered the fight of the year, you could see the entire sport of boxing go down face-first.
Just like Pacquiao.
And as he lay there motionless for the minutes that followed, you could see boxing's future leave the ring like a spirit going to the heavens. Or in the other direction. It all depends on how you feel about the future of boxing.
Marquez's knockout was the best thing to ever happen to his career, but the last thing boxing needed. With that one punch, away went two major components that somehow managed to hold the sport together:
1. The mystique, intrigue and rabid interest in one of the only two fighters carrying the sport and the second-biggest draw in the game (Pacquiao).
2. Any continued fiending for the greatest fight that never was: Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather Jr.
What Marquez landed was much more than a right hand. He landed a punch that forced an entire sport to ask: "Now what?"
It's over. Done. Fin. The future of boxing was already on suicide watch because of a common belief in fixed outcomes, and on proverbial life-support because of the continued growing interest in MMA and UFC fighting -- even before Manny-Juan Manuel IV. The anti-boxing crowd had already begun to dance, arms up like the Rocky statue or Ali after finishing Liston.
This fight will prove pivotal in the direction of the sport. What fight is there on the horizon that non-die-hard boxing aficionados are going to care about? What boxer outside of Mayweather Jr. is going to step into the ring and make us believe he is going to display something we've never seen before while at the same time making us feel that we may be witnessing something or someone historic?
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Answers to those two questions: none. And those are the unanswered realities being held against the sport as well as the realities needing answers that boxing desperately needs to survive. Right now, questions are all the sport is hanging on to.
Unlike, say, tennis -- if Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both go down, there's still enough universal interest in Novak Djokovic and maybe Andy Murray to keep the sport from extinction. And unlike golf -- Tiger Woods' slow fade has been illuminated by flashes of prodigious genius by Rory McIlroy, generating global interest and fanfare. Boxing does not have that level of talent, much less possible Hall of Famers in the wings to carry the sport during what could be its darkest hour.
No disrespect to Andre Ward, Tim Bradley Jr. or Sergio Martinez (at age 37), but they are not the answer.
Yet Monday in USA Today, and on various sports and boxing blogs, there seemed to be a sense of hope that Marquez-Pacquiao V would draw major interest. Some observers even posited IV was somehow more good for boxing than it was bad. Promoter Bob Arum had the audacity to say, "This fight shows the health of the sport. It puts the sport back in the mainstream."
Delusion is a helluva drug.
This is either the new beginning or the end of boxing. Every round was exciting, dramatic and both. If boxing goes back to the style on display in this fight, the sport could easily regain the audience it once had and bring back some of the people who left to follow MMA, UFC and badminton. But Pacquiao's losing and losing the way he did (which cannot be stressed enough!) put the whole future of the sport in an unpromising holding pattern.
A friend of mine said afterwards: "Now I have to find a new sport to watch."
That's a succinct diagnosis of the damage caused by one punch. That punch sent the possibility of a fight to save a sport (Mayweather-Pacquiao) and the buzz/interest around it to the sports morgue. That punch evaporated all the time available for young boxers to bridge the gap between boxing's major issues today and the bouts we're now not interested in tomorrow.
Then there's all the other things Marquez's punch did.
It's all so Shakespearean. Beautifully tragic. Which in boxing's case, is not necessarily a good thing, because this fight exposed just how vulnerable the sport actually is.
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