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Monday, July 19, 2010
The comedy stylings of boxing


Boxing could be enjoying a major B-12 shot right now. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. could be hyping the second in a highly lucrative series of fights. They could be setting up other contenders for when that well runs dry. Someone could be trying to make sense of the dropped dinner plate that is the heavyweight division.

Instead, Pacquiao is mulling offers for rematches that mean nothing while Mayweather is riding his Segway around a mansion paid for by fans who had some foolish expectation he was a competitor. And their sport is sinking into the ground.

Of the trifecta of pay-per-view attractions in this country -- the UFC, the WWE and boxing -- only the UFC and WWE have anything approaching a steady business. When boxing offers an event that features neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao, it sinks like a stone. And even with those two, 2009's Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto and Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez bouts failed to exceed the buy rates for UFC 100. The boxer who devours most of the media's attention, Mike Tyson, hasn't fought in five years and will never fight again.

Boxing is inert. It's passionless, stagnant and impossibly arrogant. Mayweather -- who seems to bear the brunt of the blame for the Pacquiao fight not happening -- should thank the fortune-makers he has a rival in his prime and in his era. Rivals define careers. He should want to embolden the sport that gave him so much. He should want to muzzle the criticism that it's on life support. He should beg Pacquiao for the fight.

If you think all this isn't helping rush along a serious paradigm shift in how combat sports are perceived, you're dreaming. The baseball and hockey lockouts -- rich men arguing over how to become richer -- disgusted fans, and that bad taste lingered for years. There was no alternative, though, if your thing was to watch a guy swing at a ball or puck. But fighting is different: If you're a boxing fan fed up with the red tape and the protracted negotiations and just the ceaseless crap, you can watch guys punch each other with regularity across the dial. (And kick and grapple.)

It's a sight compared to boxing: the blood, the wrestling, the sloppy composition of stand-up attacks. But boxing fans are fans in part because of the bare nature of fighting and the idea that bodies are just avatars for wills. There is nowhere that is more prominent than in MMA.

What could boxing do to stop that shift? Boxing's biggest problem is that it isn't Boxing, Inc. It's a series of fractured promotions with different agendas that can come together long enough only to irritate the sport's fans and erode goodwill. Nobody is growing up with boxing anymore. Men in their 20s to 40s are weaning their kids on the UFC. They're buying UFC toys and playing UFC video games. It's a multimedia assault.

There's no question that boxing will eventually regain its composure, either with the right fight or the emergence of another great athlete. The question is, will anyone be left to watch?