At the risk of stating the obvious, the sport of boxing has taken a big downward hit as far as mainstream popularity over the past 15 years. To begin with, we are missing our vaunted champions and our hated villains. To add to that, the overall quality in the heavyweight division (historically the "major league" attraction of boxing), has experienced a nosedive since the days of Tyson/Lewis/Holyfield.
To be sure, the sport of mixed martial arts has filled this void in a large way. Since the halcyon days of the mixed martial arts, featuring Royce Gracie in his judo gee taking on all comers, and MMA's growth since then, boxing has played second fiddle. Has the talent pool of quality fighters run pell-mell to MMA gyms because of the skyrocketing popularity of that sport? Yeah, maybe so.
With all of that being said, I still was really looking forward to watching the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Victor Ortiz fight, a bout that, on paper, seemed one-sided in Mayweather's favor. But there was that intangible "what if" that I think drew more than a few of us to find a way to watch this fight. In my case, my good buddy Slash had purchased the fight and invited me up to his pad. OK, cool. This was going to be fun.
A mildly interesting side note to the fact that Slash and I would be watching this fight together is that we are in no way strangers to things and events that may have had a modicum of drama attached to them. It goes almost without saying that it probably takes a bit more to rattle either one of us than the usual "Joe." But even to us, the outcome and aftermath of this fight left the both of us a little agape. When Larry Merchant finally said the now infamous "I wish I was 50 years younger and I'd kick your …" to Mayweather, even Slash commented then and there that he couldn't believe what he was watching.
Again, we have seen a lot of crap and fallout and unbelievable nonsense over the past 25 years. Things that are beyond unmentionable here at ESPN.
Sports news talking heads were saying that Mayweather was dominating the fight. Me? I didn't see it that way at all. Sure, his percentage of punches that got through were dwarfing Ortiz's, but percentages only count if a fight goes the full distance. From where I sat, it seemed that either fighter could and would throw the knockout punch at any time. Furthermore, Ortiz had taken a couple of great shots from Mayweather and almost laughed them off. It seemed to be anyone's fight. But then Ortiz did that bizarre head-butt.
Was this just theater? And, let us not forget, that this fight was a joint Mayweather-Golden Boy production. If anyone knows that boxing needs a bump in TV ratings and interest, it would be them.
I'm not usually the "conspiracy theory" type, but what happened Saturday night has got me to thinking.
How is it, that the referee Cortez kept his head turned away from the fight after he called the technical and pulled the point from Ortiz. He did resume the fight, did he not? Doesn't Floyd Mayweather Jr. sort of bask in the light of controversy? Controversy is the old-school Muhammad Ali-Howard Cosell way to hype the game, no?
Of course we all know now that as Cortez and Ortiz had their heads turned, Mayweather then executed the left-right KO punches that "won" this fight. The ensuing chaos and dialogue between Mayweather and HBO announcer Larry Merchant, will forever be a thing of legend.
The real kicker for me, and perhaps the reason I most think that this whole fight was just some sort of crafty ruse, was Ortiz's corner non-reaction to the outcome. Wouldn't you think there would be a whole ton of protest?
And Ortiz himself seemed to take it all in stride, in an acute "aw, shucks" sort of way. I instantly felt myself feeling a bit swindled.
I could of course, be completely wrong about my suspicions. I am just an ordinary fan, and in no way really know how I would react if I were Ortiz, but the ensuing "party line" across the board, seemed to be "protect yourself at all times" … as if it were all rehearsed beforehand.
Musician Duff McKagan, who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and has his autobiography due out later this year, writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.