The sport of boxing is done. It’s beaten, battered, and can’t answer the bell. It’s time to throw in the towel.
The knockout blow came last Saturday night, when two of three judges gave welterweight Timothy Bradley Jr. a split-decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.
Even those versed in reading Braille in the dark could tell that Pacquiao – a slightly slower, less impassioned version of the longtime champion – had won the fight handily. Experts had Pac-Man by six rounds or more; HBO’s Howard Lederman scored it 119-109 for Pacquiao. He’d connected more punches (253 to 159) and power punches (190-108) and outlanded Bradley in 10 of 12 rounds. Bradley himself was convinced he’d lost, telling promoter Bob Arum before the cards were tabulated: “I tried hard and I couldn’t beat the guy.”
Unfortunately, judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford saw something no one in the MGM Grand saw, and handed Bradley a 115-113 victory.
It was Pacquiao’s first loss in seven years in which he’d won or defended belts in four different weight classes. But worse, it was a death knell to the sport itself.
“I thought it was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in my life,” said former boxing trainer John Russell. “I think Bradley won one round but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and give him two. It was that bad.”
Granted, boxing’s history is littered with corruption and controversy, but no matter what happened, the fans came back for the next great champion or rising star. But this is something different. No outrage, no rioting in the ring. Instead, resigned acceptance that it just doesn’t matter anymore. If there’s ever a sign that something is irrelevant, it’s when it’s met with apathy.
Since boxing’s most recent golden era in the 1980s – when pugilists like Leonard, Hagler and Duran were carving up opponents and multi-million-dollar purses, the sport has been beaten down by body blows, most self-inflicted. The raw brutality of Mike Tyson turned boxing into a spectacle. Retreads Bernard Hopkins and George Foreman made it an old man’s game. Shane Mosley and Roy Jones had brief but spectacular flashes.
Today’s heavyweight crowns are held by glass-jawed Ukrainian brothers who yawn at opponents. Lighter weight belts are owned by a smorgasbord of fighters no one knows or cares about. There are too many boxing organizations, too many self-serving promoters, too many suspect commissions. Fighters routinely pad their records against overmatched foes and judging has gone from bad to atrocious.
The only fight worth paying for over the past three years was one that never happened: Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. Both boxers have avoided the bout like opposing magnets, and after their most recent performances the lustre is lost. If the bout happened tomorrow it would no longer be the best top pound-for-pound boxers fighting for supremacy but two battered fighters trying to milk one last big payday in the dusk of their careers.
And there are no superstars on the horizon, no dominant fighters to pick up the torch. No, the best fighters of the next generation are mucking it up in the UFC, which has clearly out-pointed its opponent in the ring of public opinion.
Late last week, the World Boxing Organization announced it will investigate the Pacquiao-Bradley decision. But really, it’s much ado about nothing. A reversal won’t undo the years of damage done to boxing. The sport is down for the count.