COMMENTARY | The tastes of boxing fans have changed over the last twenty-five years or so. Once upon a time, fans were willing to sit down and watch twelve rounds of tactical, chess-like prizefight action. Fans held skilled ring technicians in high regard. They were able to appreciate both the beauties and the beasts of the sport.
These days, though, fans are already booing if a full round goes by without either guy hurling a long, clumsy hook at his opponent. And heaven forbid a fighter try to nullify his opponent's strengths with smart, tactical positioning and subtle pace control. Fighting like a real, intelligent pro will get you nowhere these days. Being smart and technically sound, no matter how good you are, will get you thrown off TV and pushed into non-televised mid-card gigs and pay-per-view filler--- just ask Guillermo Rigondeaux.
The Cuban two-time Olympic gold medalist and now undisputed junior featherweight champ turned in a masterful and dominant performance against Nonito Donaire last April 13 and has been persona non grata at HBO and, possibly, within his own promotional company ever since.
For twelve full rounds, Rigondeaux baffled and nullified a Donaire who had clubbed his way to a top five spot on many pound-for-pound lists. It was a thing of beauty for those who truly appreciate the sport, but a source of frustration for those looking to make money off of Donaire's rising star. It was also a great, big target for those who wanted to drill home the idea that ring smarts and defense are no longer welcomed traits in a main stage prizefighter.
Five-division world champ, Floyd Mayweather, has also been a target for those fans and media members who want all violence and no science in boxing.
Mayweather has been labeled "boring" even as he breaks pay-per-view records and proves himself to be the most successful and most media-covered fighter of this era. The saving grace for "Money," though, is that he's such a compelling out-of-ring character. Fans either love to love Mayweather or love to hate him and the media, which still takes potshots at the entertainment level of his performances, has been unable to affect the bottom line of Mayweather's salability. Whether there is a full appreciation of his genius level ring IQ or not, he sells shows.
Super middleweight king Andre Ward, on the other hand, gets no protection from the criticism. Not a draw anywhere on Mayweather's level, he is picked apart by many in the media for being a boring fighter who can't generate a bigger following because of his ring style. Like Rigondeaux, skills and dominance appear to be more of a hindrance than an asset when it comes to reaching that next level of stardom.
Recently, HBO commentator Larry Merchant was asked to comment on the premium cable station's decision to not air Rigondeaux's next fight. The aged analyst actually supported the decision and echoed the feelings of many in the industry and on the consumer end of the product.
"I congratulate them," Merchant told Boxingscene. "Rigondeaux is a beautiful boxer but this is prize fighting and prize fighting is entertainment. If you can't make the people want to come back and see you, it's just like going to a restaurant; they don't feed you well, you don't come back. They feed you well, you come back. And he's got to know that this is a professional game and it's not an amateur game."
But what if a true gourmet restaurant is located in an area full of fast food joints? Do we penalize the classy restaurant for not living down to its surroundings?
Instead of demanding thrilling mediocrity from fighters, why not push those lacking in fundamental skills to up their game? Instead of blaming Guillermo Rigondeaux for shutting out Nonito Donaire, why not blame Donaire for not knowing how to handle basic boxing footwork? Instead of blaming Floyd Mayweather for making Robert Guerrero look like a sloppy novice, why not blame Guerrero for being clueless as to how to cut off a ring?
The push for entertaining incompetence will only dumb down the sport and damage the long-term product. Boxing is called the sweet science for a reason. People need to understand that well-trained, well-prepared fighters make for entertaining scraps. Mismatches and dull, plodding snoozers only happen when just one of the two boxers actually knows how to fight like a professional.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
- Sports & Recreation
- Floyd Mayweather
- Nonito Donaire
- Guillermo Rigondeaux