This weekend is a throwback to the days when horse racing and boxing were the penultimate sports in the United States. Before the NFL existed, prize fighting was the most prestigious sport around, and people would listen to the Kentucky Derby on the radio. Once upon a time boxing used to be televised on CBS, NBC, and ABC and the biggest fights on the planet aired in every household without having to pay the obligatory $54.95 ($69.95 in HD). What was once universal now is a highly monetized product produced for a niche market that expands to casual boxing fan for fights as big as this.
Growing up, I never really watched boxing. To me, it was archaic with its feints and movements and boxing resembled nothing like the carnage and slaughter of a Rocky movie. On lazy Saturday afternoons, I would resent it when the Saturday morning cartoons gave way to ABC Wide World of Sports and the uneventful boxing matches they’d put on. I’d rather watch WWF than spend an afternoon watching a fight. I remember when my grandfather would turn on boxing and I’d erupt in a sneer since boxing was so boring and I wondered why in the world anyone would spend time watching it.
It was on the second floor of my fraternity house at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore that I learned to appreciate the fight game. Thanks to some ingenuity and Hopkins engineering, there was a legacy black box that hijacked cable from the next door neighbors through the cable outlet on the roof conveniently located near the fire escape. We helped ourselves to free pay-per-view movies and of course the big fights.
There, I remember watching Oscar De La Hoya send a vicious assault on trash talking Fernando Vargas and Roy Jones Jr. amazed me by carving out his name into the history books imposing his will and winning a twelve round decision over John Ruiz, becoming the first man in a hundred years to be crowned heavyweight champion after having held the middle weight title 40 pounds ago. On fight night we’d all gather up on the second floor armed with Yuenglings and associated thirty packs to yell and scream at the TV depending on the intensity of the fight.
Not growing up a fan of the fight game, I asked the other guys how they came to know about boxing and the story was the same: their old man passed it down to them and they always had big parties on fight night. Growing up with boxing? I couldn’t have imagined, but eventually I became the biggest fan of boxing, watching the emergence of fighters and talking about champions and fights that no one heard about. Even now, I am impressed when I meet someone who is fluent in talking about boxers beyond Mike Tyson.
The Emergence of a Superstar and the Biggest Fight of All Time
I have watched Floyd Mayweather Jr. (40-0, 25 KOs) fight since his dismantling of Diego Corrales in 2001. It may have been his greatest night, fighting a guy who was five inches taller than he was and knocking his opponent down countless times until the referee finally and mercifully ended the fight. When Mayweather stepped into his first pay-per-view fight against action fighter Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, Mayweather displayed the same genius in picking apart Gatti and leaving him a swelled up mess while picking up a welterweight belt.
On Cinco de Mayo 2007, Mayweather fought the former pay-per-view cash king, Oscar De La Hoya in the highest selling fight of all time, grossing over $120 million from the gate, pay-per-view buys, and closed circuit feeds. Pundits who declared boxing dead must have gawked at the most amount of cash generated in a prize fight of all time. Think about it, the best UFC fighters don’t even make $1 million a fight and there was Mayweather and De La Hoya both raking in over $20 million for 60 minutes inside the ring.
Mayweather is a virtuoso of the sweet science, yet can be utterly frustrating for the casual boxing fan to watch. I have asked friends what they consider a great boxing match and the consensus lies between Rocky vs. Apollo Creed or an asskicking contest that leaves one guy knocked out on the ground. Since Mayweather’s main gift in boxing is his speed and ability to slip, duck, and dodge punches, most people find Mayweather’s defensive mastery to be little more than dancing around the ring.
Mayweather is regarded as the finest technician of the era, proven by his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez (50-5-1, 37 KOs) in September where he landed 59% of his shots while Marquez was only able to land 12% of his punches. Think about it, standing in front of a guy trying to knock him out, Mayweather evaded nearly 7 out of every 8 punches thrown at him, if that’s not impressive from an outsider’s perspective, you may never really learn to appreciate Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Sugar” Shane, BALCO, and Redemption
At 38, Shane Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) is having a resurgence thanks to a devastatingly through domination of Antonio Margarito (37-6, 27 KOs). During his prime, Mosley took down an also peaking Oscar De La Hoya in two of the most exciting fights of the past decade. Speed and power are Mosley’s signatures as well as an alarming ability to slap together combinations in stacatto bursts, sending opponents into defeat.
Mosley’s legacy has been thrown into question after he admitted under sworn testimony during the BALCO case (the same BALCO case that sent Barry Bonds into utter infamy) that he unknowingly used performing enhancing drugs. Due to this admission, both sides have agreed that this will be the first professional boxing match in the United States submitted under the stringent drug testing of the United States Doping Agency, using Olympic-style testing. As a fan, I highly appreciate this move as it sets an example for other fighters in the sport not to take shortcuts or the easy way out.
Peaks and valleys have marked Mosley’s career as Mosley was beaten twice by Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs). Mosley’s path to redemption was also blocked by a close decision loss to former pound for pound contender Miguel Cotto (31-1-1, 23 KOs). The loss to Cotto dropped Mosley to a 3:1 underdog against Antonio “Tijuana Tornado” Margarito, who had a knockout victory over Cotto, but a pre-fight inspection revealed Margarito has plaster in his hand wraps. After new wraps were placed, Mosley took it to Margarito and dominated his way to a knockout victory.
According to Vegas sports books, people are betting hard on Mayweather making Mosley a 4:1 underdog. While Mosley has beaten tough odds before, he has never fought a fighter as fast as Mayweather. Boxing experts agree that Mayweather will likely eke out a twelve round decision, but with Mosley’s great speed, power and talent, it would be no surprise if Mosley scored a victory on his own.
I don’t know who will win this fight, but with the #2 ranked pound-for-pound fighter taking the #3 ranked boxer, fight night has the potential to be the biggest fight of all time. Showplace Icon theatres will be showing the fight in HD for a $30 ticket fee, while tickets for the fight at the MGM Las Vegas sold out in under an hour. Fellow superstars such as Diddy, Will Ferrell, Magic Johnson, and Brad Pitt will likely be in attendance. It’s fight night and it’s going to be a damn good one.
The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports
Unless you work in a bar or come from the deep south, you’re likely to overlook that the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby will be at 5:30pm this weekend. A field of unknowns takes the track and for the first time in ages there’s no clear favorite leading up to the race. The first leg of the Triple Crown, no doubt the Derby is the most prestigious and doubles as the ultimate drinking event for Kentuckians. From listening to first hand retellings, the Derby field features a drunken fest where everyone has drink in hand in hardcore daydrinking.
I count myself as a curious observer to the world of horse racing. While we have Arlington Racetrack, it’s seldom that you see serious horse racing on TV outside of the Triple Crown or in a Vegas sports book. In my sole venture to the racetrack, I have to say that it’s a fine way to spend an afternoon sitting in the sun and watching these majestic beasts race back and forth. Beer at the track is very cheap and there is a sophistication with all of the trumpeting and the constant parade of horses strutting their stuff before taking the field and blazing lap after lap. Let’s also not forget the gambling and ubiquitous losing ticket stubs that litter the stands, rivaling the floor of the Board of Trade in sheer volume of paper flying around!
In the end, it’s going to be a great weekend for sports, throw in Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox, AND boxing AND horseracing, and I say it’s bleeping golden.