There's an interesting piece today online on The Atlantic's website about five things that will push boxing into the mainstream and five things will help keep it out. I tend to view some of the saviors and cancers as overstated, but it's well-written, timely and thoughtful. The author is Gautham Nagesh, the editor of StiffJab.net.
Here's Nagesh's argument about why Pacquiao will ostensibly help push boxing back into the mainstream:
Endearingly humble and childlike, aside from the Mayweather camp it's almost impossible to find anyone in boxing with something negative to say about the eight-division belt-holder. The Pacman's unprecedented rise through the weight classes after debuting as a 107-lb teenager in 1995 has captivated his countrymen and built a massive following that's grown beyond Asia into a global phenomenon. His influence in the Philippines cannot be overstated; beyond his recent election to Congress he also boasts hit songs, TV shows, and films there as well as a number of businesses and near-universal respect from his fellow lawmakers.
"Even the New York Times, which gave up covering boxing years ago, makes a special effort to cover a Pacquiao bout," noted biographer Gary Andrew Poole, author of the recent Pacman: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao. "Pacquiao—a Filipino who is also a Congressman and has dedicated himself outside of the ring to helping his impoverished people--has essentially been carrying the sport on his back."
Pacquiao's influence in the sport is great enough that it enabled his promoter and Top Rank CEO Bob Arum to spurn longtime market leader HBO to take the fight to Showtime, lured by the promise of cross-promotion on network parent CBS. As I'll discuss next, the prospect of exposure to the network audience is one of the key ingredients for any potential revival of the sport.
Meanwhile, argues Nagesh, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. will help to keep boxing out of the mainstream. Here's the argument:
But Mayweather, who previously appeared to be playing the villain with his gaudy lifestyle and excessive spending in order to promote his fights, has become increasingly erratic in terms of his recent behavior. He is facing separate court dates for allegedly poking a security guard in the face and for creating an ugly scene involving the mother of his two children, the latter of which could result in jail time if he is convicted. His tendency to avoid opponents that could pose a risk to his undefeated record has earned him the scorn of the fighting world (even though he is no different in this respect than most other fighters, including Pacquiao), and there is a definite perception that he is ducking the Pacman at the moment despite being offered up to $50 million for the potential superfight.
Many believe that Pacquiao v. Mayweather is necessary for the sport to grow, and it would undoubtedly be the largest event since Tyson-Holyfield II almost 15 years ago. Debate over who would win and who is responsible for the fight not happening continues to dominate message boards and ringside chatter, making it all but impossible to avoid the topic of Floyd in any discussion of the sport's future. For the sport to flourish, the greatest American boxer must resolve his legal woes and find a way to get back in the ring with world-class competition. A failure for the superfight to materialize may not condemn boxing to the margins forever, but it would be further evidence that the sport is not yet ready to return to prime time.
Scott Christ thinks little of this matters and boxing is not returning to the mainstream ever again:
Then again, I also don't hold out any great hope that boxing will ever be a truly mainstream sport again. There are too many other options. Too many other sports to watch out there, and besides just sports, too many other avenues for entertainment with film, television, music, video games, and whatever else. I am as thrilled as anyone that boxing has poked its head back into network television's front door, but I'm not going to be holding my breath waiting for SportsCenter to regularly lead with a boxing story, or for anything besides the fascinating Pacquiao and Mayweather -- fascinating for opposite reasons -- to be subjects on "Pardon the Interruption."
I know that the general public doesn't care as much as I do about the corrupt "sanctioning" bodies, the short-sighted promoters, and the often questionable decisions from the networks that support and carry boxing. Yet at the same time, I see those subjects are far bigger roadblocks to mainstream acceptance, or at least something like mainstream acceptance. If the constant political nonsense in boxing were to be eliminated, or at least done away with to a large degree, so many things would not be an issue. The sport would be a lot more about what happens in the ring than it is trying to figure out why something isn't going to happen because one promoter doesn't like another, or a TV network is playing favorites, or a "sanctioning" body decided to do something that makes no sense while continuing to strip their "championships" of all value. Every mainstream sport is ultimately boiled down to what happens on the field of play -- that's what people remember, and what they enjoy most of all. Boxing doesn't have that going for it a lot of the time, and while it's fair to say that perhaps Mayweather is part of the reason for that right now, he's just one of several contributing factors, in my opinion, and hardly the biggest problem.
Christ shares some of Nagesh's views about what does and doesn't ail boxing. I don't mean to position what Christ writes as a full rebuttal of Nagesh. But it's worth noting what Christ says about boxing undercuts the very idea that Pacquiao, as temporarily beneficial as he may be, can't change what is already a solidified paradigm shift in American sporting appetites. Ditto for Mayweather or even a superfight between the two greats.