Boxing fans, it seems, spend more of their time discussing, debating and arguing over mythical superfights than actually enjoying the good fights going on right in front of them.
Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao rumors are still one of the hottest topics in the sport today. This despite the fact that the fight is further away than ever, and the debate over who deserves the title of pound-for-pound king is settled.
But yet, these rumors garner more mainstream attention, from both boxing fans and sports media, than great fights like we've seen recently between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, and Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce De Leon. Even Timothy Bradley was highly entertaining in a very good scrap against Ruslan Provodnikov earlier this year.
Despite these great fights, and great moments, the boxing world seems fixated on the concept of superfights. Floyd Mayweather, fresh off his dominant win over Robert Guerrero, has been linked to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez since the rising Mexican star captured a world title.
Would Mayweather vs. Alvarez be a huge event? Absolutely. Would it generate huge money for both competitors and raise the profile of the sport? Without question. But is it the best fight out there? That's a whole different question.
It all depends on what you look for in a fight. Canelo presents some unique wrinkles that Mayweather hasn't faced in some time—he's bigger, stronger and heavier—but he's also 22 years old, raw and still growing into the game.
Same thing with Manny Pacquiao. Many have been critical of the Pacman's recent decision to face Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios in China this November, rather than seek out a bigger fight. Leaving to the side the lack of bigger available fights, this logic too quickly discredits Rios as a challenger.
Would facing Marquez, Bradley or Mayweather be a bigger fight? Yes. But again, that doesn't equate to a better fight.
So why do boxing fans obsess over superfights, rather than better fights?
There are a few reasons for that are easily identifiable.
For one, boxing is no longer the huge mainstream sport it once was during its peak. During the 1980s and early 1990s, boxing was one of the biggest sports in the nation.
Network television, and cable providers such as ESPN, invested heavily in the sport, carrying not only fights, but fight preview specials for the biggest contests.
That emphasis has shifted in recent years, as resources have tightened and been reinvested toward other sports, which now forces the major sports media outlets to only cover the biggest of the big fights. And as a consequence, they only cover the biggest of the big fighters.
That's why Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will always find a home on ESPN, but lesser-known fighters will never receive that sort of mainstream attention. To the casual fan, who doesn't slog through the hundreds of boxing blogs and websites available for up-to-date information, his universe consists of only what he receives from mainstream outlets.
The fact is that networks and the mainstream sports media just don't invest in boxing the way they once did. And that constricts the universe of fights people want to see.
Running hand in hand with the lack of mainstream attention to the sport, which holds a great number of fighters back, is the proliferation of pay-per-view as the vehicle for delivering big fights. Fighters like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao haven't appeared on regular pay cable in years.
When boxing fans decide to shell out upward of $60 bucks for a PPV, even more for high definition, they not only want to be able to identify both fighters, they want an event of some significance for their money.
Take for example the most recent PPV event involving the sport's pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather. The main event of that card featured Mayweather vs. Robert Guerrero for the WBC Welterweight Championship.
Now you can argue that any fight involving Mayweather is by definition a superfight, due to his box-office draw and appeal to mainstream fans, but it's clear that he elevated Guerrero to this level and not vice versa.
The best fight on the card, however, both on paper and in the ring that night, was Abner Mares and Daniel Ponce De Leon. But how many people bought the PPV for that fight? Probably a few, but certainly a pittance compared to those who tuned in for the superfight main event.
And this trend will continue as long as boxing gets short shrift in the mainstream sports media, which prevents most fighters from reaching the public's eye, and as long as PPV remains the venue for the biggest fights.
But there is reason for optimism, even if it's guarded. Recent efforts to return boxing to free network television could not only draw more fans to the sport, but also give fighters a chance to showcase their skills to a wider audience.
When the fans get to see more fighters, and exciting ones they may never have been exposed to otherwise, they will start to see that there are better fights out there than the so-called mythical superfights. And that way, all of us will be treated to better fights, even if they don't meet the standards of a so-called superfight.
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