Bum’s Rush: The Real Thing

I was at Lincoln Station, a bar near DePaul University, early this evening when the announcement scrolled across the bottom of ESPN: the biggest fight of 2010 was finally happening in just ten weeks. The longstanding dream of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd “Money” Mayweather in the ring together now stands to become a reality, after more than half a decade of fits and false starts that led some (this writer included) to believe it would never happen. Hell, I probably still won’t be entirely convinced that the fight is really happening until about halfway through Round Three. But plans have been made and contracts have been signed, and good luck finding a room at the MGM Grand. It’s the real thing.

So what does that mean?

Well, immediately it means that the fight between Canelo Alvarez and James Kirkland has been pushed back to May 9. Canelo had aggresively pursued a fight with Miguel Cotto for May 2, Cinco de Mayo weekend, in a bit of patriotic grandstanding to his gigantic Mexican fan base. Cotto bowed out and Kirkland stepped in, and now they have stepped aside for Pac-Money, not that they had any other choice.

It means that we have two and a half months of breathless hyperbole to read and listen to before the thing actually happens, in addition to the five years we had already endured. Though, honestly, I anticipated much more. In the many years of idle speculation about the conditions of the superfight, I always figured the fight would be announced with at least six months, if not a full year, of worldwide promotion similar to the media blitz that accompanied Canelo-Mayweather in 2013. Instead, we’ll have ten weeks of constant analysis and overanalysis of the fighters and the money and the everything else, and probably a few bullshit considerations about the state of the sport and how this is th eFight of the Century, and possibly The Last Great Fight.

It means that maybe this really is the last great fight. So much time and mental energy has been put toward the collision of these two that the fight and its inevitable conclusion can’t help but feel like closing the book on the last fifteen years of boxing in which Mayweather and Pacquiao have dominated. There will certainly be boxing after this fight–Canelo has a long and potentially legendary career ahead of him, and Showtime has put a lot of weight behind Deontay Wilder as the next great American heavyweight–but it’s undeniable that boxing no longer occupies the same cultural space it once did in the US, and it’s entirely possible that the sport will never have such public figures in its top ranks again.

And it means once again engaging in the willful denial that being a boxing fan in the 21st century often entails. It means knowing that the money we will spend to watch this fight–and let’s be honest with ourselves, we will–is going toward the $120 million purse of convicted and enthusiastic woman beater Floyd Mayweather. It means once again weighing professional admiration against personal disgust, and drawing our line anew–not just about Floyd and Manny, but about boxing and media-industrial complex that supports it, which can be duplicitous to its fans and monstrously cruel to its fighters. And it means finding the moments of grace through it all, the connections to history, to family, to shared triumphs and sorrows that underpin our love of any sport. That’s the real thing.

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