Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Main Event

      Last night, the world was captivated by the newest "fight of the century" between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Many in this country plunked down 100 of their hard earned dollars to watch the fight, and then many of those same people moaned about it after Mayweather had won. Personally, I wasn't interested in an event where a serial bigot faced off against a serial domestic abuser in a sport whose object is to punch your opponent repeatedly in the face, but I must not be as neolithic as many Americans, or citizens of the world. But did the majority of people who watched the fight and gave it so much attention really want a revival of boxing? No.

    The sports culture, and indeed the entertainment culture of the United States, is defined by our collective love of an event. The Mayweather-Pacquiao bout was another in a long line of events that have captivated the country, but our collective OCD forces us to wipe it from memory soon after it ended.

    One of boxing's great champions, Howard Cosell, disowned the sport almost 30 years ago. Boxing hasn't captivated the country's attention so much as the hype of a big fight has, and so many after Cosell have noticed that. Tyson, Lewis, Leonard, Holyfield, and right on down the line have all been involved in big fights that have drawn considerable attention, but it hasn't meant that boxing is undergoing a revival in the American sports conscience. We watch because it's an event, with spectacle, panache and intrigue.

    Earlier in the day, Horse Racing took center stage with the Kentucky Derby. If one just looked at the numbers, they'd probably surmise America loved horse racing. Would a triple crown winner as American Pharaoh could be really boost the popularity of horse racing in this country? No. The Belmont Stakes would be just another event that captured the country's attention, because of the spectacle, panache and most importantly, the ability to gamble. A Triple Crown winner would be great, but in the same way that a prized heavyweight bout is a great sight, and right on down the line.

   Every four years, this country is captivated and entranced by the stories of the Olympic Games, both summer and winter. Does this country really love cross-country skiing, moguls, ice dancing, track, swimming or gymnastics as sports, or spectacles? There are obviously many that are devotees of those sports, but the majority who watch these sports even on tape delay during the Olympics watch because they are events; events that have human interest stories intertwined with the competition. Throw in a bit of noxious patriotism and voila, ratings.

   As much as I wanted last summer's World Cup viewing numbers to mean something for the sport of soccer in this country, the US/Portugal, US/Ghana and US/Belgium games were again nothing more than events; chances to sit around the collective figurative bonfire and celebrate our country together, even for a sport that not too many follow religiously. It's just like the Olympics, only with a different face.

   Even though the American sport of choice is football, what is the Super Bowl other than a massive event? It has everything: noxious patriotism, overt capitalism, a concert in the middle of the game, and more people watch any given Super Bowl in this country than live in about 190 countries around the globe. Not everyone who watches the Super Bowl is a football fan; many are watching for the commercials, or the halftime show, or because they're at a party with friends. The Super Bowl is a football showcase, but it's an event for the general public too.

  Why are award shows guaranteed ratings bringers? Award shows of absolutely no consequence draw at least 10 million viewers for the alphabet networks and many others, because they are events. Nothing more. Do many people really care about who won the Grammy for best R&B album? Unless you're a true devotee, or a devotee of quiz night at the pub, of course not. But it's live, a show for the senses and again a chance to come together as a collective, so naturally they'll all draw ratings. Heck, the Kids Choice Sports Awards, quite possibly the most useless awards show in the history of award shows is probably going to draw five million viewers in the dead of summer because... Events! We all love our events!

   All of that was a long-winded way of saying: The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was nothing more than another event that America became obsessed with, and it will be an event quickly forgotten when the next big event comes around. That's who we are as sports fans, and as Americans.

   So anyone who was talking about this fight as one that would bring boxing back into the popular mindspace of sports fans, or that when it ended it would be boxing's death knell:

   If another fight can garner the hype and the intrigue, I'll certainly be writing this same piece once again whenever that happens.

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