Face it, boxing is basically done

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 May, 2012, 12:00am

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The boxing world, at least what is left of it, breathlessly lies in wait. The single most lucrative payday in the history of the sport has been seemingly within reach for five or six years now. But this week it took another bizarre turn. Now it looks like Manny Pacquiao fighting Floyd Mayweather Jnr is probably never going to happen - and I am not sure that is a bad thing.

Mayweather is 35 and on his way to three months in prison for domestic violence. The earliest he could conceivably fight Pacquiao would be next year when he will be 36 and Manny, who is showing his age more than Floyd, will be 34. That's not exactly prime time, not even close.

The two did manage to clash on one issue this week however: gay marriage. Manny publicly declared he is against US president Barack Obama's pro-marriage stance which caused Mayweather to reactively tweet that he supported the president's position. I guess it's good that neither is afraid to take a stand on a divisive social issue. But if this is the only scrap the two engage in then it will be a sad footnote in the official demise of the sweet science.

For a sport teetering on the brink of oblivion the fact that its two brightest stars did not fight each other in their prime is basically a knockout blow. Never in the history of boxing have the undisputed top two fighters of their weight class failed to meet. Thanks to a number of regrettable factors, most notably a couple of rival promoters looking out more for their self-interest then their fighters, Pacquiao versus Mayweather existed only in the arena of hype.

So what's left for boxing now? Memories, nothing more than sweet, joyous memories. Oh, you can scavenge through the bargain bin today and find a fighter or two who may mildly pique your curiosity. But how many of you can name the current World Boxing Association heavyweight champion? I'll give you a minute or two. Times up, it's Alexander Povetkin.

Face it, if you are of a certain advanced age boxing is merely a wistful yarn from your youth and all the Viagra and Cialis in the world can't change that hard truth, Pops. Your baby boomer demographic gets more irrelevant by the minute. Your kids and their friends don't really care about boxing because they grew up playing insanely violent computer games and now have UFC and MMA to satiate their bloodlust for legalised violence.

You can deny it and try to get excited about current champs like Vitali Klitschko or light heavyweight Beibut Shumenov. Or you can acknowledge the fact that those of us who can remember most of the 70s and 80s were freakishly blessed to witness the golden era of boxing. We had the tail-end of the great heavyweight era with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton and Larry Holmes. But we were front-row centre for the heyday of the middleweights, the era of the so-called four kings: Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and, of course, Sugar Ray Leonard.

I don't know how you are handling the transition from ageing to old but on the day that Mayweather tweeted his support for gay marriage, I came across a copy of Leonard's recent autobiography The Big Fight: My Life in and out of the Ring. I don't care what you say, but give me Sugar Ray any day. Yeah, I know Ray was unceremoniously voted off Dancing with the Stars last year and I know he is the godfather of Khloe Kardashian and occasionally shows up on that family's circus of a reality TV show.

But the man is a flat-out freak. He is still a pretty boy, still lucid, articulate and insightful. And, as we all know, a life inside the ring is not something you walk away from with your faculties intact. In Leonard's searingly honest autobiography he details his numerous regrets at being a physically abusive husband, an absent father, a drug addict, an alcoholic and a chronic skirt-chaser, all while being sold as America's golden boy. He admits that all the apologies in the world cannot change or forgive what he did and that he has to live with that guilt. But the one thing he has no regrets about is his boxing career because in Sugar Ray's day the greats all fought each other and were defined by those epic clashes.

He fought Duran three times, Hearns twice and Hagler once. He took two of three from Duran, won once and split another with Hearns and when he fought Hagler, Marvin was the most fearsome boxer on the planet and pretty boy Leonard beat him. That's who Sugar Ray was as a boxer.

When Mayweather and Pacquiao eventually write their tell-all autobiographies, there will be some confessions and some regrets. Foremost among them will be the fact that they never fought each other. Because of that, boxing is basically done. Welcome to your epitaph, boys.