Tim Noonan

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2007, 12:00am

It was supposed to be the last big fight, the one that would save boxing. But you can't resuscitate the dead. When Oscar De La Hoya lost a split decision to Floyd Mayweather last weekend in the fight that was supposed to save boxing, there was a hollow feeling and it had nothing to do with the fight itself.

Mayweather and De La Hoya staged a classic for the ages, which made the event all the sadder because, well, now what? The boxing world has to go back to the likes of Ruslan Chagaev fighting Oleg Maskaev for the heavyweight championship of the world and Juan Diaz fighting Julio Diaz or David Diaz for the lightweight title.

You think Jack Nicholson or Will Ferrell will make the trek to Las Vegas to see the Diaz scraps? Probably not. The truth is De La Hoya is the biggest name in boxing right now and he is 34 years old. He was named Ring magazine's Fighter of the Year - in 1995.

The only gold in the Golden Boy these days is in his bank account. It's not likely, but even if De La Hoya pulls a George Foreman and fights until he's in his 40s, the gig is basically up for Oscar and boxing as well. When he leaves, the era of big fights will go with him and it is so sad. There really is no buzz quite so electric in sports as a big fight. Even the weigh-ins draw millions of viewers and for good reason as there is often a brawl between rival camps.

One sycophant wants to endear himself to his fighter so he starts something with another flunky from the other guy's camp and next thing you know all hell breaks loose. It's not exactly a slugfest on par with the Taiwanese parliament, but it's great theatre nonetheless. Man, I am going to miss that.

'It's not true that boxing is dead,' said Hong Kong fight impresario Pierre Ingrassia. 'It's a little more complicated than that. For the past 2,000 years boxing has been number one because everybody understands that you only have two weapons. That is simple and timeless. In places like the Philippines and China, boxing is hardly in decline. Everybody just measures things by the US and how Don King and all these charlatans' promoters are doing.'

But I like the charlatans, I really do. Don King is as much a part of boxing folklore as Muhammad Ali. For the casual boxing fan, there is no substitute for the circus and the casual fans are the ones who make a big fight big.

Of course, you still have to get it right in the ring, there is no question about that. But do you honestly believe the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight in 2002 was a huge hit on pay per view because everybody wanted to see a sublime display of boxing? Of course not, they wanted to see if Tyson was going to get all Van Gogh on Lewis and bite his ear off like he did a few years earlier with Evander Holyfield.

So maybe boxing is not dead for people who get excited about watching all 48 kilos of Japan's Yutaka Niida fighting Thailand's Eagle Kyowa for the straw-weight world championship. But for those of us of an older vintage who remember names like Tommy 'Hit Man' Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Roberto 'Hands of Stone' Duran, boxing is dead.

Who knows, maybe there will be some compelling personalities on the horizon who can revive the sport. But the reality is the youth of today are far more interested in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation, as well as the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) than they are in boxing.

Last year, the UFC set a pay-per-view all-time record for a single year of business, surpassing both the WWE and boxing, by generating over US$223 million in revenue. No wonder Mayweather felt so threatened by the UFC that he dumped all over it before his fight with De La Hoya.

'UFC ain't s**t,' he said. 'It ain't but a fad. Anyone can put a tattoo on their head and get in a street fight. These are guys who couldn't make it in boxing.'

Mayweather also said he would give US$1 million to UFC heavyweight champ Chuck Liddell if he could beat a heavyweight boxer. While he is loathe to admit it, Mayweather knows full well that before his fight with De La Hoya, a lot more people globally knew who Liddell was than knew who Floyd Mayweather was. In places like Japan, the UFC is huge. Boxing is viewed as something for the Geritol set. Much more bloody and violent than boxing, UFC is also huge in computer games. It's pretty simple: UFC is not the future, it's the present.

Ingrassia is promoting a fight night at the Macau Dome on June 2 called 'Fury in Macau'. But it won't be traditional boxing on the cards, it will be Muay Thai. When was the last time anybody promoted a big boxing card around here? In fact, when was the last time any of the cable companies offered a pay-per-view package for a boxing match?

The fact the De La Hoya/Mayweather tilt, one of the most anticipated and lucrative fights in recent memory, was not available locally on pay-per-view tells you what local TV people think of boxing. Sad but true. Unless De La Hoya and Mayweather have a rematch, the era of big fights has gone the way of the dinosaur. And don't you feel a whole lot older because of it?