Is boxing important anymore?

Boxing has officially face-planted in the ring. It has managed to both “jump the shark” and “nuke the fridge” at the same time. It has reached pure absurdity and considering its long history as a sport, that’s saying something.

In about a month, one of the best and most controversial boxers of all time in Floyd “Money” Mayweather will step into the ring to take on one of the best and most controversial UFC fighters in the “Notorious” Conor McGregor.

People all over the world will watch the fight on TV or stream it online and many will bet ridiculous amounts of money on it.

Why do we keep doing that?

Boxing has lived off of controversy and spectacle for centuries. Fighters used to fight bare-knuckle, round after round with no real limits until they either quit or were basically knocked out.

The number of rounds was eventually reduced to 15 and then to 12 in the 1980s, which is still a long time for someone to have their face caved in.

Nicknames were common to hype up both the competitors and the event itself. Names like the Cinderella Man, Smokin’ Joe, Hitman, the Golden Boy, Hurricane and the Real Deal have entranced us for decades.

If you didn’t know anything about the sport, it’d be hard not to be at least mildly interested by a hypothetical event like Hurricane vs. Hitman.

It’s been a marquee sport for a long time, but it seemed to have reached its peak in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, there were the big fights like the “Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manila” where Muhammad Ali took on George Foreman, and later Joe Frazier for the third time.

In the ’80s, boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Larry Holmes, and of course, Mike Tyson, used to grab people’s attention and they would stay glued to their TVs on fight nights.

Even my generation (yes, us darn millennials) got to see boxing in its heyday, but once Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear in the ’90s, the sport kind of lost its appeal for a lot of us. Most people I know couldn’t even name the heavyweight champion right now, which shows just how far boxing has fallen.

Now boxing has to compete with ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts for attention, and watching a guy (or gal) pummel someone into oblivion with something other than their fists seems more entertaining to the casual fan.

Boxing now has to go to great lengths to get people’s attention, whether it’s trying to get guys to come out of retirement, or having people fight each other who probably shouldn’t. Mayweather vs. McGregor is the latest edition of this. And it’s the worst one.

Neither one is particularly likable. Mayweather is an arrogant, well-known domestic abuser and hates having that pointed out, so he bans the reporters that do so from his fights.

McGregor, on the other hand, is am egotistical showboat who loves to make obscene comments in public. The plus side for both of them is that they both compete in a sport where it’s OK to do that.

So in a few weeks, a skilled, yet retired pugilist will take on a brawler known for quick knockouts and wild spinning kicks. Seems like a massive mismatch, but for some reason, millions will want to see what happens and hope for an epic battle.

In the end, it will probably only last a few rounds and won’t end well for the trash-talking Irishman. Boxing will get what it craves most, money and awareness, but it doesn’t deserve it based on the quality of product it’s produced the last two decades.

Two great athletes from different specialties going at it in the squared circle seems like an intriguing event, but in reality, it’s just a desperate cry for attention for boxing, which is trying to stay out of the shadows.

After this wacky flailing attempt at relevancy, we shouldn’t help boxing up again and just leave it there flat on its sad, scarred face.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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