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Golden Boy vs. Pretty Boy (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2007 8:55AM; Updated: Wednesday May 2, 2007 9:17PM
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Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Age: 30,  Height: 5'8
Floyd Mayweather Jr.: Age: 30, Height: 5'8", Record: 37-0-0 (24 KOs). Five-time World Champion.
Robert Beck/SI

If Mayweather is truly desperate -- and nothing else explains his fanaticism -- this is good news back in the boardrooms. His fight with Oscar De La Hoya on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Vegas will probably be boxing's last gasp, surely the last bout that can produce anything like coast-to-coast appeal or, let's say, two million pay-per-view buys. Unless De La Hoya is fighting, which has been seldom of late and is about to become never, the sport exists on the fringes, particularly in the U.S. The lower weight classes are dominated by Hispanic fighters, and their fights, dramatic as they might be, are marketed almost exclusively in the West, Southwest and some big cities elsewhere. The heavyweight division, which traditionally galvanized the nation, is similarly dominated by foreign fighters, but with the added disadvantage that they're not very good.

In short, De La Hoya-Mayweather just might be boxing's last megafight, the last event of its kind, the last time a bout features two widely known athletes and is a topic of national interest. There will be boxing, and lots of it will be quite good, but there may never again be a time when boxing penetrates this country's indifference and causes a viral, all-consuming hubbub.

The reasons for boxing's decline, or at least its transition to a specialty sport, have been outlined in these pages before. The Olympics, once a springboard to stardom, no longer provide boxing any exposure in this country. It's been a long time, perhaps since De La Hoya won his gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, that kids in this country could be goaded into a gym with the promise of glory. Globalization, which ought to be good for boxing, a traditional melting pot, has instead turned it into a nightmare of competing ethnicities, with niche marketing now the norm.

On top of all this, there has been the sudden and surprising emergence of mixed martial arts. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has been selling out Las Vegas arenas for several years now, is lately making big bucks with its own pay-per-view shows. It skews much younger, imbuing Gen Xers with an appreciation of leg sweeps instead of left hooks. Boxing's demographic is increasingly made up of people who eat early-bird specials and wonder what e-mail is. And it will get only worse. "It's a bit like horse racing," says Marc Ratner, longtime executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which oversees boxing in the state, "and you wonder about that." (Indeed. Ratner recently switched sides and went to work for the UFC.) Saturday night's fight will not change this but will instead represent something of a last hurrah. The riches this bout will produce (the $19 million gate, the potential $100 million PPV haul) will most likely not be matched. Not on one night, anyway.


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