The Orbit

The Orbit

Hollywood ending ends discussion in boxing

These days, boxing has been relegated from a habitual mainstream pursuit or watching experience to a once in a while, big-event experience. The way the Olympics are cyclically on the radar screens of the average sports fan or the World Cup registers with the non-soccer followers only when the magnitude of the event marshals attention.

Then Juan Manuel Márquez sent Manny Pacquiao's political, singing and sporting careers to the canvas with a thud, with a straight right that left him splayed on a Las Vegas canvas for minutes to end all discussion in their fourth fight. Throw all doubt and controversy as to who won the previous contests in the bin, as Márquez stopped all speculation.

There's a symmetry to a trilogy, a balance that a quartet does not fulfill. I thought a fourth fight had no unresolved business to settle, but can you add anything with a fifth chapter between these two men? The desire for justice, revenge or outrage from the Márquez fans has been fulfilled. Pac-Man's closest constituents, his wife and mother, have asked him to call it quits. As a politician in the Philippines, he certainly has pressing concerns. If you fill out the four corners of a house, is there room for more?

Who wants to watch a fifth chapter of Pacquiao-Márquez?

Revisiting the mythical matchups in boxing: Ali-Frazier, Dempsey-Tunney, Ali-Norton, Louis-Schmeling, Leonard-Duran and Holyfield-Tyson all had three chapters or less. 

The thunderous sixth-round knockout of Pacquiao, just as it seemed the Philippine boxer was turning the fight just as he had decisioned Márquez the previous three, was a thumping punctuation to the rivalry. Moreover, it was a wonderful salve or elixir for boxing. It should enter the lore of the sport, as Tyson bit off Holyfield's ear;  as Jack Dempsey's 1927 flooring of Gene Tunney and refusal to go to a neutral corner (a rule started then but still in use) giving Tunney time to recover and win another decision over the Manassas Mauler; Ali's rope-a-dope surprise against Foreman in Zaire and the building momentum of the Ali-Frazier trilogy; Duran-Leonard and "no más" in  the third of their contests in 1980.

The real issue is that boxing is not as reliant to general society as the classic period of the sport, from 1920s until about1985. The thirties, when Max Schemling and Joe Louis represented their respective societies; the seventies when Ali entered the political and sporting conversations in the United States with his adoption of Islam and stand on the Vietnam War.

Now, as the biggest players and brands in the sport are geriatrics like Bob Arum, José Suleiman or characters who have been retired from the headlines like Don King. The exception is Oscar de la Hoya and the Latin fans who support Mexican boxers in boilerplate rivalries like Mexico v Puerto Rico, Mexico v Philippines or East v. West. In the old days, it was the same, as there was always a "great white hope" after most of the European immigrants were absorbed into American society.

Boxing is receding into the background. Disagree? Ask five sports fans to name one other champion other than Floyd Mayweather Jr. Up and comers – say Mexicans Saúl "Canelo" Alvarez or Julio César Chávez Jr – are nurtured like debutantes or Brahma bulls protected for their beauty or value at the gate until payday. 

As long as boxing deprives us of the capacity to surprise – by recycling the same old names – then it will be off the main screen. UFC supremo Dana White, a lover of boxing, realized that by putting all its important fights on pay-per-view boxing cannibalized its future, and White capitalized on this by gathering and presenting the best fighters in UFC cards that are both free and paid. Slowly, more of the Top 10 PPV events are MMA than boxing. And how often have boxing decisions been undecipherable, and its "may the better man win" ethos been left up to the judges and to no one's satisfaction?

That Saturday Dec. 8, 2012, there was both mixed martial arts and boxing on the television. But Márquez's passing of Pacquiao was incremental, like civilization's progress. "The importance was due to to the timing, the quality of opposition Márquez repeated in interviews upon his return to Mexico.

It was myth-making, because for a weekend, the sport competed with Lionel Messi's chase for Gerd Muller's goals-in-a-year record, and the "Amazing Goal-Machine" (Radamel Falcao) for the front pages.

"I'm open to a fifth fight," said the loser after regaining consciousness. "Why not fight again?"

To me, the Márquez knockout was the final point to a narrative. Not the unconclusive ending of a Hollywood franchise with more chapters to come depending on the gate. Thank 39-year-old  Márquez for that. Unless….VOICEOVER: his Hulk-like physique was obtained by devious means and the Asian hero must return to restore Philippine pride in a classic tale and more than the $85 million they raised this time………CUE special effects.

Keyvan Antonio Heydari Keyvan Antonio Heydari

Keyvan Antonio Heydari

A journalist/documentarian, Keyvan has covered soccer for 20+ years, traveling as contributor to The New York Times, France Football, NPR, Univision, Terra and more. Sport through a cultural prism.

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