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Fight or farce?

By Muyiwa Adetiba

A big fight is taking place in the US tonight. Some people would want us to believe that it is going to be the fight of the year. To those who perhaps are not used to the lingo, the word ‘fight’ is often used to interplay with the word ‘boxing’ among the faithful because it reminds them of the origin of boxing. For boxing started, before its evolution, as prize fighting—often unto death. Then, the Roman Emperors delighted in the adroit display of strength, masculinity—and courage of the scantily clad fighters who performed for them.

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The sport has since been standardised into weight groups, fight time of three minutes, fight rounds which couldn’t exceed 15 rounds and stoppage after three knock-downs. Boxing has also been transformed into an art and a science.

It is today, perhaps the most complete one-on–one sport where skill, patience, athleticism, courage, intellect and sheer physical strength bordering on brutality combine in generous proportions. But despite the fine tuning of the sport, its teeming followers still romanticise its savagery and brutality much like Formula One followers romanticise the inherent dangers in the speed of their cars. Hence, they still see boxing as a fight. The term, ‘killer instinct’ is associated—with affection—with great boxers.

But the fight tonight in Las Vegas is of a different hue. It is between a veteran of 49 undefeated bouts and a man who is making his debut. The playing—or fighting—field is anything but level. How, in the name of sports, or money, can anyone match a man who could not, until he retired, be beaten by his fellow boxing professionals with someone who has never had a professional fight in his life?

As an undefeated champion of 49 fights, 40-year old Floyd Mayweather is one of the best in his generation. He is also one of the most defensive fighters of all time. Even accomplished boxers find it difficult to hit him. Conor Mcgregor on the other hand, is a UFC (Ultimate Fight Champion) or a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. What he knows how to do is wrestle, kick and box whenever necessary. He is, like most UFC fighters, strong and fit. But he is not a boxer.

He will not have the reflex or the temperament borne of years of training and boxing to be in the same ring with a crafty, clever and experienced boxer like Mayweather.  It is like making a decathlon athlete, who has to be good in ten events before he can become a champion, to run against Hussein Bolt who only has to be good in one or two events.

Or Hector Bellerin of Arsenal, who is the fastest football player in Europe, to compete in a hundred meter dash at the Olympics. His strength is a combination of speed and football; not one without the other. To push the point further, the great Michael Jordan was a very good baseball player; but he could not cut it as a professional after he retired from basketball.

Neither could Michael Shumacher, the Formula One champion, cut it as a professional footballer after his driving days. Nadal, a very good golfer had to be dissuaded from opting for professional golf after a career threatening injury in tennis. The point is that a top professional UFC fighter cannot become a top professional boxer overnight.

You would expect in the interest of fair play, that the rules of engagement would be altered to accommodate the weaknesses and strengths of both contestants. This is what is usually done when two boxers of different weights agree to fight where something as basic as the type of gloves are negotiated. But that is not the case here. It is dubbed a boxing contest and the rules are boxing rules never mind that there is going to be only one real boxer in the ring.

Why would Conor Mcgregor, the young Irish accept this fight when the odds of winning are stacked against him? The answer seems to be money. A CNN report hinted that he was at a crossroad in his chosen career so he has very little to lose. And why would Floyd Mayweather, the American who has had a distinguished career accept a fight that could taint his career and that of his sport? The answer again seems to be money. According to reports, Mcgregor has a guaranteed pay check of 75million dollars which could rise to 127million dollars. Mayweather on his part, has a guaranteed pay check of 100 million dollars which could rise to 400 million dollars.  After all, he is not called money Mayweather for nothing.

This mis-match, this farce is being dubbed as one of the great fights of boxing. Everybody, the media, the promoters, the boxing board, image rights board and the contestants are all out to have their slices of the juicy pie. Those who want a novelty match will probably be entertained. But those who look forward to a serious boxing contest might be disappointed.

For the records, this is not the first time this type of mis-match would be contemplated. There was a time the great Mohammed Ali was once matched with a Judo fighter. It didn’t materialise. Then he was matched with a huge basketballer called Chamberlain. Sanity again prevailed. This time sanity seemed to have deserted everyone.  Money seems to have taken over everyone’s senses.

Like all sports, boxing is part entertainment, part sport and many sponsors try to emphasise on the entertainment aspect for commercial purposes. But sports purists and followers know when to draw the line. Until this time. In the past, the stature of the contesting boxers was enough to draw fans to the stands.

Then promoters who looked after the commercial end started advertising fights as well as they could without involving the contestants who had to concentrate on training. Gradually, the promoters moved things further by inviting the boxers to press conferences where they feigned grudges and animosities against each other to boost the gate.

Now the boxers go on road shows when they should be putting finishing touches to training and strategies. Wither boxing? Will it go the way of wrestling which has become pure entertainment? Those big boys in wrestling are like big cats playing with each other. You cringe as they bare their fangs and go for the jugular until you realise that no blood comes out.

Then you realise that those bites are playful bites. May that not be the way of boxing which has always been a serious sport. Boxers are not known to pull punches. Boxing was once known as the noble art of self-defence. Let all those involved in boxing keep it noble.

The fight tonight is worse than a farce. It is a fraud.


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