It is big-fight week, so get on your thigh-high rubber boots.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Saturday night in Las Vegas. The MGM Grand will be overrun with tattoos and muscle shirts. Most of those will be men.
You will hear and read superlatives worthy of a Super Bowl. Leonard Ellerbe, Mayweather’s best friend and chief executive of his promotion company, said in a recent conference call, “This is the most anticipated fight in the history of the sport.”
Boxing suffers from many things during a promotion, including a frightening loss of perspective and a deaf ear to history.
Ali-Frazier. Ali-Foreman. Leonard-Hearns. Tyson-Holyfield. Dempsey-Tunney. Louis-Schmeling. Marciano-Walcott. Mayweather-Alvarez.
Which pairing doesn’t belong?
Among the wonders of boxing is its unrepentant belief of its hype.
Mayweather-Alvarez could be a good fight, even great. It also could be a crushing bore. Mayweather’s marvelous defensive skills and quick feet can, and often do, turn opponents into awkward, lunging brutes who connect consistently only with the space Mayweather once occupied.
If you care, you will hear and read all the conjecture.
Mayweather is getting old and at 36 is due to be beaten. Alvarez is the perfect chosen one, at 23 similarly unbeaten, and with a punch that could take out a wall. But can he catch Mayweather? Are his feet fast enough to cope with the lightning bug he will be chasing?
You will read and hear about records, about how this event sold out its 16,500 seats at the MGM Grand in 24 hours and will bring a record live gate of nearly $19.9 million. Much will also be made of the possibility that they will sell more than the record 2.5 million pay-per-views purchased for the 2007 Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight. The purchase numbers may not make it, but the revenue, with pricing at $64.95 for a regular view and $74.95 for high definition, will probably cover any sales shortfall.
But that’s promotional hype. The attraction of this fight is much more basic. To many fans, it is a morality play, a good versus evil. Can Alvarez finally take Mayweather out? Will the motormouth grow silent as it rests on the canvas floor? Ellerbe calls Mayweather the “face of the sport.” Will that face be bloodied and vacant when Alvarez finishes with it?
To Mayweather fans, it is good versus evil too, only their good is Mayweather. Won’t it be fun to see this most-recent raging bull end up on his freckled face, or at least on his stool in his corner, beaten for the first time and blemished for the future?
This fight has many of the ingredients that give boxing its charm: revenge, anger, anticipated violence and greed.
De La Hoya has taken Alvarez under his wing. He badly wants Alvarez to win because it would be a huge boost to his Golden Boy Promotions. Also, he’s not all that fond of Mayweather, and the feeling is mutual. They set a financial record together in Mayweather’s split decision in 2007, and they are business partners in this promotion, but they don’t go out to lunch a lot.
Mayweather will be paid $41.5 million for this fight. (Alvarez is guaranteed $6 million.) De La Hoya’s promotion company will do nicely too, depending on the pay-per-views. Forbes magazine lists Mayweather as the wealthiest athlete in the country right now. De La Hoya’s nickname is the Golden Boy, but that may better suit Mayweather.
They have labeled this fight “The One.” If that appears to arrogantly dismiss all the others that have come before, boxing doesn’t care. It lives for today. Yesterday is good mostly for schmaltzy documentaries.
The buzz will begin Tuesday. The boxers will make “Grand Arrivals,” kind of like they are conquering kings returning from the battlefield. Sometimes, they actually ride in chariots, carry spears and wear huge helmets with big feathers. We don’t make this up.
Wednesday will be the final news conference, where more outrageous, opinionated things will be said so they can be typed and broadcast to the world.
Still, by Saturday night, despite all this, the sports fan will want to know, will want to watch. In this regard, we are all like NASCAR fans who swear they don’t go to the races to see the wrecks. They do, and when Mayweather fights Alvarez, we have to see.
They will step in the ring. Words won’t matter anymore. Nor will predictions and opinions. By the third round or so, it will become clear which one can walk the walk. Or if both can.
Words are words. Punches are reality.
When there is enough of the latter, in quality and quantity, it makes wading through all the blather worth it.