On the morning of May 2, 2015, I was frantically searching the web for bars that would show what was then billed as “The Fight of the Century.” It was a difficult search. Boston may be a big sports city with a fanatical obsession for hometown teams, but it was not a fight city. Golf had more chances of being shown in bars than the biggest boxing match of the year.
By late afternoon, I was resigned to shelling out $100 pay-per-view (PPV) fee to stream the fight through TopRank TV. It was an exorbitant price, no doubt, but it was also the fight that the world had been waiting for and one that no self-respecting boxing fan can miss. I had streamed PPV fights via TopRank TV in the past, so it was my last resort. To my horror, streaming was unavailable for this fight and I had to subscribe to HBO or Showtime to watch it on PPV.
Later that evening, I found myself in a small, non-descript Caribbean restaurant called Some ‘Ting Nice along the McGrath Highway in the blue-collared part of Somerville. It was the only place in the Somerville-Cambridge area that showed Mayweather-Pacquiao. A friend had planted himself in the bar in front of one of the TV sets in the restaurant. I stood behind him, both of us never to leave our spots for more than three hours. We paid a tenth of the PPV price. By the end the night, $10 felt like it was too much of a price to have paid for a fight that felt more like a dud.
The Night the Music Died
It was a fight that many of us wanted to love, but just couldn’t. The decidedly pro-Pacquiao crowd in the restaurant cheered at every sign of engagement, only to fall quiet as Pacquiao’s attempt to do battle fell short round after round. By the 10th round, it was clear who had won and who had lost. #MayPac won, the fans lost. Not even Vasyl Lomanchenko’s demolition of Gamalier Rodriguez in the undercard could salvage the evening.
It was the best unspent $100 ever.
American boxing viewership has been on decline but #MayPac was the clearest indication yet that boxing in the US needs a serious rethink. #MayPac felt like the triumph of big business over the average fan. Floyd “Money” Mayweather lived up to his ring monicker and walked away with approximately $120 million. Manny Pacquiao later on revealed that his shoulder had been hurt during training, but made $80 million nonetheless. The promise of a massive payout for all the parties who made the fight happened was fulfilled. All parties walked away richer and happier than the fans.
Mayweather went on to retire and focus on his promotion business. Pacquiao became senator in the Philippines. But the music had died for the two superstars. Viewership of Pacquiao’s subsequent fights was lower, even for his action-packed rematch with Timothy Bradley in April 2016. While he won a decisive victory over Jessie Vargas in November 2016, for the first time in Pacquiao’s fight history in the global arena, his fight had become inconsequential in his homeland where previous fights had the entire the country on a standstill.
In retirement, Mayweather has been playing promoter, but has difficulty pointing the spotlight to his fighters. Possibly out of an itch to be in the limelight once again, he has signaled interest in participating in what could become a train wreck of a boxing match with MMA’s Conor McGregor, where “Money” is almost certain to walk away unscathed but possibly $100 million richer. In the meantime, he leaves a legacy of making the most money for the least amount of risk possible. I recently asked a young boxer who he would like to become, 10 years from now. His answer: In terms of money, Mayweather.
And what of the fans? It’s not hard to imagine that disillusionment over #MayPac further drove casual fans away from boxing. If the “Fight of the Century” underwhelmed former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, the curious observer could have easily walked away from boxing without ever thinking of watching another bout ever again.
#MayPac clearly showed that a match that is withheld for far too long becomes more of marriage on the verge of divorce than a match made in heaven. This was a fight that should have happened five years before it did, when both fighters were at their peak, enjoying unparalleled popularity. Five years later, the bout looked more like an exhibition match, both fighters acting out for an audience like pawns to the big money interests that had dominated this match from the very start.
The much demanded middleweight matchup between Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is precariously close to falling into the same trap. Golovkin is 34, whose shelf life as a boxer is approaching its typical expiry date. Alvarez is 26 with a few years on him and his promoters know it. Golovkin has repeatedly been calling out Alvarez, in the same way that Pacquiao called out Mayweather years back. Will Team Alvarez heed the call that will make history?
The heavyweight battle between Anthony Joshua and Vladimir Klitschko on April 29 was the fight that #MayPac could have been. For a much lesser purse, #JoshuaKlitschko rekindled the fire that #MayPac had extinguished. The story line was perfect: A young fighter taking the risk and fighting the best. The veteran champion putting himself on the line to retain his crown. Both fighters did not hold back. And fans got the best of both worlds.
Two years after #MayPac, the time has come to move on.