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When every fight was not a super fight

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There was a time in this game they call boxing that a champ was allowed to take some easy fights. It wasn’t long ago that Roberto Duran, when he was king of the lightweights, engaged in 23 non-title bouts. Joe Louis had his “Bum of the Month Club” where he starched a succession of foes that could best be described as less than dangerous. Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard and even Marvelous Marvin Hagler had easy fights against sub-par opponents in small towns.

Back then, not every fight had to be a super fight.

It used to be that you could see Joe Louis in Buffalo, Larry Holmes in Bloomington, Sugar Ray in Syracuse and Marvelous Marvin in Providence. It was a nice way for the champs to take breathers in between tough title defenses and it was also a way for the common folk to see the best fighters in the world in small venues in small towns. The top fighters on the planet could connect with the everyday fans and local media alongside ticket prices that weren’t in the stratosphere.

But in this day and age, when the top stars only display their wares a couple times in any given year, the pressure is on them to face the best available competition every time out. These days, boxing fans shell out upwards of fifty dollars for each pay-per-view bout. The fighters themselves, especially at the highest levels, expect paydays that routinely exceed eight figures. The last time Floyd Mayweather, Jr., the reigning PPV king, appeared in a bout on regular television was in 2006. Because the public will not pay for bouts of little significance and because Mayweather will not step into the ring for a purse under $20 million he must always appear on PPV against someone the public considers a top contender.

So it is that Mayweather has found himself in somewhat of a conundrum in regards to his next opponent. Because the talent pool in the sport has dried up and because he has already beaten many of the big names (Alvarez, Cotto, Marquez) Mayweather is faced with a dearth of capable and bankable opposition. He signed a contract with Showtime for six bouts (and has fought two of those) but at this particular point in time there are not four fighters kicking about that he can face and make all the money he feels he deserves or that will satisfy the particulars of the contract. For a variety of reasons, he refuses to fight Pacquiao so that has left Mayweather with leaving it up to the fans to choose his next opponent.

It is a novel approach and one, quite frankly, that I applaud. In fact, I’d like to see more fighters do it. The message boards are replete with cranky know-it-alls that believe there is no other bout on the planet except Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. My feeling is that the sun has set on that match-up and Pacquiao has lost twice. It made a lot of sense in 2009, but both fighters have aged and it if they ever do meet it will be a watered down affair much like Hagler vs. Leonard was when it came five years too late.

Mayweather hears the critics and he reads their blog posts. The way the game is these days with Golden Boy and Top Rank controlling the promotional end of things and with HBO and Showtime the television kingpins Mayweather lives on the Golden Boy/Showtime side of the fence. It has left him with limited options in terms of opponent selection. Other factors also come into play, but Mayweather will meet either Amir Khan or Marcos Maidana next. Neither match is necessarily a bad one, but any knowledgeable person realizes Mayweather will be the winner two hundred times if he faces both of those guys one hundred times each. Mayweather knows this and he hears the fans who expect him to fight only the best of the best next. Since that doesn’t seem possible, he’s doing the next best thing and inviting the arm chair matchmakers to select his next opponent by casting their vote on his website. This approach is an interesting way to select an opponent because it allows Mayweather to avoid the catcalls from those that often criticize him – the paying public. Floyd can simply say that he fought the person the fans chose – even though they were given only two choices.

It’s a sad commentary on the game when you realize it’s not possible to see the top champions perform in person anymore unless you can travel to Las Vegas or even Macau and spend hundreds of dollars for even the least expensive ticket. There is zero chance that you will see Mayweather fighting in Michigan or Pacquiao in a ten-rounder in Toledo. Those days are clearly over and as a result the stakes are high every time the top fighters skip up the steps and slink through the ropes. Some folks would say that’s the way it should be and that fighters shouldn’t be allowed easy fights in backwater towns.

But it was a lot more fun when boxing took its traveling circus on the road. Ron Stander against Joe Frazier in Omaha, Ali versus Liston in Lewiston or Holyfield against Vaughn Bean in Atlanta were all sights to behold. But those types of fights that once involved boxing’s biggest names in those types of places just wouldn’t happen today.

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