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Masoud: Boxing devolution

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back in 688 B.C., two men pummeled each other in the face, without gloves, and for the first time the world accepted such violence as boxing.

The sport has come a long way since its debut in the Olympic Games in Greece, developing into a widely accepted spectator sport in Britain before finally arriving in the U.S. Boxing thrived in the 1920’s and 30’s, and only the top sports writers earned the right to cover boxing matches for their respective papers.

But the once-glorified sport has fallen since the days of Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali. Recently prominent figures like Mike Tyson and George Foreman have been relegated to film cameos and barbecue infomercials. Most of the attention toward boxing comes from Hollywood hits like “Million Dollar Baby,” while the actual fighting continues unnoticed on pay-per-view TV.

But the sport may have reached a new low (cross your fingers) Saturday night. Floyd “Money” Mayweather and Victor Oriz were engaged in a fairly exciting match through three rounds. Mayweather had the super welterweight champion on his heels for the majority of the bout, but Ortiz had managed to land enough punches to stay in the fight.

But in the fourth, Ortiz clocked Mayweather with a series of jabs, cornered him into one end of the ring and gave him a blatantly illegal headbutt.

Referee Joe Cortez penalized Ortiz, the fighters touched gloves, and with Cortez facing the scorer’s table, Mayweather ended the fight with a quick one-two that Ortiz should have seen coming.

It was legal. Ortiz let his guard down, and a ticked-off Mayweather made him pay with his championship title.

It was also dirty. After replays and countless opinions on YouTube, no one contests the legality of Mayweather’s vicious combo. But Mayweather didn’t even wait for Ortiz to bring his arms back to his body before delivering the final blows.

Perhaps the best part of the night was an 80-year old Larry Merchant threatening to fight Mayweather in a post-match interview had he only been 50 years younger.

So after Saturday night’s debacle, where does that leave boxing? Essentially where it started Saturday morning.

Most fans didn’t even catch the fight because of its pay-per-view televising on HBO and only heard about it due to the controversy of the fourth round. The sport has taken a backseat to less-worthy rivals like ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts. Even Vince McMahon and professional wrestling can fill the Monday night time slot with weekly matches.

And yet we always return to the same what-if. What if Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fought in the same ring?

They are the sport’s undisputed best fighters, and yet the two have avoided a confrontation since the idea of the fight’s inception. The two sides claim the economics are not right, but ultimately neither fighter believes he can beat the other with 100% certainty, and neither is willing to risk his reputation for the largest purse in the sport’s history.

Yet Ali and Joe Frazier engaged in epic bouts. Tyson and Holyfield made history, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Ultimately, boxing is well past the point of one fight restoring its legacy. While rematches could cement Mayweather and Pacquaio’s rivalry in the sport’s dark age, boxing has lost its touch with American sports fans, apparently for good.

Nevertheless, this fan will keep hoping for the fight of the decade. Even if boxing has reached the point of no return, if the two put their egos aside for 10 rounds, at least we would be able to watch the fight on a local television network.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Chris at cmasoud@nd.edu