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O’Boyle: Boxing is bigger than the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight

| Friday, August 25, 2017

This Saturday night, an estimated 50 million Americans — and millions more across the globe — will watch the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of all time take on a complete novice to the sport.

There’s a slim chance the same skills that made Conor McGregor the biggest name in MMA will earn him an incredible upset victory, and if so, it will likely be in thrilling fashion.

More likely, the Irishman will be completely dominated, and Floyd Mayweather won’t even have the courtesy to make it entertaining. Mayweather’s legendary defensive ability isn’t conducive to knockouts or anything other than comfortable unanimous decision victories showcasing superb boxing but little to no fighting. Against someone as inexperienced as McGregor, it’s hard not to expect more of the same.

For many viewers, though, this will be the only boxing match they watch this year, or likely, the first since Mayweather took on Manny Pacquiao in 2015. It’s easy to imagine the backlash if we get a bland, defensive and easy victory for Mayweather: If the spectacle is as disappointing and as one-sided as the experts are predicting, it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans, who may think the excitement in pro boxing is dead. What happened to the good old days? Will the world ever see fights as entertaining as the Thriller in Manila, the Rumble in the Jungle or the other iconic moments of the sport when legends like Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Muhammad Ali reigned?

But the truth is that pro boxing in 2017 is more exciting than it has been for years.

In April of this year, Wladimir Klitschko’s reign at the top of the heavyweight world came to an end when Anthony Joshua defeated the Ukrainian by technical knockout in the 11th round of a thrilling back-and-forth event that saw Klitschko knocked down twice and Joshua once before Joshua’s winning blow. It was surely the most exciting heavyweight title fight of the past decade. Even more, it was no one-off. Heavyweight boxing looks to be back. The success of the Klitschko brothers in recent years was undeniably impressive, but their fighting style — keeping opponents at the edge of their impressive reach — did not always make for the most entertaining fights. With fighters like Joshua, who combines elite size with impressive mobility, and Deontay Wilder, whose aggressive but unrefined style makes him an unpredictable threat, a new golden age of heavyweight boxing may be back. It’s not simply heavyweight boxing where more entertaining fights can be found, however. Smaller weight classes are not simply showcases in who can be the best defensive boxer, as much as that strategy has turned Mayweather into an all-time great. Almost any other fight in Mayweather and McGregor’s junior middleweight division will show how much better the sport can be.

There’s always a possibility that Mayweather vs. McGregor becomes one of the most iconic moments in boxing history and truly rings in a new golden age. Mayweather’s defensive style and frequent trash-talking, as well as legal troubles out of the ring, has made him one of the greatest heels in the history of his sport, so to see him fall to a novice and miss out on a perfect 50-0 career would be little short of spectacular. But it’s simply not very realistic.

But if the year’s most talked-about fight is a let-down, don’t let that distract you from how exciting and entertaining boxing is becoming. Watch more than interdiscipline money-spinners and you’ll see the best the sport has to offer — you’ll see where today’s answers to the greats of yesteryear are.

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

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel