Stop me if you’ve heard this one in 2017: Boxing has a big event with high expectations, it delivers at least in part, then it’s marred by something or the other.
(Tip: You should stop me right at the end of that period.)
Saturday night on HBO Pay-Per-View, we finally got a long-desired battle between the two best middleweights in the world, both of them stars, in a style match-up that promised to deliver then did. Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin ultimately fought to a draw, even though most had Golovkin winning — no huge disaster there, because most people also thought it was close enough that a draw was defensible.
But Judge Adelaide Byrd turns in one of those scorecards that even a first-time boxing watcher could realize was an atrocity: 118-110 for Canelo. Most people have emptied their spleen by now on this, so there’s no need to throw in more — it was just bad and way wrong, and even the Nevada commission, notoriously prone to sticking by its judges, only half-heartedly defended her and suggested maybe she needed some time away from the ring.
(This writer scored it a draw, perhaps tipping slightly toward Canelo if I had to pick, but very much respectful of the majority who scored it for GGG. Canelo was just a little technically sharper, and GGG looks like a fighter on the decline, plus Canelo’s rally turned a good fight into an excellent, although I’d stop short of some of the praise about it being a “classic” and all that.)
Many of the biggest and/or most meaningful fights have gone down this way this year. Former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez was on the wrong end of the decision in his first meeting with Srikaset Sor Rungvisai. Manny Pacquiao was victimized by an awful, undeserved decision loss to Jeff Horn. Andre Ward stopped Sergey Kovalev, with at least a little help from low blows. Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor delivered a better-than-expected battle but it was still essentially a freak show pitting two douchecanoes against one another, not exactly putting combat sports in the best light.
The funny thing about all of this is that it’s hard to see any evidence that it’s doing any damage to the bottom line. Pacquiao-Horn did great ratings on ESPN and a big crowd still tuned in to the same channel for Terence Crawford vs Julius Indongo. Mayweather and McGregor’s loathesomeness didn’t scare off record PPV buys. And I’m guessing Canelo-GGG II would still do boffo buys.
I’ve spent a long time as something of a boxing activist, fearing that each smudge on boxing’s reputation will drive away fans. But it just doesn’t seem to happen. Boxing’s sins have shrunken it to a niche sport, and here it apparently remains, forever to stay no matter what it does — contracting and expanding at at times, but generally hanging around in that niche. The people who like boxing are apparently used to its warts, even if they still get all worked up pointing out how ugly they are, and just keep watching anyway. The casuals who flock to boxing for big events seem to have a permanent amnesia with that “never again” business (see: Mayweather vs Pacquiao boredom complaints and a similar number tuning in to Mayweather vs McGregor anyway).
That doesn’t mean campaigning for reform is wrong or wasted, because the complaints about Byrd seem to have at least put her in the penalty box. But at least on my end, I’ve arrived at a semi-bemused semi-acceptance, an idealist touched by a renewed admiration for the gritty realism of it all.
(LAS VEGAS – Canelo Alvarez [L] and Gennady Golovkin battle in the 2nd round of their middleweight championship bout at T-Mobile Arena; Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)