The Dumbest Sport

I don’t remember when exactly I became a boxing publicist, nor do I recall the circumstances that led up to it. Granted, I most likely wouldn’t. I have a goldfish brain and pertinent details are often banished to the recesses of my mind in the amount of time it took to type this sentence. Still though, you’d think I’d have some recollection. A rough timeline at the very least.

I scoured my emails, rifled through all the documents in my file cabinet (read, glove compartment) and emptied the pockets of both pairs of pants I own looking for details. A contract, a resume, a basic job description. Nothing.

Had I made this title up for myself? Some sort of masochistic wish fulfillment? No. It had to be true. Why else would I be spending another weekend of my life attempting to vindicate a sport that can’t stop stepping in its own shit against accusations of corruption and incompetence? How else would I justify spending the amount of time I had replying to texts, tweets and emails claiming boxing was dead or rigged or some delightful combination of both?

In my decades-long career as boxing publicist, I’ve never made one cent. Whoever is in charge of that though, please continue to withhold my paychecks. Much like a child with progeria, defending boxing is getting old fast.

In the spirit of full disclosure I should tell you that I am not, in fact, a boxing publicist. That little bit of role-playing is what we call a “narrative device.” And judging by how many of you have already composed tweets to me that start with “Dear, corporate shill,” I’m prepared to call it a rousing success. The fact is though, anyone who is still involved with this increasingly dumb sport, however tangentially, is tasked with defending its integrity, sometimes on a daily basis. Last Saturday in Brisbane, Australia, Jeff Horn (17-0-1, 11 KO) and Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KO) made sure there would be no let up for any of us.

Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further: The unanimous decision awarded to Horn wasn’t the worst decision ever. It wasn’t a robbery, per se. Hell, it wasn’t even the hardest Pacquiao has been screwed over in his career. Nonetheless, Manny did deserve the nod. You simply can’t outland a guy 2-1 as Pacquiao did (182-92 total connected punches, according to Compubox) and lose a fight that was this close. Horn landed four total punches in the 4th round and three (FUCKING THREE!) in the 11th and yet won both of those rounds on two of the official judges’ scorecards.

There’s a tendency to dismiss punch stats among some boxing purists, as they don’t tell the whole story. This is true. Not every punch is created equal. Sometimes though, the numbers do tell the story. It’s similar to the advanced stats vs. the “watch the game” argument in hockey. There will always be outliers and extenuating circumstances but given a large enough sample size, cold hard data almost always wins out over the eyeball test. I’ll put it to you this way, if you had a shitty, knock-off version of Biff Tannen’s sports almanac that only told you punch stats of fights and not who won, how comfortable would you be betting on the guy who got out landed 182-92?

In the Shane Mosley vs Oscar De La Hoya rematch from Sept. 13, 2003, De La Hoya out landed Mosley 221-127, with a fairly even spilt of 115 power punches and 106 jabs. All three judges, however, scored the fight 115-113 for Sugar Shane, citing his heavier, more damaging punches. Regardless of how you felt about that decision, it would be tough for anyone to say Jeff Horn landed the heavier, more damaging blows against Pacquiao.

Again though, I could see how a case could be made for scoring the fight for Horn. It’s a bit of stretch but you could probably talk me into it. What I can’t see a case being made for, however, is putting Teddy Atlas on a high profile broadcast ever again. If you need someone to model a Gargamel costume for you? Fine. If you need someone to scare rats out of your shed? Sure. But being given a platform to discuss the nuances of professional boxing in front of millions of people? Get the fuck out of my office.

What good does it do for an already maligned sport to have its lead commentator burn the whole broadcast down from the inside with a cystic fibrosis induced meltdown about the scoring? Passion in broadcasting is a good thing. Coupled with knowledge, honesty and a decent vocabulary it’s a great thing. Teddy Atlas possesses none of these three traits and for every decibel his voice level rises that’s one more email or tweet I have to respond to asking why anyone on the outside should give a shit about this sport when even people on the inside think it’s corrupt. (The answer to that question, dear reader, is “I have no god damn earthly idea.”)

There’s an elegant way to voice criticism of judges. A way that could stand to educate casual viewers on how fights are scored and the criteria the judges base their scores on. About the biases some judges have towards things like work rate, coming forward and that vaguest of all intangibles, heart. Instead, Atlas screams “HOME COUNTRY SCORING!” and the headlines change from “Close, controversial decision” to “Another black eye for boxing.” Thanks a lot, shithead. Now I gotta spend my whole god damn Sunday defending boxing’s mere existence on Twitter to a bunch of dingbats with Make America Great Again hats photoshopped onto Conor McGregor’s cinderblock-shaped head as their profile pic.

In the real world, screaming the way Atlas does into the camera gets you put in a padded room with your belt and shoelaces taken away. On ESPN it makes you an expert. And I suppose that’s most sports broadcasting now. Spectacle over substance. It’s one thing if it’s hidden away on a pay-per-view only 100,000 diehards are going to watch. We’re used to it. But when you have 4.4 million people tune into a fight only to be told, not only did the guy they just watched win not get the decision, but that a hydrocephalic warlock of questionable literacy is openly calling the judges corrupt, well, good luck getting those viewers back ever again.

The Replacements are the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time. (This isn’t up for debate. As the kids say “Don’t @ me.”) Part of what earned them this distinction was their proclivity for saving their most shambolic, fucked up performances for when the stakes were highest. An almost pathological obsession with self-sabotage was at the heart of every decision they made. Boxing seems to follow a similar thought process. The bigger the event, the more eyes on the product, the more it stands to lose, the bigger the gun it uses to shoot off its own foot. At their best, The Replacements and boxing both were and are sublime. So much so as to render all similar media of entertainment practically irrelevant. At their very worst though, both are sloppy, frustrating, incorrigible, and two things I’m sick to fucking death of defending on the internet.

There’s always going to be bad decisions. There’s always going to be horrible broadcasting. There’s always going to be some form of corruption. There’s always going to be psychotically inaccurate rankings. There’s always going to be boring fights. But what there’s maybe not always going to be is an audience. I don’t know about you but the amount of boxing fandom resignation letters on my Twitter timeline on Saturday seemed much higher than usual. It seems like having two guys punch each other in the face and pointing a camera at it would be impossible to fuck up but here we are.

Larry Merchant once famously said “Nothing will kill boxing and nothing can save it.”

I agree with half of that. Nothing can kill boxing… if it kills itself first.

POST MORTEM

  • I didn’t even mention Stephen A. Smith’s inclusion on the ESPN broadcast because it isn’t worthy of the keystrokes. Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like the poorly recollected memories of a kidnapped child. The next time I watch a broadcast featuring Stephen A. Smith it’ll have to involve smelling salts and a fucking Ouija board because I’ll be dead.
  • Judge Waleska Roldan turned in a 117-111 scorecard for Horn, which, why even bother showing up for work? Or getting out of bed at all? Just turn in a card that says 459-27 and go back to dreaming about monster trucks.
  • Cards that egregious should absolutely be investigated but this is boxing so if you think that’s going to lead to any kind of repercussions, well, have fun prancing through that field of blind optimism alone.
  • The WBA ordered a rematch for the Guillermo Rigodeaux vs Moises Flores fight from June 17 in which Rigo landed after the bell in the first round and Flores wasn’t able to continue. If I’m Rigo – And I wake up each morning, thanking any god who will listen, that I’m not – I hit Flores after the bell in the 1st round again only later this time. Become the Andrew Golota of punching after the bell, you know? At this point it’s a better marketing strategy than whatever the hell is going on with his Twitter account.
  • Do yourself a favor and pick up the newest Charly Bliss record Guppy. It’s power pop perfection from front to back. You’re not as big of a shithead as everyone says you are and you deserve nice things every once in a while.

(BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA:  Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines looks on during the welterweight fight against Jeff Horn; Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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