Let’s get this straight. How can a fight in 2015 (with 85 years to go in this century) be termed the "fight of the century" is beyond me. Basically, we said Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao is it. Nothing that follows will be of consequence. Eventually, the consensus was that it was a damp squib. But that’s the might of PR and packaging and the Americans are very good at it.
What they are also good at is making a spectacle out of a sporting event. From the college league NCAA’s "March Madness", to the NBA draft and the Super Bowl, everything becomes larger than life. This is where an event becomes more important than its value and its protagonists. It stops to matter that Mayweather has a history of violently beating and badgering women, sometimes in front of kids, threatening them with violence if they speak up. But despite Mayweather’s dubious past, he will still be flanked by the who’s who of American popular culture industry – the Beibers and the Jay-Zs among others.
And let’s not forget the money. People paid tens of thousands of dollars for a prime seat. Even the worst seat at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas cost $1,500. Pay-per-view sales hit through the roof, even causing delays because of the unprecedented demand.
But is it so simple to separate the boxer from the man? Do Mayweather’s actions outside the ring not matter in his legacy? Are we so desperate for a fight that we don’t care that the man has a dubious past and perhaps will continue in that fashion? Mayweather was not even suspended by the Nevada Boxing Commission despite pleading guilty for some of the reported offenses. But perhaps it is the American way, which is increasingly, sometimes blindly, being followed by the world. As long as it is a spectacle, no one seems to care.
Two female reporters were reportedly not allowed to cover the bout. They were later given credentials when they made this "classless" move public. Though Mayweather’s public relations team denied their allegations, it was believed that these reporters’ coverage of the boxer’s criminal history, had ensured that they would be denied access.
This trend continued as the bout in itself continued to be largely separate from talk of Mayweather’s past. In the social media world, it was built up to hysteria and lapped up by millions. In fact, #MayPac was the top-trending topic on Twitter on Sunday morning.
There are questions to be asked here. Is sport just spectacle? As long as it is entertaining, does the sportsman’s background not matter? These are tough questions with no simple answers. Indeed, these questions reminds me of the Michael Jackson conundrum. Would you have stopped loving his music because of the charges against him? Closer to home, take a look at the IPL, which is widely considered a "tamasha" (spectacle) but still quite popular on all parametres. Even cases of spot-fixing and a general belief of "something isn’t right" doesn’t seem to deter viewers or advertisers.
Should sports persons carry the burden of being good human beings? Should their fans have to choose between the athlete and the person? But what is sport if not a desire to be better? What is sport if not the wish to emulate our idols? What is sport if not the exercise of telling a future generation how to win and lose with grace?
Imagine Mayweather’s kids, in front of whom he beat up their mother, watching the bout (with him winning it and pocketing a minimum of $120 million) power posing to celebrate his undefeated run. Imagine the trauma they felt as scenes of the horrific torture on their mom flashed before their eyes. What is the message for them and indeed scores of young kids? As long as you are good at your profession and have the power to make money, it doesn’t matter what you do in your personal life. The world will still cherish you and your exploits.
The very motive behind this five-years-in-the-making showdown was money, not boxing. Mayweather had – before and after the bout – made it clear he doesn't feel for the sport anymore. He is fighting for money alone, with his last fight in September this year. The top-earning athlete of all time also claims his 48-0 record and the money he made is enough for his status as the best of his generation.
Is that all sport is reduced to? A money-spinning entertainment juggernaut that cares little for the values we so ardently preach, fight for, write blogs on, organise candle marches for?
A personal folly like in the case of golfing legend Tiger Woods can be ignored and we could even possibly ignore Manny Pacquiao’s criminal charges for a tax dispute in 2012. Yes, in a way, it was two criminals fighting while the world came to a stand still. But Pacquiao’s crimes may be something you can still look past. Are heinous crimes so easy to brush aside too? They shouldn’t be.
Let’s assume for a second, we didn't have this fight. Let’s assume we didn't care. Would we have missed out on a lot? So what if we don’t have a boxer of the prowess of Mayweather to watch? Will we lose more than celebrating a woman-beater? A simple cost-return analysis tells me I can do without it. But not the market. The overpowering shadow of money is unmistakable in such cases. If there is a lot of it on the line, that in itself becomes compelling enough for us to care. Vested interests make sure it matters because at the end of the day, money makes the world, at least the sports world, go round.