Gandalf tells Frodo while in Moria, “My heart tells me that [Gollum] has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end.”
I feel the same way about the sport of boxing as it relates to the grand scheme of our world of sports and entertainment.
Last night, Manny Pacquiao defeated Timothy Bradley, Jr., to take back the title that Bradley had controversially won from him some time ago. The event made a dent, a noticeable dent even, on the sports world, trending on Twitter, making the front page on ESPN, and finding airtime on SportsCenter. Outside of last night, it had been some time since boxing had surfaced.
This is nothing new, of course. Boxing has for years now been in a steady decline. And, with the time for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight basically come and gone, it’s probably not ever going to get that jolt to get it back to prominence. However, I believe boxing, for good or ill, is going to play one last final major part in the sports universe before it finally fades completely from popular culture and becomes a subculture all its own.
This moment does not necessarily have to be, and probably will not be, a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. That being said, if this dream matchup finally does happen in the very near future, it could be on of the defining sports moments of the decade. Everything that’s so great about combat sports would be in that fight, and the “past-their-prime” aspect might even add something to it, as we finally see two life-long enemies face each other in the twilight of their careers. Would this fight bring boxing back? I don’t think so. But it would be a unifying moment in our world’s collective sports experience. We’d get something from it. What exactly, I do not know, but there’s something to be said for this generation finally getting “The Fight.”
More likely, I believe, is that harsh realities of sports, particularly collision sports like football, will come to light and those sports will be sent closer to their own graves by the death of boxing. We’ll find more and more about CTE. Someone will make a first-rate documentary about the physical and mental toll training for and fighting in the sport takes on a person. I think it would be fascinating for a good athlete with no boxing experience and a clean slate of health to do an experimental documentary by filming five years of their life as they try to get into the world of boxing, showing the immense changes that their body and brain go through in that time.
And there’s always the possibility that someone dies.
We’ve somehow gotten away with this for so long. Sometime, in some collision sport, someone is going to die. We’ve seen too many men crumple into heaps on the field or the canvas to really think any differently. And when that happens, we’re finally going to have to face up to realities that we’ve mostly ignored for so long.
Boxing gets a pass for its violence because getting hit in the head is kind of part of pugilism. Anyone who punches for a living is aware of what they’ve signed up for. But sooner or later we’re going to have to accept that football is not so different.
Boxing can’t sink much lower. MMA will probably never rise any higher. Fighting sports are on the way out. Sooner or later, it seems other collision sports will have to follow.
So I can’t be sure of the who, what, when, why, or how of this final act of boxing on the grand stage. But it’s going to happen for this sport that was for so long so popular and so important, so intrinsically connected to the human spirit, so pure, so sweet a science. Boxing won’t go out without a fight. And it will have an impact.
Just maybe not a Gollum-sized impact.
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Soli Deo Gloria