Friday, January 15, 2010

The Floyd Mayweather - Manny Pacquiao Fallout Begins To Haunt Boxing

We're not supposed to be saying the zed-word, I know. We did the autopsy of Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao and we'd begun moving on. But a development like this -- it doesn't just get buried, never to surface again. This is the kind of thing that hangs around for a while, and we're going to have to live with it, even if it's dead.

The rehashing continues, and some of it is worth visiting. The projecting what will happen next continues, and it, too, is worth visiting. There are news developments to consider; there are ways in which we should maybe be thinking about how the media -- which includes myself -- and we, as fans of the sport, could do better.

Be forewarned: This is rambling material that borders on free association. It is befitting a flood of information and fallout for which patterns are only just emerging, of opinions expressed and trends manifested that are scattershot.

The Blame Game

There was some complaining in the comments section of a recent blog entry I did that the media somehow helped kill Mayweather-Pacquiao, and I've still not heard anyone give a good explanation of how. It's certainly not always covered itself in glory -- I'll get to that in a second -- but there has been some good reporting on the whole affair, and some of the best came from Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports and Dan Rafael of ESPN. In recent days, both have written columns that appropriately condemn all sides. But they've also shed light on the situation.

Rafael, on what's next for both men:

In fact, if you take a look at the poll that has been running on the boxing page for the last couple of days, it asks simply: "Will you watch the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight at Cowboys Stadium?" The results are stunning. With more than 49,000 votes in early Wednesday evening (and still counting), it was 69-31 against watching the fight. If you examine the breakdown of the state-by-state vote, every state had voted in the majority against watching the fight except Hawaii, which has a large Filipino population... Mayweather, meanwhile, plans to fight the same night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and seems headed for a match with either Paulie Malignaggi or Nate Campbell... If you think the poll numbers are bad for Pacquiao-Clottey, the numbers for a Mayweather-Malignaggi/Campbell poll should be much, much worse.

All right, so all he did was report on the results of a poll, but I hadn't noticed it, so it was news to me. What does the poll say? It says that Pacquiao and Mayweather have done such severe damage to the sport, and to themselves, that nobody wants to see them fight.

Iole, meanwhile, offers up compelling evidence that Mayweather either never really cared about random blood testing, the final sticking point on the fight, or else his team was woefully ill-informed about how performance-enhancing drugs work:

Mayweather eventually compromised and was willing to set a blood-testing cutoff date 14 days before the bout, but that move was hollow. Several experts have told Yahoo! Sports that there are numerous performance-enhancing drugs, notably EPO, that clear the system in 2-4 days. As a result, a 14-day testing cutoff would have been useless.

That's real reporting, right there. Rafael and Iole both got into the nitty gritty of reporting the negotiations for this fight, and Iole in particular did a lot of fact-checking with real authorities on the topics at the center of debate. And these two men, the ones who I think covered this failure, came away with the same conclusion: Everyone -- Mayweather, Pacquaio, their teams -- was to blame. Rafael called the two key promoters, Top Rank and Golden Boy, "babies." The key promoters and managers, Iole said, "look like oafish boobs."

There are still people trying to pin the blame for what went wrong on one party or another. Dana White, who has grown on me as he has taken a more sensible public stance toward boxing, blamed Mayweather this week. Tim Smith blamed Pacquiao. And so on and so on. I respect that; it can come off as wishy-washy to blame everyone. But read the Iole and Rafael pieces, and see if you don't come to the conclusion I did earlier this week: There's blame enough for all parties to go around.

Bernard Fernandez, another veteran boxing writer, nominated everyone involved for a Darwin Award for walking away from that cash. And I agree; I think less of the intelligence of all sides after this. But while I think this Steve Kim piece flirts with glamorizing promoter Bob Arum's foolishness, I think it also sheds some important light on how Arum thought of it all. In Arum, we see pettiness, disdain for boxing fans and a figure who is more contemptible than commendable. But Arum sees himself differently. Per Kim (complete with funky punctuation):

Arum is at the stage of his life- especially when it comes to individuals he doesn’t particularly care for- that he’d rather hurt them, then help himself sometimes.

That's the caliber of person who maintains influence in boxing, friends. That's how someone thinks he's a big winner -- when he gets a kind of spiteful revenge on someone who rubs him the wrong way rather than enriching his bank account or giving his customers what they want. And it's all over the place. This business is loaded up with people who care only for their agendas, no matter how anti-fan or childish (Arum had the nerve this week to refer to Oscar De La Hoya's name-calling in his direction as "schoolyard" stuff; he was right, but it's not as if Arum has ever behaved like anything other than a child).

I can't be any clearer. There are no winners here, no matter how many write-ups explain who came out of this ahead. Maybe Arum doesn't care if he's reviled. Maybe Pacquiao feels like he stood on principle, or Mayweather feels good about himself because he can try to explain how it wasn't his fault he avoided another tough fight, or whatever. But only in a perverse sense of "victory" does Arum or anyone here "win." Everyone in this whole debacle comes off more loathed than before, less respected and regarded as "oafish boobs" and "babies." If they get any personal pleasure out of what they've done, then I pity them.

Bad Coverage, Bad Behavior

That's not to say there hasn't been some bad reporting. Some really bad reporting, in fact. The boxing media isn't exactly loaded up with journalists who adhere to strict standards or pay much attention to whether what they're writing is fair or has any principled role in holding the sport's powers to account. I tend to be hard on the media forces who are good, the Ring mags or Thomas Hausers, which I've been feeling bad about, because they're often the ones that get closest to reporting things out best. For instance, Ring has commissioned an investigative reporter to get into the whole steroids debate from the Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiations. That's good stuff.

But the best folks are often the ones who give credibility to shoddy information by virtue of reporting it. Observe the recent suspect reporting by Teddy Atlas, the ESPN broadcaster, and Tim Smith, the New York Daily News journo. Both are highly credible. So what they did in recent weeks highlighting alleged questions asked by the Pacquiao camp during negotiations about what would happen if Pacquiao tested positive for any PEDs had to be taken seriously. David P. Greisman of BoxingScene (open link with caution) recently did a good job raising important criticisms about Smith and Atlas delivering those reports the way they did. I'd like to second those points and raise some additional ones. In neither case did Atlas or Smith give even the vaguest hint of who their source was. It's one thing to use unnamed sources, but you usually need to provide some kind of information about where that sources sympathies lie, unless you have several of differing allegiances providing identical information. But both only quoted a single source, although Atlas initially said "sources." I've not worked at a single newspaper in my life -- and I've worked at a good number -- where you could quote one unnamed source, especially without giving some information to the reader about that person's bias, that paints someone in a highly negative light. Both Atlas and Smith should have strongly considered not reporting what they did under the circumstances. They also could help things by explaining in greater detail why they did what they did, but the one interview Atlas has done about this, at Boxingtalk, interviewer Greg Leon didn't ask any of the key questions, like these or the ones Greisman raised about whether Atlas saw the alleged e-mails himself. Sigh.

Generally speaking, we all would have been better off had no one reported the inflammatory, baseless allegations of Floyd Mayweather, Sr. that Pacquiao was on steroids. What the Mayweather camp was akin to an old trick in politics. George Kimball recalled a version of it thusly, from the early days of one of our presidents' political careers:

"Why don't we start a rumor that he [copulates with] sheep?" proposed the politician.

This was a bit over the top, even for Lyndon Johnson. The future president leapt to his feet and said, incredulously, "But you know Joe Bob don't [copulate with] sheep!"

"Yeah," replied the congressman, "but watch what happens when the son of a bitch has to stand up and deny it!"

I don't think journalism, let alone boxing journalism, has ever figured out how to handle stories like this. Mayweather said this in many places, and it was so sensational plenty of people wanted to write about it. I tried not writing about it at all, recognizing that the introduction of it into the discussion would have the exact effect it did on Joe Bob. But after a while, the media helped turn it into an "issue," and it couldn't be ignored. I felt compelled to respond to it, and by discussing it at all, it gave validity to the idea that it was worth rebutting. But this is as close as I come to thinking the media helped kill Mayweather-Pacquiao. And it was entirely predictable. It surely wasn't as damaging as anything anybody else I blamed did.

There has been a coarsening of the debate over the course of this fight being made and its fallout that comes from fans. Maybe the media as a messenger could have done a better job of filtering, but fans' hostilities has poisoned the atmosphere immensely. (A note on media/fan hybrids [I'm kind of one of them]: They have done their own damage to the atmosphere. I understand why people got mad at Atlas because of his on-air claims, and I understand this Examiner blogger, Dennis Guillermo, sticking up for fellow Examiner blogger Michael Marley when Atlas badmouthed Marley. I do not understand this piece calling Atlas "Teddy (Bundy) Atlas," thereby comparing him to a notorious rapist, necrophiliac and serial killer, then trying to rebut the notion from Atlas that Internet boxing writing is "dirty." Atlas is wrong to generalize so, but as rebuttals go, Guillermo's wasn't a success. I'd like to recommend the Examiner raise its standards for writers it will accept in their maniacal quest to get links from Pacland.)

There have been comments on this site lately about how the media contributed to the toxic negotiations. And I hate to pick on Pacquiao fans in particular, but too many of them who leave comments on this site and elsewhere are responsible for some of the most toxic rhetoric in the sport. I recently had to delete a comment from a Pacquiao fan calling Mayweather a "nigger," and it wasn't the first time. Too many of them have, in an attempt to jab at Mayweather, made remarks about him eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. Maybe they don't realize it, but it's a racial stereotype of some heft in the United States. Pacfans: You cannot repeatedly claim to be victims of racism when so many of you delve so frequently into racism. And this says nothing of the homophobia so many of you spew, with you're "Mayweather is acting gay" and "Gayweather" remarks. You can say it means something different in the Philippines, but this is an American website and in America, that's homophobia; you can't claim Americans don't understand your culture, then trample the norms of ours. And there is a constant leveling of baseless, unproven accusations from Pacquiao fans at everyone who isn't Pacquiao -- that a commenter is lying about having a Filipino wife, or that I hate Pacquiao (I am a fan) or anything else under the sun. You can't complain about Mayweather lobbing baseless accusations at Pacquiao if you lob baseless accusations yourself. And if it seems like I'm picking on Pacquiao fans to exclusion -- and believe me, as a Pacquiao fan myself, I know that not all of them do these things -- you should know that while fans of other fighters sometimes indulge in similar behavior, the vast majority of the ugly, inappropriate comments left on this site are from Pacquiao fans from the Philippines. Consider if that's the reputation you want to have on the international boxing scene.

I am strongly contemplating deleting more comments than I do now and banning users, because I can only stomach so much of it. You've been warned. End civility lecture.

What's Next

OK, so: Pacquiao's opponent is settled March 13 -- Joshua Clottey at welterweight. That didn't keep Juan Manuel Marquez from claiming that Pacquiao is scared of him, when really the problem was that Marquez demanded the exact same conditions of Pacquiao that Mayweather did and Pacquiao rejected, but at a fraction of the potential windfall of cash. My love of Marquez is well-known, but, uh... dude says some things that make him sound like an arrogant dolt sometimes. There's no way around it.

That means Mayweather's opponent remains the only unsettled point in the whole fallout in the immediate future. There is a movement afoot to get Mayweather to fight Paul Williams, if he insists on a dueling pay-per-view March 13. It's a sound proposal, and one I've already advanced. But I just want to second that. Williams' people would take that fight in a second. It's noteworthy that Mayweather's team has weighed in on just about every potential opponent for Mayweather other than Williams. Also noteworthy is that Gary Shaw, promoter of junior welterweight Timothy Bradley, says he never heard from Golden Boy about a Mayweather fight. So even among the two best options that have been reported as under consideration, one was a front. The other is Kermit Cintron, and he made his public case for the fight here. The other major options, both completely unattractive, have also made their public cases: Nate Campbell -- colorfully offering to have testicle hairs plucked for drug testing between rounds -- and Paulie Malignaggi, who's always colorful and engaging himself.

You might think of this as "looking ahead," to focus on both men's next opponents, but as long as they insist on fighting on the same day, we can't help but reflect on what might have been. Mayweather and Pacquiao may not fight in the ring, but they'll be fighting for pay-per-view buys. And then how each man does will be scrutinized vis-a-vis who might have the upper hand if negotiations resume. There was a BoxingScene report that Mayweather wants the March 13 date because he wants to fight Shane Mosley in June, which would be pretty soon for a guy who typically takes six month breaks or more between fights, so I'm not sure I am convinced that's real.

Another reason I'm having trouble looking ahead is that everything that's going on now is colored by the tremendous disappointment I have about this incident. When boxing has been keeping its house more or less in order, I look at the bad things that surface as the exception to the rule. Now that boxing has blown its biggest opportunity in 20 years or more, all I see is the bad. Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik's fight with Williams was always going to be hard to make, but in light of the failure of Mayweather-Pacquiao, two dummies fighting over whether it would be a 50-50 split just comes off as more of boxing doing stupid junk. Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones, Jr. II (light heavyweight) was in danger of happening even before Mayweather-Pacquiao, but it suddenly seems like a trend of boxing promoters not giving fans what they want to sign a fight that matches up a 45-year-old and a 41-year-old who's coming off a 1st round knockout loss and then put it on pay-per-view.

And, you know, have a look around what others are reporting about boxing these days. There's a dark shadow over the sport now. When Arum is rooting for the return of hated rival Don King, you know things have gotten depressing.


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