May 4, 2009, - 2:47 pm

Can New Star “PacMan” Manny Pacquiao Save Boxing? Don’t Bet on It

By Debbie Schlussel
The annual running of the Kentucky Derby and the collapse of the Dallas Cowboys training bubble weren’t the only big sports stories over the weekend.
The other big deal was boxer Manny Pacquiao’s demolition of the then mostly undefeated Ricky Hatton in Vegas.
While boxing is not my favorite sport, I do follow it somewhat. And I love a good boxing movie. No matter how bad the plot is, a good fight is always fun to watch. But–this is not news or any revelation–boxing is a dying proposition. And not just in the ring. Boxing is not what it once was, and it’s becoming less and less popular. Only Mixed Martial Arts and Ultimate Fighting style boxing is growing, especially in the valued younger male demographic.
The boxing world is trying to use diminutive Filipino Pacquiao’s five-minute 59-second three-time knockdown (including a TKO) to hype up the sport. But it won’t work. While Pacquiao’s incredible tour-de-force in such a tiny body is something, he’s part of what proves my theory.


Boxing’s Newest Biggest Star Manny Pacquiao Defeats Ricky Hatton

My theory is that sports in which foreigner dominate simply aren’t as popular. Look at hockey. Its major stars are Canadian and European. It’s just not as popular. Yes, Major League Baseball has foreigners and so does, to some extent, the NBA. But their biggest stars–the favorites–are usually the American players. Vlade Divac and Hakeem Olajuwon were never as popular as players like Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Larry Bird.
Some people claim that the reason boxing isn’t as big is that the champion fighters have been Black and that White audiences are not into Black fighters. But that can’t be true. Otherwise, how can you explain the appeal of the largely Black NBA and NFL to majority White audiences?
In my view, it’s the foreign factor that’s one of the many reasons boxing isn’t as popular as it once was. It’s not just the violence or that family-friendly major league sports eclipsed boxing years ago.
It’s that, in recent times, the bigger stars of boxing have been foreigners. People like Pacquiao, Lennox Lewis, Andrew Golota, Donovan “Razor” Ruddock. And the American stars of recent decades were nutcases like Mike Tyson or people with other problems like Evander Holyfield and his gazillion kids. (Am looking forward to reviewing the “Tyson” documentary, shortly.)
And this guy, Pacquiao, for all the hype over his incredible boxing win this weekend, is not going to bring fans back to boxing.
It’s gonna take a lot more than that.
Yes, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao is the star of the moment in boxing. But he’s a big fish in an ever shrinking puddle.

17 Responses

Debbie, you’re right. And that stupid game soccer which is played in third-world countries and whose fans are thugs had better not gain a foothold here in the USA. Calling it “futbol” will not make it worth watching. Come to think of it, soccer’s like the WNBA. No thank you.

lexi on May 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Suspect you are correct. Many of our more popular boxers have been black, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Clay, Floyd Patterson, Joe Louis, so don’t think race comes into play. Even while my first husband thought the judges favored black fighters [he termed Leonard, “Tap Tap”, and disliked black boxers who utilized “back peddling” as a strategy, he never missed the weekly fights televised from Mexico City. Those were out-and-out brawls. Not much “science”, sweet or otherwise. One of his favorites was a local club fighter from Stockton, Yacqui Lopez.
Most of my favorites were the guys that resembled my [better-looking] neighbors, Bobby Czyz, Sean O’Grady, Boom Boom and Bang Bang. Them were the days [grammar intended]. That was the beginning of the end in my mind. Weirdo’s like Mustafa Hamsho [sic & Syrian] and actual ex-cons like the Spinks brothers and another set of three brothers I think out of Detroit turned the sport into a circus sideshow.
Anyway, I agree. What’s in it for a fan when there’s no context in which to view the boxers. That’s why I watch NASCAR vs F1. And since young France has decided to expand across North America [and partly the economy], the sport is losing fan base. I don’t want to watch a wimpy open-wheel driver who can’t toss a COT around without crashing. And who in their right mind would think of hot-rodding a Camry? That’s right. No one. And what does Toyota have to do with moonshine anyway? That’s right. Nothing. Each generation can take only so much of their traditions getting trampled.

iowavette on May 4, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I simply feel like I’m debasing myself watching two men beat the hell out of each other for pure spectacle. I just don’t find it entertaining and certainly not elevating. Violence for its own sake holds no charm for me.

Tempus Fugit on May 4, 2009 at 4:41 pm

can’t it be argued that baseball, quite a popular sport, has a plethora of famous foreigners?
in commercials for the World Baseball Classic, big stars like Albert Pujols and A-Rod did not play on the american team and represented their countries of origin?

yankeekaz on May 4, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Debbie, I agree that MMA and UFC are growing and may have a big future in the USA. Today neither are close to the having the status and worldwide following that boxing enjoys. A big pay check for an MMA fighter is $150,000. Pacquiao pocketed $15 million, Hatton $9 million for Saturday’s fight. The big money is still in boxing.
The heavy weight division is not what it should be and that does hurt boxing. Boxing like MMA, UFC, Tennis, X games and now, even the NHL are “niche” sports. HBO & Showtime both do an excellent job broadcasting good fights every month. Boxing is the primary reason I subscribe to both HBO HD & SHO HD. You couldn’t pay me to watch MMA or UFC brawls. Both are huge with those too young to spend much money, mostly in the western U.S. and parts of Canada. Neither are making huge money nor are they paying out the big bucks to the athletes at this point. Sirius does cover both boxing and mixed martial arts extensively on Channel 98, Hardcore Sports.
The MMA & UFC may have a future but for now boxing is king, because that is where you find the big money. In fact the WWF circus is still bigger than MMA/UFC when it comes to the $. Mark Cuban is gambling that this will change and he may be right, but he has been wrong before! IMHO BOXING is still King and I don’t mean just “Don”.

bonzerwolf on May 4, 2009 at 5:14 pm

You say that the WWE (that’s what they are called these days) has bigger money than MMA. However, there are more guys watching MMA than wrestling these days.
I still question myself at the moment for not being into the sport of MMA yet!

Squirrel3D on May 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm

manny is amazing and he is much more humble than the typical american fighter…who will just jive about how great he is and that the rape convictions were all just some bull
yeah soccer is not like baseball with all thos americans (from dominican republic) ?????
reminds me of theose american cars we produce with 70 % foriegn car parts ??

drewnyc on May 4, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Great take Debbie. Pacquiao is going to do well because he is the best. He won’t save the sport but is refreshing to see someone who is humble, like Drewnyc said. He put Oscar De la Hoya in a rocking chair and even the Golden Boy as great a fighter he was will never stack up in his prime to Pacquiao in his prime. As for MMA, it has a lot to prove. It seems to be a bloodthirst sport. Seems like the fad, however I think it will be dominated by foreigners if it ever gets bigger. Boxing main events are still the showstopper.

californiascreaming on May 4, 2009 at 10:24 pm


B1N03 on May 4, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Hi Debbie,
Long time reader, first time poster.
For those who think that MMA is a fad, or a “blood thirst” sport, yes and no. This is largly true in America, where a lot of the audience has yet to grasp the nuances of the sport. It’s the same deal with lots of other sports, though. If you go to any baseball stadium, you are likely to find a large contingent of individuals who are there just to get drunk and have fun with their friends. So yes, a lot of the people who go to bars to watch UFC pay per views are there just to see a quick knockout. There are always the real fans, though, who go in hoping to see a technical match.
The UFC’s, one of many MMA organizations, success in America has everything to do with marketing, and nothing to do with the quality of its fights. Dana White does his best to promote fights which will attract an audience, rather than fights which are good match ups. Even then, UFC is still dominated by foreigners, i.e. fighters like Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and Lyoto Machida.
The only reason that the UFC’s heavyweight division is currently dominated by Americans is because Dana White can’t swallow his pride and pay enough money for Fedor Emelianenko, who is considered to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time, to fight in his sham of a promotion.
While on the topic of Fedor, foreign MMA has historically been a lot more exciting. In particular, Japan’s Pride FC organization has yet to be topped. Pride FC was all about getting the best fighters in the world to go head to head, promotional considerations be damned. The crowd turnouts were legendary, with upwards of 35,000 people in attendance, and the fighters got paid a lot more than their UFC counterparts.
Unfortunately, Pride FC is now defunct due to legal issues, and has since been run into the ground by Zuffa’s (UFC’s parent company) acquisition of the franchise. Nay sayers of MMA should check out some Pride FC videos some time, either on youtube of via DVD. It’ll really open up their eyes.
Michael Savage was particularly impressed by Pride FC when he had an opportunity to see it live in a rare Vegas promotion. His comments about it can also be found on youtube.

Sir Winston on May 4, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Football is specifically designed to be the American game. The object is not to advance the ball, as in rugby or soccer, but to conquer and hold territory. The model is clearly the 19th century advance of the United States across the continent. We all know about the (fictitious) exploits of Abner Doubleday, but almost nothing about the man who penned the rules for football, Walter Camp.

sonomaca on May 4, 2009 at 11:34 pm

MMA is usually quicker and tons more exciting even with two evenly matched guys. The same can’t be said about boxing. 12 rounds of two boxers just sucks. I can’t put the time in. MMA is also a lot more reality based. It can be done in 10 seconds or can be 25 minutes(championship). Most fights do end up on the ground and that’s just the way it is. Two of my favorite coworkers at the big house are jujitsu practitioners (I’m okay) and not coincidentally have the best behaved pod.
No one has died in mma either. Boxers die 4 at a rate of about 4 a year due to the repeated blows to the head.

samurai on May 5, 2009 at 12:43 am

Plus it’s no secret that Don King did more to kill boxing, cheat his fighters, and create racial divisions than any other single person connected to the sport.

samurai on May 5, 2009 at 12:45 am

No doubt that everything changes over time. Boxing and Baseball were by far the most popular sports in the USA until approximately 50 years ago. Baseball is still one of the big 3. Football is the undisputed #1 sport here now and has been for a while. Boxing is still very big and I am not worried about MMA taking over in my lifetime. MMA is in infancy stage and there is no guarantee that it will make to adulthood. Boxing is not endanger of dying anytime soon. I will say it again, $150,000 MMA paydays vs $15 Million WBC, WBA etc prize fight pay days.
Don’t forget that gambling drives the popularity of most sports. Less than 5% of all wagers are made legally in Nevada. Most bets are made through local bookies, one of the largest underground cash businesses in the U.S. The illegal narcotics/drug business is the biggest underground cash generating business. By far more money is bet on football than any other sport in the U.S.
Not going to get into black/white, foreign/domestic issue. It is not relevant. African Americans dominate both Basketball and Football and both are hugely popular both for wagering and watching purposes. Less $ is bet on MMA than the NHL in the U.S. and that is a minuscule amount of money in the domestic sports book business.
Baseball and Basketball are world sports now. Boxing is very much a world sport and the U.S., specifically Las Vegas is the center of the boxing world. MMA is more like professional bowling at this point in time.

bonzerwolf on May 5, 2009 at 12:49 am

In terms of Pay Per View revenues, MMA actually surpassed boxing back in 2006. Just because American MMA purses are so low doesn’t mean that the sport is the equivalent of pro bowling. There are million dollar fighters out there, Dana White just refuses to pay for them. American fans should demand better.

Sir Winston on May 5, 2009 at 1:28 am

What has killed boxing is the fact that dishonest men like your fellow Ohioan Don King and the willing little poobahs who run the plethora of sanctioning bodies are all too willing to fix rankings and stuff for a couple of bucks from the promoters. It’s a shame.

thegreatbeast on May 5, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Dunno. The fighters were paid $12 million each. Most of that was American.
As for the fight, Hatton couldn’t fight a left hander to save his life. He would jab and then throw the over hand right, while dropping his left. Not only did the Philipino duck it every time, he saw the opening an tossed left and right crosses at will. A rematch would have paid even more money. But who wants to pay to watch someone set himself up for a right-left/one-two?

supercargo on May 5, 2009 at 9:04 pm

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