King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Mayweather-De La Hoya didn't save boxing. Neither will anything else. Plus: Roger Clemens' me-first comeback. It's a good idea.


Salon Staff
May 8, 2007 8:00PM (UTC)

Floyd Mayweather Jr. beat Oscar De La Hoya by split decision in Las Vegas Saturday in the biggest boxing match in years, one that figures to be the most successful pay-per-view match ever once the counting finishes.

Time magazine and others have been asking if the big fight, which was an artistic as well as a box-office success, not an all-time classic but an entertaining bout, could save boxing.

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It's the silliest question of the year.

Asking if Mayweather vs. De La Hoya could save boxing is like asking if the snazzy 1912 models could save the buckboard industry. It's like asking if the spring white sale at Smidley's Department Store could halt inflation. It's an absurd underestimation of what has happened to boxing.

Boxing has been in decline for a half-century because of historical forces too great and varied to be affected by one fight, no matter how intriguing the matchup or exciting the delivery.

We could fill up a few hundred pages talking about what those forces are, but a ridiculously abbreviated, spectacularly simplified list would include a severely shrunken talent pool caused by increased opportunities, sporting and otherwise, for poor kids; changing tastes; greater entertainment options, including more sports; unaddressed safety concerns; corruption; and the lack of a governing organization to guarantee good matches and recognized champions.

And really, I can't emphasize enough how abbreviated and simplified that list is.

Here's an even simpler illustration: Wherever you are right now, go to the nearest crowded place. Ask out loud who the heavyweight champion is. The heavyweight champion: That is, the person -- now persons -- who for most of the last century was the single most important figure in sports. Keep asking till you get the right answer. You'll probably have to look it up yourself beforehand. Note how much time passes before someone gets it right.

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You might want to bring a sandwich.

If I had to bet on one thing and I could have my choice of propositions, including where the sun would rise tomorrow and whether a dropped brick would rise or fall, I would bet on boxing not making a comeback.

Even if a match like Mayweather-De La Hoya could save boxing, which it can't, it wouldn't matter, because there aren't any other matches "like" Mayweather-De La Hoya. By definition, matching up the most popular fighter in the world against the consensus best fighter in the world can't happen very often, even on the fairly slim chance that those two figures populate similar enough weight classes that they can even talk about meeting.

Mayweather and De La Hoya will probably meet again, but then what? Someone will follow Mayweather as the next pound-for-pounder -- the best of an ever-less-impressive bunch -- but who's behind Oscar as the next crossover celebrity from boxing, the next pug who'll attract fans who don't otherwise watch the sport, who'll dot the pages of People and chat winningly with Dave and Jay and Conan and the chatterers of "The View"? Nobody.

Save boxing? Give me a break. Mayweather and De La Hoya might just as well try to save vaudeville.

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Clemens' comeback: Aging stars should pay attention [PERMALINK]

Roger Clemens is back with the New York Yankees, you may have heard, signing a deal over the weekend that will pay him about $18 million and cost the Yanks about $26 million once luxury taxes are paid. Clemens is expected to take about a month to get ready to join the New York rotation, which is in shambles.

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For the second straight year, the world as we know it is crumbling around us because a baseball player is setting his own terms, deciding to play only part of a season and retaining the right to skip road trips when he's not scheduled to pitch. Clemens did this last year with the Houston Astros.

The good news is that Clemens made his decision quickly this time, sparing us the weeks upon weeks of speculation over his Hamlet routine: To the Yankees or Red Sox -- or Astros, maybe Rangers? -- that is the question.

The bad news is that society is going to hell in a handbasket, thanks to Roger Clemens. At least that's the idea I get from reading the papers, especially those in Greater Fenwaysia, that area of the country that roots for the Boston Red Sox, who have now been spurned by Clemens two years in a row.

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Clemens' midseason signing "sets a horrible precedent, not that we should expect Clemens to care a lot about that," huffs Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal. "For you know it's just a matter of time before some other aging star follows the same script. Why go to spring training and then spend the first couple of months in the cold weather when you can simply show up in June? Why go on all those road trips if you don't really have to?

"In short, why not make your own deal?"

Why indeed. In fact, I've been wondering for longer than Roger Clemens has been doing this why more star athletes don't do it. Why don't aging NBA and NHL stars skip the first half of the punishing slog of the 82-game "regular" season so they'll be fresh for the playoffs?

It wouldn't work on a marginal team that might miss the playoffs without the star's contributions, of course, but there are plenty of teams that can be counted on to get there with only half a season from a key player. In fact, a lot of teams trade for such a player when the season's half over.

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Think the Detroit Red Wings, who made the playoffs with 18 points to spare, would have missed them if Dominik Hasek had been in goal for 30 games instead of 56? The Wings averaged 1.46 points in the games he started, 1.19 in the games he didn't. So if that held true and he'd started 30 games, Detroit would have finished with 106 points instead of 113. The Red Wings would have been the seventh seed in the Western Conference -- but two points from being the fifth -- instead of the first.

Is a high seed and home-ice advantage worth putting 26 games' worth of miles on Hasek's 42-year-old, often-injured lower body, to use the hockey parlance? I don't know the answer to that question, but I think it's worth asking.

Ditto for Shaquille O'Neal. The Miami Heat have made the playoffs the past two years with O'Neal missing first 23 and then 42 games. So they can get there without him. O'Neal still got to the postseason worn down and nursing injuries, though it didn't matter either time. The Heat won the title last year, and this year they got bounced in the first round not because of O'Neal but because Dwyane Wade was hurt and they weren't a particularly good team even with Wade healthy.

But how many contending NBA teams falter in the playoffs because a star player has simply worn down at the end of a long year, succumbed to nagging injuries? About one or two most years, I'd say.

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If there's an aging running back out there with some tread left on his tires, why wouldn't an NFL team sign him, pay him, hand him a playbook and tell him to learn it, stay in shape, walk through noncontact drills, come to meetings and be ready to play around Week 10?

Yankees manager Joe Torre told the New York Times about Clemens, "There's only so many throws in that arm. But would you rather have them in the first few months of the season or the last few?"

That's a no-brainer if you ask me. And you can translate it to other sports by saying there are only so many games in those legs.

But let's get back to Reynolds' objections in the Providence Journal. I'm just using him as a spokesman for ideas I'm seeing and hearing all over.

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"And the rest of the team? Hey, it's every man for himself, right?"

Well, if you're going to talk about clubhouse chemistry you're putting one right in my wheelhouse, but let's pretend team chemistry is a real, important thing. Is Clemens' every-man-for-himself deal poison to a clubhouse, bad for whatever team he signs with?

The Yankees don't think so, or they wouldn't have signed him. The Astros don't think so or they wouldn't have signed him last year or been disappointed that he signed with the Yankees this year. The Red Sox don't think so or they wouldn't have made him an offer this year, which they reportedly did.

So the three teams that we know have had a chance to make the judgment that Roger Clemens' me-first terms would be bad for their club have unanimously said no, they wouldn't be. The Astros are the one team that has gone through this. Last year they went 37-35 before Clemens' first start on June 22. After that they went 45-45. He really destroyed them, didn't he?

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Reynolds again: "That's the danger here, and it's a sneak preview of a potential minefield. Why go through an arduous long season if you have both the clout and the cachet to avoid it?"

Again: Why indeed.

Here's a better way to ask that question: Why shouldn't an employee in any business who has the clout and cachet to name his terms name his terms? I daresay that you, Bill Reynolds, Mr. Big City Newspaper Columnist, get more vacation time than the copy clerks with two years' experience. I'm also going to guess you have a little more freedom to come and go from the office as you please. Need to work from home today? Go ahead, the bosses probably say. Mine do.

Not being very good team players, are we now, Mr. BCNC.

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Previous column: Barry Bonds and race

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