Are We Not Entertained?
By: Eric Lunger
Andre Berto made headlines in September of 2015 as the opponent for Floyd Mayweather’s last fight, or farewell fight, or retirement fight, however you want to call it. The bout was heavily criticized by fans and commentators alike, and boxing fans are prone to cynicism and outrage when a fight does not appear to live up to “what the fans deserve.” But what, exactly, do we as fans deserve?
In the aftermath of the Mayweather-Berto fight, Andre Ward, who faces Sergey Kovalev this November in what is probably the most anticipated fight in recent years, had some thought-provoking things to say about the fighters, fan expectations, and the boxing world in general:
“Floyd Mayweather has given us enough blood, enough sweat, enough tears, enough entertainment over nineteen years, or whatever it is, and he can go out how he wants to go out. It doesn’t matter what people say.”
“Berto came in here, and people say he didn’t deserve a shot. This is a guy who has been boxing since he was a kid, a former two-time world champion — say what you want, he put on a great performance. He didn’t win… but I’m happy for him, he got the opportunity of a lifetime. A lot of fighters don’t get that.” (Fighthype.com)
Ward went on to point out the obvious but unstatedfact: that fighters take a beating in the ring for our entertainment. They are the ones who have to ice their faces after a bout, who have to go to the hospital. If we as fans and media want to criticize, we have to do so with a modicum of respect. And let’s not forget that, in April of this year, Berto stepped back into the ring to face off against Victor Ortiz in a match to avenge Berto’s unanimous decision loss to Ortiz in 2011. In the rematch, Berto was clearly prepared tactically, had trained himself to his physical peak, and executed his game plan in the ring with brutal efficiency, knocking out Ortiz in the 4th round. There was no cynicism in the expression on Berto’s face when he won, and no cynicism in the explosive roar from the crowd when Ortiz hit the canvas.
Now Andre Berto is in the headlines again, assisting relief efforts in Haiti after hurricane Matthew devastated part of his homeland earlier this month. He doesn’t have to be there, but he’s doing it because for him he needs to do it.
It’s very easy to cynical about boxing, frankly, because cynicism is the child of idealism. When our high ideals about boxing, our high hopes even, are dashed, cynicism is an easy way out. Now, let’s be realists. Are fans justified in being upset about some cherry-picked matchups? Sure. Danny Garcia has certainly taken his lumps on social media recently. Are fans justified in criticizing fighters for “ducking” certain opponents? Sure. But boxing occupies a strange place between sport, entertainment, business, and a very dangerous undertaking for the participants. If a boxer and his team want to hold off, to protect those years of sacrifice in the gym, to maximize that payday for his family, I get that. On the other had, teams that wait years and years to make a fight that fans are desperate to see can do lasting damage to the sport. Such was the case with Mayweather-Pacquiao, and such might be the case with Canelo-Golovkin.
Fans of the sport of boxing love it because it provides a spectacle like no other. Fans deserve to be entertained, certainly, and they deserve competitive cards with exiting matchups, but, at the same time, fans owe a measure of respect to those who step into the ring.