There were maybe about a handful of people on planet Earth who watched Saturday's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley who thought Bradley was the better man. It just so happened that two of them were among the three judges chosen to score the fight, thus leaving the boxing world with one of its strangest decisions in recent memory and leaving a sports world shaking its head in boxing's direction once again.
"Boxing is dead", "boxing is dying" and other variations of such declarations are becoming increasingly popular by the day. Fans of mixed martial arts lean on moments like Saturday's debacle when restocking their ammo in the MMA-boxing debate. Though it's quite misguided, given that MMA fights also go to the scorecards if no knockout or disqualification takes place, and while I don't watch much MMA, I can't believe that there has never been a decision given to the wrong man in the history of the sport. Whenever you have a sport that is left into the hands of judges, quirky things can happen - as in gymnastics in the Olympics, for example. There have been terrible decisions in boxing before, and guess what? Bradley's robbery win over Pacquiao won't be the last.
One of the more compelling things about being a boxing fan is that while we all have our favorite and least favorite fighters, you're rooting for a single individual. Manny Pacquiao has become a must-watch in the past five years or so, becoming one of the sport's only true crossover stars (along with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.). But team sports are mostly an every day occurrence. Boxers parachute in an out of our lives, giving us a few moments each year to watch them. If you root for a given fighter, even as a "die hard", you simply won't feel the same way if they lose than you would, say, if your favorite team lost in the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps those in the Philippines, where Pacquiao is a national hero, feel that way after Saturday's mess, but for the most of us, on most normal boxing nights, we just want to see a good fight.
We also want to see good, fair fights, and fair results. If you love boxing, as I do, the only way the sport can truly make you feel as empty as when your favorite team loses a heartbreaker is with scandal or a dubious decision like last night. While I was rooting for Pacquiao to beat Bradley, I always like a good upset. I would have had no problem with Bradley winning. But he didn't win the fight, despite two of the three people who mattered thinking he did, and because he didn't deserve it, I almost can't find it in my heart to feel good for him. And that's a really crappy place to be in as a boxing fan.
I'd like to think of how nice it should be that Bradley got his moment, how he celebrated beating one of the best fighters of an entire generation. But it's just not there, and if you listened to Bradley speak with HBO's Max Kellerman after the fight, you know that even he isn't so sure he won (which is putting it incredibly lightly). Bradley told Kellerman he thought it was a close fight and that he would go back and look at the tape again to see if he won. What fighter who thought he just legitimately won would ever say that?
Pacquiao and Bradley will now most likely rematch on Nov. 10, and yet, I still have to think that most boxing fans will find a way to watch it. Maybe people will start heading out to their local bar to watch instead of plunking down $65 to watch at home. Maybe some will try to find an illegal online stream, and there will definitely be those who do suck it up and buy the show. And they'll do it because liking boxing is like being in a roller coaster relationship. There's really great times and really horrible times, and that shroud of mystery is always there. You don't know if you're about to have the best night of your life or another painful one, but it's the specter of the positive that brings you back.
And because of that, boxing is not dead, and it's not dying any more than any other sport. When the current stars move on, new ones will come. Because of that, when older fans leave, younger ones will replace them. And they'll find themselves watching fights, hoping for the slim possibility that they're about to witness something great. Most times they won't, and sometimes there will be a night like Saturday that leaves us wanting to get out. But when it rolls back around, after the horrible taste has left our mouths, we'll find a way to carve out just enough time for another ride.
Pacquiao vs Bradley Results: Controversial Scoring Leads to New Welterweight Champ (via sbnation)