Boxing Fans Shift Focus To Small Men, Big Money As some boxing fans await a major welterweight matchup on Saturday, it's clear that the sport is struggling to keep the attention on the boxers' athleticism rather than their riches.
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Boxing Fans Shift Focus To Small Men, Big Money

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Boxing Fans Shift Focus To Small Men, Big Money

Boxing Fans Shift Focus To Small Men, Big Money

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A big fight in boxing is coming up. Our commentator Frank Deford says the details of that big fight go to show that modern-day boxing is pretty small.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: It was long an article of faith among sports cognoscenti that nothing in athletics approached the sheer, electric drama and glamour of a heavyweight championship fight. Oh, my. And in this corner, weighing 193 pounds, the heavyweight champion of the world. And the world all but stopped. Well, if you missed it, they had one of those and at no less a shrine than Madison Square Garden this Saturday past. Or you could have watched it on plain, old TV if you weren't analyzing the NFL draft, following the NBA or NHL playoffs or watching the baseball season unfold.

Poor, ignored heavyweights and the heavyweight champion himself. Often as not, he was the most famous athlete in the world. So although it may seem extraordinary to modern fans, whenever a black man held the title, inevitably a wishful search for the so-called great white hope was artlessly conducted. This leads to irony number one, in that a white man named Wladimir Klitschko, he who easily defended his title Saturday, has been the heavyweight champ for nine years now, and nobody of any race seems much to know him, let alone care that he is approaching Joe Louis's record as champ.

Irony number two - whereas just about everybody in every sport is getting big and bigger, what residual interest there is in boxing is going to the smaller. This Saturday gives us the indisputable fight of the century, and it is for welterweights - a division which used to be, relative to heavyweights, the Department of Agriculture compared to the State Department. But at last, the undefeated 38-year-old American, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is meeting the 36-year-old Filipino congressman Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas or, more importantly, on pay-per-view TV.

Whatever you may think about boxing, this particular match has become the tackiest sports event this side of hot dog eating. All of the pre-fight talk has been about money, money, money, money. Mayweather has a mouth guard worth $25,000, which is made of $100 bills. And Philippine firms are paying to clutter up Pacquiao's trunks with more than $2 million worth of advertisements, so that it can be safely said that he's hitting it big below the belt. Although, at their advanced ages, both are probably incapable of a knockout, so the fight should go the distance, and everyone will get their money's worth.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

INSKEEP: We go the distance with Frank Deford each Wednesday on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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