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Mayweather madness in london.
Mayweather London (AFP) OK, so who never saw that happening? Floyd Mayweather Jr's two-day trip to the UK culminated in an open workout at the Pea**** gym at Canning Town, East London, on Friday afternoon. For those that don't know, the Pea**** can probably comfortably hold 200 people - about 3,000 turned up.
What resulted was a dangerous crush. When I got there, at about 3pm, the doors were already shut and there were several hundred people locked outside, with plenty more still arriving and some already leaving. I talked my way through a side gate (I was on an official list, honest), but inside it was crowded and sweltering. Floyd didn't arrive for another 90 minutes, having had to make the last bit of the journey on foot because his car could not get through the crowd.
Now the cynical part of me has a hunch that the organisers got exactly what they wanted - a big scene. All the goings-on were being filmed for HBO's latest 24/7 programme. It will be Mayweather's third version of the show and - like many shows in their third season - the storyline could be running a bit thin. So was this merely an elaborate ruse to get a good scene for TV?
Most people I know were shocked at the thought of holding a public workout in such a small place. Most such workouts are held in shopping centres or huge halls - David Haye held one last year in the entrance area to the O2. But it was apparently at Mayweather's insistence that it was open to everyone, not just the media. And so concerned were the organisers that people might not show, that I (and I assume other members of the press) was sent about a dozen reminders.
Having been to plenty of big fights in America, I can quite believe that the organisers were shocked by the turnout. In the US, boxing has become a fringe sport, dumped by the major networks who are in over their heads with contracts for NFL, baseball and basketball.
And while network TV has let the sport slide, some promoters have got lazy, happy to take big fights to Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Indian reservation casinos in search of the gambling dollar rather than try to build up live crowds. On top of that, the parochial nature of newspapers in the US means that boxing is often swept aside for college and high school sports. Some of the biggest name writers in the US today write exclusively for the internet. The sport has become so separated from the fans, that is is little wonder that many in the sport looked on with jealousy when Ricky Hatton's fans arrive in Las Vegas, or when some came to the Millennium Stadium to see Joe Calzaghe.
Fortunately, many promoters are now changing this. The emergence of Kelly Pavlik underlined the crowd potential some felt the sport lacked, while Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito in January drew a huge live gate. But it is still someway off Britain, where boxing shows time after time that it is not only still a mainstream sport, but it is still on the rise.
And anyone who has ever had the misfortune to sit through an American press conference knows how awful this sport can be at selling itself. Each boxer, manager, promoter and sponsor comes to the platform in a show of stomach-churning backslapping. "I'd like to thank God, HBO, Tecate Beer and the MGM Grand" - do people think anyone is really writing down such nonsense?
But it shows where the allegiances lie - not with the fans, but with the suits who sign the cheques. Mayweather is an expert as such talk. Far more than he thanks the fans, he will thank HBO and the HBO executives by name.
During his stay in Britain, the name of HBO was replaced with that of Sky, who will be showing the July 18 bout on pay-per-view (it will probably be announced straight after their next pay-per view show of Kotelnik v Khan). This meant Sky viewers were treated to the workout through the eyes of Jim White, one of Sky Sports News's presenters. Now, I don't know White, but I have never seen him around boxing and judging by the efforts that I saw, he is no expert. So much of the time he hogged with Mayweather was taken up with the banal - I'm sure at one time he even said 'say hello to my colleagues in the studio', or I might have been imagining this. Why they didn't sent Craig Slater, their excellent boxing guy, I just don't know.
There was a time that you could see top-class boxing on Sky as part of the sizeable subscription, but no more. While Khan and Mayweather cost an extra £14.63, Friday Night Fights is showing such fare as Edwards v Ahmed this weekend, the latest in a string of disappointing offerings that will attract minimal viewers, from which I would omit the last Prizefighter event and the Belfast show ten days ago. Even the live or morning-after US shows seem no more. Sky have bought the rights to the upcoming Berto-Urango fight, but plan to show it six days after in its Friday night slot.
Could Berto or anyone else ever become as popular as Mayweather here? If Sky continue the downgrade of their boxing coverage the answer is a very big no. And where are they going to find their valuable pay-per-view stars then?
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