By Cliff Rold
Some fights grow, at least for a night, bigger than the sport. They belong to a bigger picture, a tapestry of memorable events, moments in time where the world slows down and boxing is all of sport.
This Saturday isn’t one of those fights.
Who gives a damn?
There has been lots of gnashing of teeth about issues irrelevant to what happens in the ring this week. On canvas, 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, former super middleweight champion, and currently unified light heavyweight titlist Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KO) faces Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 27 KO) in a rematch of what of the most hotly debated outcomes in recent memory (HBO PPV, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST).
Hotly debated, of course, among those who debate about boxing when it isn’t front page.
In recent weeks, much has been written, tweeted, and spoken about what isn’t happening. Ward-Kovalev II has not caught the general sports viewer’s attention any more than their first fight did. Why it’s not bigger, who didn’t hold up their end of the promotion, and which fighter lacks the requisite star power is all interesting enough conversation. For anyone whose business is covering the sport, it’s certainly worthy of a headline on the road to the leather flying.
But, really, why does it matter to fans?
If one is the sort who watched the first fight, argued about the outcome, wondered if this rematch would happen, and is preparing to watch the sequel this weekend, isn’t that what counts? Boxing fandom can be a myopic endeavor full of disappointments and unfulfilled hypothetical musing. 2017 is the reward for those who stay with boxing during the down times.
Everyone who loves boxing is getting a lot of what they want this year. We’ve seen classics from Jr. bantamweight to heavyweight, the rise of new stars, some network television success, and we keep getting fights actually asked for.
Fights like Ward-Kovalev II.
When Ward had his hand raised against Kovalev last November, almost everyone who saw it wanted to see it again. For Ward fans, even if they thought he earned the win, they knew it was close. This is the chance to find out if their man is really the better man. For Kovalev fans that saw their man wronged, this is his opportunity to set the record straight.
They’re still two of boxing’s best current fighters in any weight class. They match up well. Kovalev’s long arms, stiff jab, and frightening power against the tenacious, methodical, win by single rounds approach of Ward meets multiple desires. For the action fan, their first fight had some heavy hands landed. For the technically impressed, the chess match was there. It should be again.
It’s boxing, as sport, showing its best competitive face. In the US, the number of people who are happy with that alone dwindled a long time ago. We’ve lived with this dichotomy for more than a generation.
How many people beyond the solid boxing base were glued to the television for nights like James Toney-Mike McCallum I? Why were there so many empty seats at Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo I? When a boxing fan asks a non-boxing fan what they thought of the epic Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez rivalry, how many get an answer beyond, “huh?”
The tree fell in the forest. The folks reading right now? They saw it fall. Having a forest to oneself, or shared only with the people who like the same surroundings, is where great memories are made.
The whole world might not be watching this weekend, but the boxing world will. Enjoy it for what it is because, here’s the thing…
…as the years go by, most fights fade far from view. Sure, more Americans used to watch boxing than is the case now. How many of the fights from those times really still spark much conversation? There is a seemingly infinite supply of Muhammad Ali documentaries and we still talk plenty about Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, the 1980s Fab Four, and the Mike Tyson era.
How often does mainstream press recall Carlos Monzon-Rodrigo Valdes, Emile Griffith-Nino Benvenuti, or Matthew Saad Muhammad-Yaqui Lopez? When the dust settles and time passes, most of the best of boxing is only recalled and embraced by people who like boxing all the time and never stopped.
This weekend will end, or extend, the sort of rivalry that only boxing fans would still be talking about a decade from now no matter how many buys come in on pay-per-view. Would it be better if there were a larger viewing platform, bigger buzz, and more people chattering at the water cooler?
It doesn’t mean anything once the bell rings.
Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev are stepping to scratch this weekend for the second time. If that’s your sort of kicks, the world will stop for a scheduled twelve rounds.
The accountants can worry about the rest.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]