Everything has to evolve. To sit still while others are improving and progressing is to fall hopelessly behind.
Boxing and horse racing are still trying to live on the same things they did 100 years ago, when they, with baseball, were among the most popular sports in the country. On June 9, with a big fight and the Triple Crown finale the same day, these two museum-pieces of sports were hoping to have a moment. They live on days like this, hoping that one last ember can somehow make a spark.
You already know what happened. Manny Pacquiao, one of boxing’s few big names left, was robbed under odd and suspicious circumstances. And the trainer of Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another withdrew the horse from the Belmont Stakes a day before the race under odd and suspicious circumstances.
Is it possible that two judges honestly saw Pacquiao lose, and that a trainer just wanted to protect his horse by not running him hurt? Hah! It is impossible to trust either sport anymore.
The truth is this: These sister sports from a cigar-chomping, smoke-filled backroom era showed at the same time exactly how close they are to dying.
It turns out that boxing has a little more life left than horse racing does, as at least outcry over the decision is still hanging around. Someone cared. The Triple Crown scam is already forgotten.
How are we supposed to believe that something dirty wasn’t happening? Pacquiao lost to Timothy Bradley, who didn’t get a fight with the champ until after he signed on with Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum. Already, a rematch is in the works, thanks to the way the decision went. And Arum said that he’ll make a ton of money off of it, though he said the decision needed to be investigated.
No kidding. And the first place anyone is going to look? Arum.
Meanwhile, I’ll Have Another trainer Doug O’Neill has a notorious history of his own involving training methods and high levels of different substances found in his horses. He is hardly the only one. The New York racing commission was so concerned about doping that it had all the horses in the Belmont report to a detention barn on Wednesday before the race so they could be watched.
These sports’ own people don’t trust one another.
Other sports have changed over the years. Basketball isn’t played below the rim anymore. Football invented the forward pass. Baseball plays off its nostalgia, too, like boxing and horse racing, but at least it has found ways to adapt to modern media to deliver its product to customers.
Can a sport have an expiration date? Boxing and horse racing have no approach to getting more eyeballs on their events. They just keep throwing the same pitch, like a 40-year-old still trying to live on his fastball.
Boxing: Dingy gym, weigh-in, controversial decision, unsavory characters, gambling. When was the last time the general public could see a big fight without paying huge pay-per-view fees? Boxing has taken itself out of the mainstream.
Horse racing, with the advent of casino gambling and lotteries, never kept up with the times. Beyond the Triple Crown races, the sport is nothing but fodder for simulcasts in off-track-betting houses and casinos.
Meanwhile, the horses have been bred to the point where they aren’t even safe for themselves. Breed the skinniest ankles and then pump horses up on steroids or other substances, and they can’t even support their own bodies. So, in general, horses don’t run many races anymore. They’re not built for it, not built for longevity as much as speed, and then a sale.
So was there something underhanded in I’ll Have Another’s withdrawal? Or maybe owners thought that a loss in the Belmont would reduce the horse’s sale value. Or maybe these injuries are from breeding. Or maybe it was just an injury that could have happened to any horse at any time.
The theories about the fight are wide ranging, too. Two judges were wrong. (Pacquiao connected with far more punches and far more power punches.) Or corruption was involved. The predominant conspiracy theory, as explained well in Grantland.com, is that Arum was running out of his own fighters to pit against Pacquiao. With Bradley winning, a huge payday is guaranteed in a rematch.
As former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis wrote on Twitter: “Pac won the fight. Bradley won the decision. (Arum) won another payday. Boxing lost its integrity and the fans lost confidence.’’
Whatever happened, both sports showed why they can’t get what they need to survive. Maybe horses just can’t run three hard races in five weeks anymore, closing out with a super-long 1-1/2 miles at Belmont. Maybe that’s why Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed all won Triple Crowns in the 1970s but no horse has been able to do it in the 34 years since Affirmed’s sweep in 1978.
Boxing has exactly one super matchup that everyone wants: Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. And it has yet to come off. Mayweather does not use Arum as a promoter.
Any conspiracy theory could be wrong. Judges might have made an honest mistake. Arum might just accidentally be benefiting. I’ll Have Another might have been spared serious injury by thoughtful handlers.
But who can believe that anymore? The glory and nostalgia from the back rooms of 100 years ago just aren’t enough to buy into.