"If Oscar hadn't pressed the action, there wouldn't have even been a fight," says Bas Rutten, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight titleholder who, like me, counts himself a big boxing fan.
In many ways, the boxing business deemed Rutten and his ilk to be the real opponent here. This was supposed to be the fight to finally beat back the mixed martial arts menace. In fact, it made a persuasive case (much to my dismay) for boxing's obsolescence.
I'm 44; Bas is 42. If old guys like us thought the fight was lacking, then what of that most prized demographic, the 18 to 34-year-old male? What of a generation raised on a steady diet of Wrestlemania, Xbox, SportsCenter, Kung Fu flicks, graphic novels and porn?
If nothing else, these laddies demand visual gratification. These are the guys who made 300 a huge hit. They could not have been much impressed with Mayweather's tactical triumph. They don't like endings subject to interpretation. They want their dramas resolved. They want a little blood and guts. At $54.95, that shouldn't be too much to ask.
More than a decade has passed since Senator John McCain famously derided the UFC as "human cockfighting." Now the boxing business seeks to portray mixed martial arts fighters as crude, unskilled sadists. It's a curious position for an industry that had been so eager to pimp out Mike Tyson. Sure, there's a difference between the boxer who slips and sticks and the MMA guy straddling an opponent while pummeling him into submission. The level of violence has been amped up.Still, neither McCain nor the boxing lobby has prevented mixed martial arts from taking its place in the firmament of popular culture. Out in Los Angeles — where Sunset Boulevard is studded with billboards announcing the latest UFC pay per view — UFC champion Chuck Lidell is a big enough celebrity to play himself on Entourage. By comparison, Wladimir Klitschko — the best known of the four current heavyweight champions — was recently mistaken for one of Rocky Balboa's opponents during an appearance at the New York Golden Gloves.
"Boxing is scared of us," says Rutten, now coaching the Los Angeles Anacondas of the International Fight League. The IFL (I'm obliged to mention it's bankrolled by the same people who paid for this column) is among the many MMA ventures you can see on TV every night. It's a team competition matching fighters representing 12 cities, from Tokyo to New York.
"Remember the movie Rollerball?" says Bas, referring to the 1975 epic starring James Caan and John Houseman. "It's kind of like that."
Maybe that's where this is all headed, real life Rollerball. Rutten should know. His Hollywood gym, Legends, is an epicenter of the mixed martial arts scene. The place is packed. There are doctors and lawyers and the requisite celebs. But most of the guys (and some girls) are just there to be fighters. It's a new twist on an old story.
"They want to be discovered," says Rutten.
They are not without skill or virtue. After all, they're willing to bleed, which is more than can be said for Floyd Mayweather.