We Were the Marks: The Fight of the Century That Scammed Us All

noun. A person identified as an easy target, or “sucker”. A mark is always the short end of a joke or scam, and is never let in on whats going on. A mark is usually being cheated out of money. It’s origin is from old English traveling carnivals from the late 1800s to early 1900s, where workers would refer to people paying to see their made up shows and games a “mark”. not from urban gangsters like most people think. Mark is also the origin to the term “smark” or “smart mark” which is a person who knows he/she is being scammed.
“This town has a lot of marks.”
by AJ March 30, 2005 (Urban Dictionary)

This past weekend, the much anticipated “Fight of the Century” overcharged it’s audience, under delivered on it’s promises, and squandered a golden opportunity to revitalize boxing in the United States. The overwhelming response from the general public has been bitter disappointment, and rightfully so. Fans were charged grossly inflated prices to watch a weak card held together by single, low-action fight.

Many in the combat sports media have argued that fans who felt let down by this fight had no one to blame but themselves. This argument is not entirely without merit. Mayweather’s fighting style is not a secret. This fight, to be fair, was relatively entertaining through the first 6 rounds. What are all these people complaining about? If they were willing to spend $100 on a pay per view event, they should have known what they were getting themselves into!

Shifting the blame towards consumers lets promoters off the hook, and ignores the following:

1) None of us really knew what exactly these two were fighting over. This is because, in boxing, no one really knows who the champion is. There are four major sanctioning bodies, each with their own championship for each weight class. This is not to mention all of the smaller sanctioning bodies, each with titles of their own as well. Actually figuring out how boxing championships work is such a time consuming and frustrating affair, most people don’t even bother. Instead, we focus on abstract concepts like “the best pound-for-pound” fighter, which is what this weekend’s fight was about. The championship belts themselves are just props that serious boxing fans do not take seriously.

2) Weak under cards are a sport killer. Since Mayweather’s style of fighting is not for everyone, promoters should have compensated for this with the under card. There are plenty of up and coming fighters who utilize a number of different styles of boxing, some more fan friendly than others. Why not showcase the best and brightest? Why not approach the pay per view like an event and give fans a little bit of everything?

3) Boxing promoters assume that because they can make a lot of money today, they can continue doing what they are doing without repercussion. This is why they are price gouging fans, alienating the boxing media, and taking their audience for granted.

4) The casual boxing audience do not deserve the be ripped off. This is what I find most irritating about the “well, what did you expect?” response from many on the internet. People generally lead busy lives, filled with employment, family, and responsibility. There are many who do not watch boxing on a regular basis who still get really excited for a big boxing event, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Casual fans are the lifeblood of professional sports. Would the Super Bowl be what it is today if it were only watched by a handful of fantasy football nerds? Absolutely not. Big time sporting events are supposed to be for everyone. The promoters behind Mayweather/Pacquiao willfully deceived the general public into buying something advertised as on par with the super bowl, when they were delivering something far more watered down.

If you spent your hard-earned money of this weekend’s fight and you found yourself let down, you’re not crazy.

The expression mark is rooted in the history of professional wrestling. Pro wrestling is derived from catch wrestling, a form of grappling developed in Britain in the late 19th century. Catch wrestling matches took place at traveling fairs and carnivals, and were presented as legitimate competition between two adversaries. Somewhere along the way, the wrestlers figured out that they could make more money putting on a good show than they could by simply winning matches. They began to conspire with their opponents in secret and predetermining the outcome of their matches. Audiences at the time would not pay to see a predetermined fight, so the con took place in secret. While members of the public would often speculate that wrestling was fake, wrestlers would swear on their lives that it was anything but. This was known as “protecting the business.” Wrestlers even developed their own language in order to communicate with each other without letting anyone from the outside world in on the secret. The language was called Carney.

Carney language was used for decades to deceive their audiences, and those “in the know” had a word for those who were not: marks. A mark the sucker who paid for a ticket for what he or she thought would be a legit contest. Wrestlers, from Hulk Hogan going all the way back to Bruno Sammartino, have referred to their audience as “the marks.”

You may be asking why I am talking about pro wrestling history, and what this has to do with the Fight of the Century. Please note that I am in no way implying that there was any kind of match fixing that took place this weekend. What we witnessed was a legitimate competition between two athletes with no predetermined outcome. However, this fight did have a pro wrestling feel to it. When watching it, one almost got the sense that the winner of the fight was less important than how much money the fight made off of it.

There is a reason why the event felt so anticlimactic, why neither fighters really showed the sense of urgency that we would expect from the Fight of the Century, and why we were all let down. We were promised The Fight of the Century, and we did not even get the fight of the month (that honor belongs to Matthysse vs. Provodnikov). What we were given was a novelty fight between two once great fighters, both past their prime.

We were the marks.

Here is where combat sports differ from the major team sports in the United States: winning is only part of the equation. Professional fighting is part sport and part spectacle, and fans expect to be entertained. If an NFL game is boring on any given week, fans aren’t asking for their money back. They accept that in competitive sports, the on-the-field product may not always be fun to watch. They come back without question the following week, and this is simply not the case in boxing (nor should it be). By the same token, fight promoters have a greater ability to put together enjoyable fights. They are not bound to a playoff system or any real ranking system (except for the ones that they openly manipulate). Hence, it is their responsibility to put forth an entertaining product (or to at least trick consumers into thinking they will get one). What happened this past weekend was quite possibly the greatest hoodwinking in the history prize fighting. If you feel any kind of buyers remorse, you are completely justified in being disappointed. It’s not you, it’s them.

Those who follow boxing closely might be quick to say “we told you so”, pointing out the fact that Floyd Mayweather fought a Floyd Mayweather style fight.

“Haven’t you seen a Mayweather fight before? Were you really expecting a knockout? Do you even watch boxing?”

Nerdy elitism is never a good look, but let’s set that aside for a second. There are many who feel that Mayweather has been fighting like a shell of his former self for the last few years (see his boring second fight against Marcos Maidana in 2014). While it may be true that no fighter in or near his weight class can beat him, this does not make his fights any more entertaining. This does not change the fact that his star power has undoubtedly influenced referees, allowing him to away with more holding and stalling than he could have earlier in his career. This does not change the fact that Mayweather insists on fighting in 24×24 foot rings (rather than the standard 20×20), allowing him plenty of room to run around. This does not change the fact that his marketability is based entirely on his undefeated professional record, even though Mayweather has made a career out of cherry-picking opponents.

Defenders of the event have been quick to claim that anyone disappointed by this event were casual fans, uneducated of the finer points of the sweet science. When someone does not enjoy a fight, the easiest thing to do is to tell them they did not understand what they just saw. This is not a completely unfounded statement. Mayweather is a defensive virtuoso, and his style is an acquired taste. However, not enjoying Mayweather/Pacquiao does not necessarily mean that you “just don’t get boxing.” By the same token, enjoying the fight (or pretending to enjoy it) does not necessarily make you some kind of fight genius. Mayweather’s style of outfighting is just genre one in boxing’s catalog. If someone does not enjoy experimental jazz, it does not mean that they do not “get” music, just that their taste differs from yours.

Comparing fighters to musicians, each fighting within their own genre, offers a good way to understand the way that the fight business actually works. Since there is no one true governing body of boxing, and there are several fights each weekend, it is up to the consumer to decide which fights they will tune into. The fighters they tend to watch may not necessarily be the fighters capable of beating the most opponents. They look for the the fighters whose genres appeal to them. This is why Arturo Gatti is in the Boxing Hall of Fame and Guillermo Rigondeaux is barely employed. Here is the important thing:

Even the most die hard of boxing fans still approach watching the sport in this way. While hardcore fight fans may be more likely to enjoy a Mayweather fight, as they may have more experience is watching the nuances of professional boxing, this does not mean that they will look down on you for wanting a little more action and a little less holding and dancing.

For evidence of this, I point to two of the most beloved fights of all time: Haggler vs Hearns and Ward vs Gatti. Both of these fights are universally loved, even by “real” fight fans. Haggler/Hearns is virtually the polar opposite to Mayweather/Pacquiao. It is exciting, fast-paced, and over quickly. Ward v Gatti, while not a technical showcase, was so enthralling that it inspired an Oscar nominated movie.

There are a number of people, including die hard boxing bloggers and journalists, who were underwhelmed by the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight. There is no higher tier of fight fandom reserved for those who enjoy watching 12 rounds of dancing and hugging. It is completely acceptable for you, the consumer, to be disappointed by the Fight of the Century.

Here is the scenario:

Prize fighting is no longer a mainstream sport in the United States. Apart from the big names of the sport (Mayweather and Pacquiao are the last true big ones), the general American public cares little for professional boxing. You have he last two major draws of this generation, both of whom are close enough in weight to actually fight each other. Fans have been teased with the match up for five years, and the stars have finally aligned in such a way that it can actually happen. The anticipation is so feverish that countless people who do not normally watch boxing will tune in for this event. Promoters have finally been able to put aside their petty differences for just long enough to pull of a once-in-a-generation mega event. Do you…

A. See this as a window of opportunity in which you can re-introduce the sport of boxing to the American public. Accept that the possibility that the main event may underwhelm, and make up for it with by showcasing some promising young stars on the under card. Offer the tickets at an affordable price, and pack the arena with excited and passionate fans. Charge a reasonable price for the PPV, promising viewers that the sport of boxing has turned a corner and will now be more accessible than ever. Put together a presentation that will appeal to people under the age 50.

B. See this as a one night opportunity to squeeze as much money as possible out of the consumer. Make tickets so expensive that no one in the 99% can actually attend. Jack up the PPV price because you can. Throw together a half assed under card because you can. Show us a bunch of celebrities, as if that’s a novel thing in 2015, where we have more access to these people than any other time in history. Promise the world, and laugh your way to the bank.

Don’t get me wrong, calling the event a financial success would be an understatement. A recent ESPN article speculated that, all told, this fight could generate something north of $400 million. The live gate alone surpassed $74 million, more than 3 times the gate for Mayweather’s highly publicized fight with Canelo Alvarez in 2013. Mayweather alone will earnsomewhere around $180 million, about $50 million more than the entire roster of an NFL team makes in a year. Pacquiao will make $120 million, almost enough to bankroll two different NHL teams. So if the idea was a one night cash grab, mission accomplished. The question is, where does this leave boxing over the next 5, 10, or 15 years?

What the professional wrestlers of old knew is that the best way to make a profit is to keep the marks coming back. They knew that if fans got their money’s worth, they would continue to buy tickets. This is the lesson that boxing promoters have failed to learn. Instead of using the limited window of opportunity created by Mayweather/Pacquiao to hook fans into buying into the boxing product, thus making them more money in the future, they all but assured that everyone watching would feel ripped off and would never buy into boxing again.

They could have used the under card as an opportunity to showcase some young and exciting fighters, showing the audience that boxing is on the rise and there is a reason to tune in again. Instead, they gave us fights worth skipping. They could have tweaked any number of things about the broadcast to make it a little more fresh and inviting to younger viewers. Instead, we got the same old same. Celebrity showboating, dragged out entrances (complete with the Burger King mascot), and a fight that dragged into early Sunday morning.

Declaring boxing dead is probably premature. It is more accurate to say that the days of boxing being relevant in mainstream America are over. When Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier in 1971, it captivated a nation. It was such a big deal that a group of activists were able to break into FBI buildings and steal sensitive documents the night of the fight because they knew that everyone in the country would be so preoccupied. Boxing will never be that big of a deal again. While boxing may be an institution for Latin America, and a growing sport in much of Asia, it is a niche sport with an aging audience in the United States. This is sad, because America is a country that really wants to like boxing. Big time boxing events are a part of American folklore. That is why movies like Rocky, Raging Bull, and countless others still strike a chord with us. Boxing should be timeless, and most of us enjoy the idea of boxing more than boxing as it exists today. That is why there was so much excitement for Mayweather/Pacquiao, and why it was so disappointing when the event failed to deliver.

If you think that the MMA will never overtake boxing in popularity, then you’re probably not paying attention. This is not to say that MMA will ever be as popular as boxing once was, just that the way in which people view combat sports in changing. Ask a handful of people under the age of 25 to name a professional fighter besides Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. See if they can name a boxer. More than likely, they will answer “Chuck Liddell” or “Anderson Silva.” Take a look at the local gyms in your area, and see how many of them offer MMA classes. Look at the fact that Brazilian jiu jitsu is now a part of the American lexicon. This is despite the fact that MMA in the United States is 22 years old. When Mayweather and Pacquiao have taken their money and moved on, and boxing has failed to produce any new megastars, just where does that leave us?

(I am aware that over saturation of the UFC product is creating watered down cards, but the UFC is nowhere near as shortsighted as the boxing “establishment.”)

I am not a member of the boxing or MMA media, so I am under no obligation to write from any an impartial perspective. I am a fan of combat sports, and I write this out of anger towards greedy fight promoters who are killing something that I enjoy watching and writing about. The truth is that I, like many others, really want professional boxing to be what it once was. Boxing is an intense and engaging sport with a long and storied history. I wish that promoters were lessconcerned with shutting down illegal streaming of the event and more concerned with actually making events worth paying for. I wish that they wanted me to get my money’s worth. I am disappointed that what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime event that I could tell my grandchildren about was instead a forgettable cash grab that will be most remembered for permanently alienating the American audience once and for all.

Why am I angry? Shouldn’t I have known better? Was I naive to believe that boxing promoters actually cared about boxing?

No, I was just one of the marks.


One thought on “We Were the Marks: The Fight of the Century That Scammed Us All

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s