Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Style and appeal matter

Published:Tuesday | May 12, 2015 | 5:00 AMOral Tracey
AP Floyd Mayweather Jr (right) hugs Manny Pacquiao after their welterweight title fight on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The widespread disgust, anger and disappointment expressed by several boxing fans across the globe in response to the highly touted and extensively promoted 'fight of the century' between Floyd 'Money' Mayweather and Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao are quite understandable.

The net negative response is due largely to the lack of excitement and entertainment that the fight provided, relative to what was promised.

From a technical and tactical boxing perspective, it was another defensive master class put on by Floyd Mayweather Jr. But therein sits the problem. A defensive master class, while admired and appreciated by the boxing purists, is generally a boring watch for the average and neutral fan.

The vast majority of those who got caught up in the hype of this mega promotion were average neutrals who tuned in to witness what was expected to be an epic spectacle.

Mayweather, by reputation, is a defensive fighter. His immaculate record and reputation as a champion were built on his

ability to avoid being hurt, rather than inflicting hurt. The flashy, flamboyant and savvy American skips his way through the technicalities of the rules of the boxing game to grind out unspectacular victories.

While we should not hold that against him personally, it must be accepted that Mayweather, more than likely, will never be admired by the general public as a true great of boxing. He will perhaps be well and truly forgotten within a few years of his pending retirement. So inconspicuous is his style.

This Mayweather-Pacquiao farce, as it turned out to be, brings into focus the more fundamental reality of sport - that defensive play tends to be boring relative to attacking and offensive play.

That is the reason why across all sports - whether it be boxing, cricket, basketball, or football, with players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - attacking players are the players who get the bulk of the accolades and admiration as true greats. The same principle applies across all other sports where the defensive players, despite their equally valuable and vital contributions to success, are hardly even remembered.

The attacking batsman in cricket, such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar etc., will always be heralded as the greatest when compared to the steady accumulators of runs such as Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who despite the importance of their roles, remain relatively unheralded.

Is this right or is this wrong?

JUST THE REALITY

It is simply the reality of sport. After all, sport is entertainment, and the intrinsic entertainment value in sporting performances must absolutely be factored in when considering true greatness.

A relatively boring prize fighter such as Mayweather and a relatively boring runs accumulator such as Chanderpaul in cricket could conceivably finish with the best records in boxing and Test cricket, respectively, but will more than likely never be genuinely considered as the greatest in their respective sport because of the way they went about compiling those statistics and records relative to others.

This is another index of how misleading statistics can be in sports analysis. Numbers tell no story of style, aesthetic appeal and entertainment value of sporting performance.

To achieve complete and genuine greatness in sport, a credible balance must be found between the hard, cold achievements and the style and appeal attached to the compilation of those records.

Muhammad Ali is not regarded as the greatest boxer in history based solely on his record of 57 wins and five losses, with 37 knockouts.

It equally had to do with the many moments of magic and wild entertainment that Ali gave to the world on his way to accomplishing that record.

Similarly, Brian Charles Lara is not regarded as one of, if not the greatest ever batsman, simple because of his 34 Test centuries and his average of 52.80, or his 11,953 Test runs, or even his world records of 501 not out in first-class cricket and 400 not out in Test cricket.

What helps to set Lara apart is the elegance and grace with which he went about achieving all those milestones while doing his business at the batting crease. For sure, records and statistics are important. But so, too, are style and appeal.