WHEN either watching or covering this sport, far more important than learning how to analyse matchups between two boxers is an understanding of the intricacies of one matchup in particular: Expectation vs. Reality.
Often, of course, this tends to be a mismatch; as big a mismatch as you’ll find in a sport in which mismatches are a forte. However, sometimes you will find yourself surprised to discover that occasionally the reality is better than the expectation. Call it an upset of sorts. Call it an apology for all the mismatches.
In the case of Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford, call it Christmas in July. Unexpected but most welcome, that pair last week managed to produce two of the finest performances in recent memory and within just days of one another, with defied expectations serving only to increase the overall excitement and wow factor.
Beforehand, and with good reason, the expectation was that we would see two competitive fights between four elite-level operators. Only the reality was quite different. Opponents Stephen Fulton and Errol Spence, rather than being competitive or equals, were instead blown away by Inoue and Crawford in near-perfect performances. The fights didn’t go as expected, at least in terms of the competitive element, and yet, so dazzling were the victors, there were no complaints from anyone when confronted with a reality they had not foreseen.
On reflection, there had been a whiff of Expectation vs. Reality all week in Las Vegas. But these were signs only detectable if you were quiet and really paying attention. The first of them, which I witnessed at the pre-fight weigh-in, was the sight of Terence Crawford’s sons taking turns to punch the bare hands of a security guard inside the T-Mobile Arena. One after another the two boys whacked this poor man’s hands as he laughed and listened to them boast that they were quicker than the other. Smiling and cajoling them throughout, as if to do so was now part of his job, the security guard could also be seen at times grimacing and shaking out his hands, suggesting the reality was quite different from his expectation when first offering to play pad man for a couple of excitable kids. It was evident, too, when watching this from a few rows back, that Crawford’s people possess a competitive edge found only in those who have been raised in a certain kind of environment. “Okay, enough now,” the security guard eventually said. “Very good.”
There was talk that day as well that Eminem would walk Crawford to the ring on the Saturday, plus rumours of a performance. Yet this, like so many rumours in boxing, proved no more than a half-truth. For while Eminem did indeed appear alongside Crawford on his way to the ring, he did so only to introduce him, resisting the temptation to rap along to his own song. Again, the reality was slightly different from the expectation. Again, if in need of a reminder not to presume anything when it comes to boxing, we had another.
Similarly, when finding my seat inside the T-Mobile Arena, there was maybe no greater reminder of this, at least for those, like me, who had hoped to work and report on the fight. Because it was there, in row Q, near the very top of the building, I had no option but to slowly come to terms with the idea of Expectation vs. Reality and accept that to assume anything in boxing is to set yourself up for an almighty fall (and what a fall it would have been from that height, too).
It had been coming, no doubt. Throughout the entire week, in fact, whenever trying to get anything from the key principals either at the press conference or other pre-fight events, there had been a growing and ominous sense that “media” have become just names on a long list and that those who get what they want possess the biggest cameras – weapons, in effect – and the smallest quantities of both shame and self-awareness.
One of many examples of this played out following the press conference on the Thursday. It was after it had finished and the two boxers had gone head-to-head that Kelly Swanson, left with the unenviable task of organising chaos, pointed first to Terence Crawford and then to a vague area in which the “written media” would supposedly congregate and grab a few minutes with the Nebraskan. Yet that of course never transpired. Instead, all that happened was that a gaggle of phone-wielding YouTubers descended on Crawford, at which point Crawford, not knowing the difference or caring, indulged them with some empty words before shuffling his way out of there.
That’s fine; expected even. But it is on fight night, when work should be the very aim of the game, that finding yourself in the nosebleeds with no power socket or room to pull out your laptop without assaulting the person in front of you starts to become irksome. It’s not a view issue, either. It’s a work issue. It’s a practicality issue. I have long resigned myself to a bad view at fights (which is why the appeal of covering them via television has never been greater), but the least a reporter deserves is space in which to work.
The problem is, when there is too much “content” being churned out and nobody has either the time or inclination to watch or read the majority of it, you become, as a so-called “content creator”, no more than a name on a list. You become a nuisance, if anything, with the distinction between writing in detail about a fight and merely tweeting about it getting smaller and smaller by the day. “Take your little press pass and just be happy you’re in the building,” seems to be the gist of what promoters these days suggest, which, if true, is both a shame and a concern. There are plenty, I’m sure, who will happily accept this arrangement, for getting in the building is the very goal, but for others it misses the point. In fact, if you can’t actually work, you start to then ask yourself, “What exactly is the point?”
That question crossed my mind more than once during Saturday’s undercard and it was answered in the end not by the promoters or the publicists but instead Terence Crawford, the ultimate truth-teller. His performance alone in the main event was so inspiring I forgot all about the impracticalities of where I was sitting when watching it unfold. By the end all I could really think about was fleeing the arena as soon as possible, racing back to my hotel room, wiping the sweat from my face, finding a chair and a table, and reminding myself to the tune of 2,500 words why I continue to not only forgive this backwards sport but continue, moreover, to believe its participants deserve better than throwaway tweets and “hot takes” after producing works of art.