The Thrilla in Vanilla

By Joe Masterleo on April 27, 2015
The Thrilla in Vanilla
If you haven’t noticed, men doing serious hurt on one another ain’t what it used to be.

If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. One robin doesn’t make a spring, or one defibrillator jolt a pulse…

Vanilla: (slang); ordinary, plain, unexciting, conventional, boring — Urban Dictionary

At one time, the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth, and medicine’s highest offering were leeches sucking blood. Even sex was considered dirty, and believe it or not, the air was verifiably clean. What’s normative today can become tomorrow’s passing fancy. Likewise, a wooden spoon, a bone or a cotton shirt aren’t living things, though at one time they were very much parts of living things. Before they died, that is, and became something altogether different, barely recognizable in petrified form. Ditto boxing, which like horse racing, was once relevant, teeming and alive, the biggest draw in American sports. Now both endeavors are striving not thriving, borderline museum pieces. If you haven’t noticed, men doing serious hurt on one another or animals for the sheer pleasure of others ain’t what it used to be.

Unlike today, boxing once played the cat and other sports the mouse, instead of the other way around. Then, like a disposable crime boss it was taken-out, toppled clean off its national throne, mainly by self-inflicted KO. Suicide, it was. No one knows exactly where, or when. But of a certainty, it did happen. Why? That’s another story. And you can look it up. (See this author’s “Why The Sweet Science Remains Sour,” archived on this website).

Rumor has it that the electric stir of Mayweather-Pacquaio will resurrect the sport. Come now. If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. One robin doesn’t make a spring, or one defibrillator jolt a pulse. Likewise, a momentary buzz, however euphoric, does not constitute the sport’s revival, to say nothing of a radical conversion or reformation. Fact is, despite a sizeable minority of devoted fans, and moderate doses of ESPN, HBO and Showtime stimulants, boxing has devolved into a wheezing niche sport. Not as droll as barrel-jumping, mind you. More like bowling, track and field, and yes, even horse racing.

Billed as a modern day ring extravaganza, this long-overdue dream-bout between aging legends may turn out to be a barnburner alright, a refreshingly welcome display of ring skill and smarts. As competitive excitement goes, it ranks right up there, at least on paper — green paper. Lest we forget, the bell that tolls for prime-time boxing is a cash register. But a terminal disorder is a terminal disorder, after all, even though the afflicted enjoys the respite of an occasional remission between endless rounds of woe.

The hype is building, the planets are again moving into alignment. Few things in sport are as thrilling as witnessing champions battle it out for 12 rounds in the ring.  But face it, this isn’t Ali-Frazier or Holmes-Norton or Marciano-Walcott or Louis-Conn. While the lighter weight divisions have had their share of notable icons, including those who carry boxing today, historically, the heavyweight division has been the lifeblood of the sport, its canary in a coal mine. As the canary goes, so goes the sport, at least for the average American sports fan. Not since Muhammad Ali retired and Mike Tyson staggered off the radar has boxing been the same. Enter “Requiem for a Heavyweight” stage left. Most serious American contenders now choose to do their concussive brain damaging as NFL linebackers. In a Ben & Jerry world of amusements, entertainment and synthetic passions, and with such brute specimens gone elsewhere, the sport’s popularity remains vanilla (with apologies to the flavor). Save for a cluster of Eastern-bloc fighters, it might sooner be ten bells for boxing.

On the other hoof, flash-in-the-pan May-Pac will give a lively facelift to boxing’s deadpan countenance. The makeover will be a pricy, especially for fans — to the tune of $89.95 for a mere PPV cheap seat. The cost of arena seats is scandalous, even by boxing standards. As for post-bout re-enactments, best save this extortionist drama for the silver screen — Rocky style. Call it The Multi-Million Dollar Baby. Raging Bulls**t. The Cinderella Scam. The Thrilla Amid Vanilla. Take your pick. For boxing definitely has a self-image problem, soothing quick-fixes and media-frenzied band-aids notwithstanding. Speaking of makeovers, some Hollywood mogul should revamp the 1956 boxing flick on the life of Rocky Graziano. Rename it “Somebody Up There DIS-Likes Me,” starring Rodney “No Respect” Dangerfield.   

Nonetheless, the main event promises to be the sport’s one-day, one-time only, step-right-up-folks adrenaline rush, the fistic equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, complete with two thoroughbred favorites, media trumpeting, a circus atmosphere and celebrities dressed in sassy sartorial splendor — the “beautiful people” who perennially follow in tow. The Derby itself remains one of the most highly anticipated sporting events in the US in any given year. That this classic is also headlined for May 2nd will make it a busy weekend for sports fans and bettors. (The picks are easy, written in the stars. Can’t resist the Derby’s 40-1 shot named “Itsaknockout.” As for Vegas, it’s no longer February weather. It’s May weather, so look for “Money” over the distance in another boxing masterpiece).

You’d be hard-pressed to recall the last time a boxing event was poised to overshadow “The Run for the Roses.” What nostalgic irony. The sagging old mare and the Sweet/Sour Science jostling stride-for-stride down the home stretch. For one day and one day only, boxing and horse racing will again share the limelight as co-monarchs of American sports. I’ll drink to that. Mint Juleps and Vanilla Lattes all-around. 

Win or lose, the principals in this bout will be laughing all the way to the bank. Too bad there’s no profit-sharing in boxing, because the gazillions generated here could keep the sport’s majority, its poorest of have-nots, in health-care and benefits all the way to the grave. Talk about paradoxes; here we have a ragged, also-ran fiefdom-sport on life support dominated by a few filthy-rich barons; a sport not only in possession of the richest modern athlete in Floyd Mayweather Jr., but a sport sitting in mirthful anticipation of its richest purse ever. Go figure. Seeing how in a dog-eat-dog world, morons and oxymorons aren’t going away anytime soon, may as well enjoy such stellar couplets while they’re flashy hot, because like Halley’s Comet, they don’t streak by very often.

When the dust finally settles on this one, it will either go down as a memorable classic, be much ado about nothing, or end up as something in-between — though it strains the imagination to think of a Mayweather-Pacquaio affair as a tweener. Viewed in the context of boxing’s heyday, however, this gloved firestorm isn’t as likely to celebrate the fight game as it will commemorate (memorialize?) it. Even these much ballyhooed champs are powerless to raise the dead. While the bout has significance in its own right, by the same token taking-in this rare phenomenon can be likened to watching Civil War or D-Day re-enactments. Its simple algebra, expressing x in terms of y, or in this case, images of the present conjuring specters of the past; Tunney-Dempsey, Louis-Schmeling, Louis-Walcott, Robinson-LaMotta, Ali-Frazier, Pryor-Arguello or Leonard-Hearns to name but a few. 

So, resin sniffers, let’s get ready to pummel. Play it again Sam. It’ll be a Thrilla in Vanilla alright, a jewel set in rhinestones, so much chicken salad in a sport rife with chicken manure. Even if the formidable alley cat that once had its run of the joint has devolved into the mouse that roared. As such, it matters not if May-Pac is five years overdue. We’re talking relativity here. In boxing, the public has become interested only in select championship events. And in horse racing, only the Triple Crown. Everything of temporal distinction takes the ten-count sooner or later, going the way of terminal extinction.

At one time the world was flat, the sun orbited the globe, and blood sucking leeches were medicine’s best offering. Sex was dirty, and believe it or not, the air was verifiably clean. All of them are snickering absurdities now, every last one. And you can look it up.

And boxing? Take it from the late Frank Sinatra, blues-tinged saloon singer and Life Magazine’s official photographer for Ali-Frazier I; it was once “king of the hill, top of the heap. Riding high in April .  .  . shot down in May.”   

Every May, that is, with the exception of this one.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Manny Pacquiao vs Floyd Mayweather "The Super Fight" Promo



Watch Ali Frazier I One Nation Divisible Documentary



1941 Joe Louis vs Billy Conn I



Larry Holmes vs Ken Norton (High Quality)



Rocky Marciano vs Jersey Joe Walcott, I



Louis Vs Schmeling -The Real Story (Documentary)



Sugar Ray Robinson Beats and KNOCKS OUT Jake LaMotta KO



Aaron Pryor vs Alexis Arguello I - Nov 12, 1982 - Entire fight - Rounds 1 - 14



Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns — September 16, 1981 [Full Fight]



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  1. FrankinDallas 10:30am, 04/28/2015

    Yeah sure but you’re all going to watch the fight.

  2. Koolz 09:16am, 04/28/2015

    At one time the world was flat, the sun orbited the globe, and blood sucking leeches were medicine’s best offering. Sex was dirty, and believe it or not, the air was verifiably clean. All of them are snickering absurdities now, every last one. And you can look it up.

    And that is the Catholic Church that thought that and not the rest of the world! 

    Finally this fight is happening.  These two after they’re gone are going to be missed, because who is replacing them?  Pac is an 8 time Division World Champion.  Mayweather is well Mayweather is Money Mayweather.

    Perhaps after this it is the Reign of GGG!  and Gonzalez! 

    But Inoue will mess up Gonzalez’s Plans.

    This fight is there any true boxing fan at the fight? 

    Does it live up to it’s hype, does it matter?

    Clash of Titans!!!!!!!!!
    Congrats to both fighters!

  3. Eric 07:59am, 04/28/2015

    These two “thoroughbreds” are no longer 3 year olds. This is the equivalent of the ‘76 version of Secretariat going up against the 1980 version of Seattle Slew. Secretariat would kick his arse every single time.

  4. Eric 07:44am, 04/28/2015

    If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we would all have a Merry Christmas.

  5. Kid Blast 07:40am, 04/28/2015

    Agreed

  6. Robert Ecksel 07:39am, 04/28/2015

    Yes, a guilty pleasure.

  7. Kid Blast 07:35am, 04/28/2015

    It’s called love-hate.

  8. Kid Blast 07:34am, 04/28/2015

    I didn’t say it was right, but I prefer it over some of the alternatives. Prelim fighters could be protected by a union if they were so inclined. To be a craftsman, you have to be an apprentice. I really don’t know of any other way. Now I realize the structural issues in forming a union, but I also know that to form one, you have to want one. Same with medical insurance and retirement benefits.


    As for the unfairness in boxing, no one has been more of a reformer than yours truly, but I also acknowledge the hypocrisy of accepting the kudos that come from writing about it. If we really believed that boxing is so unfair, we should stop following it.

  9. Robert Ecksel 07:24am, 04/28/2015

    Just because it’s called capitalism doesn’t make it right. As often as not, if it’s called capitalism it is wrong, especially where prelim fighters are concerned, who are unceremoniously tossed to the curb when they’ve outlived there usefulness.

  10. Kid Blast 06:39am, 04/28/2015

    “Win or lose, the principals in this bout will be laughing all the way to the bank. Too bad there’s no profit-sharing in boxing, because the gazillions generated here could keep the sport’s majority, its poorest of have-nots, in health-care and benefits all the way to the grave.”


    Well, that’s what’s called Capitalism and would apply to any endeavor that makes a lot of money.

  11. Jan Swart 07:48pm, 04/27/2015

    There’s Ali - Frazier 1. And there’s “the rest”.

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