Since I'm a combat sports writer and I'm in the habit of watching fights on the weekend I dutifully invested several hours of my Saturday watching Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. ply their fistic trade yesterday. And I have to say it, it's just not satisfying to me.
Sure Mayweather put on a technical exhibition and it was pretty fun to watch him make Robert Guerrero miss even as he caught him again and again with perfectly thrown punches. And yeah there is a certain sadistic inevitability about waiting for the towering Klitschko du jour to jab his overmatched and under-sized opponents into obliviion....but as Elvis Presley once said, "come on fellas, that just don't MOVE me, let's get real gone for a change."
I've thought about this for a long time and the thing that's missing for me in today's biggest boxers is great rivalries. Ultimately conflict is what combat sports is all about. Mayweather has fought and beaten some great opponents but he's never found himself really tested by a rival, really pushed to the brink.
Growing up my first combat sports memories involved Muhammad Ali struggling with a surprisingly game Ken Norton and even dropping an upset to Leon Spinks. It wasn't the charisma of the hapless and toothless Spinks that had my whole family gathered round the TV to watch the ABC rebroadcast of Ali-Spinks 2. It was the prospect of seeing the Greatest reclaim his crown from this obvious pretender.
Ditto for the great Middleweights of my teen years. It wasn't the succession of quick KO wins by Sugar Ray Leonard that had me and my uncles and brothers roaring before the TV set and subscribing to HBO, it was his great rivalries with Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns (and theirs with each other).
For a couple of years there Mayweather seemingly had his potential rival on the horizon in the form of Manny Pacquiao but now that the Filipino superstar is coming off back-to-back losses, there is no longer even a prospect of a truly generational superfight.
And as for the woeful and dreary Klitschkos, the only fight that would interest me for either brother would be to see Wladimir and Vitali face off against one another in the ring, something we all know will never happen.
I sometimes worry that today's dominant champions in MMA - Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre - make it look too easy. Other than GSP's great rivalries with Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, he hasn't been tested in years and his flat performances and the ensuing fan dissatisfaction attest to his crying need for another great rival to push him to his limits.
Silva had his moment of glory when he survived to submit Chael Sonnen and then demolished him in the rematch. Just imagine if he hadn't been tested like that, if his late career were utterly dominated by the farces that were his contemptuous bouts against unworthies like Thales Leites, Patrick Cote and Demian Maia.
As for Jones, I'm holding out hope that a move up to Heavyweight will finally give this supreme warrior opposition that will allow him to prove his true mettle or fall short in the effort.
But that's the thing, as much as today's great mixed martial artists struggle to find rivals worthy of them, they are at least there, on their resumes or on the horizon. For Mayweather and the Klitschkos all that stretches out in the past or in the foreseeable future is a parade of seemingly easy wins over forgettable competition. That's not enough to win my heart as a fan.