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Hardly Worth a Rumble - Mayweather v Pacquiao

05/05/2015 14:47 BST | Updated 04/05/2016 10:12 BST

Boxing is sport in its rawest, most primitive form - two men, in a cage, trying to beat each into next Christmas, until one of them falls down and can't get up. It is a mind numbingly simple equation. Mayweather v Pacquiao didn't offer us much more than that brutality. It's a sign of how boxing has fallen.

You can't talk about any fight without some mention of Muhammad Ali. He's an utterly incomparable figure - certainly, to both Mayweather and Pacquiao - but also to Pele, Bradman, or Babe Ruth, all men who are regarded as the pre-eminent icons in their respective sports. The self-professed 'greatest of all time' stands alone but not because of his ability to land a right hook.

When We Were Kings - the story of the 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974 - is the best sports film ever made, for precisely the same reason Ali stands apart from other athletes. Just as he was more than a boxer, When We Were Kings is more than a boxing film. It is the story of an era, of a cultural uprising, of music and of the figure who was central to that whole painting.

The 'Rumble in the Jungle' wasn't free of corruption or questionable figures. Avaricious fight promoter Don King - a man found guilty of manslaughter in the 60s, now known for his exploitation of fighters and his role in the boxing's demise - was ever-present in Zaire, charming you against the facts and against your own instincts. Notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko brought the Rumble to his country, providing the multimillion dollar purse King required to sign both fighters. He was seeking positive propaganda for a new authoritarian and single-party state recently freed of the shackles of colonialism but no amount of spin could have hidden his atrocious human rights record.

The Rumble was a sporting success, and a political one, in spite of these men. It sits in a different stratosphere to Mayweather v Pacquiao in Las Vegas, a bout that was little more than a reminder of how far boxing has fallen. The whole event turned into the huge, anti-climatic pantomime it was always likely to be. It posed more questions of us than it answered. Panelists on Australian sports program 'Offsiders' summed it up pretty well in the lead-up to the fight - no one really knew what to do.

The first problem? The utterly detestable figure of Floyd Mayweather, a remorseless man notorious for his brutal, misogynistic abuse of women - on as many as seven different occasions - who has only served two months in jail for his crimes. Should we really be paying money - ridiculous amounts of it - to watch this man fight? Forbes currently ranks him as the highest paid sportsman in the world, a lamentable fact in itself.

Pacquiao is by no means the good guy in this whole equation, though. He has been criticised for his opposition to same sex marriage, and his opposition to a bill in the Philippines that would have mandated government support for family planning services and contraception. He may not be on Floyd's level, but he's certainly not your resident moral compass. A desire to watch him pummel Mayweather for the good of mankind is just far too primitive - but isn't that the crux of this whole thing?

Mayweather v Pacquiao in Las Vegas was really just two men beating each other up. There was nothing positive present to mask the brutal simplicity of what boxing really is. If anything, the Vegas fight did the opposite to the 'Rumble in the Jungle'. It placed two men on pedestals they probably don't deserve to be on, simply because they can hit hard - and yet, we instinctively flocked to this fight like school kids to a playground scuffle. The fighters walked off not with detention, but with rather large amounts of extra lunch money.

We know so much of the dangers of concussion in sport that we should question the scuffle. It isn't the cut above the eye, or the bruises. It is the invisible harm, of which there is no better example than Ali himself. To grasp the severity of the state boxing left the champ in, watch the YouTube footage of him lighting the Olympic Flame in Atlanta in 1996. For a time, you wonder if this once great, colossal athlete is actually capable of performing the simplest of tasks. It is as captivating as it is tragic. When he pulls through, I kind of want to high five him, but I wouldn't dare try.

Devoid of significance and rife with the sort of money that kills the purity of sport, this new, so-called 'Fight of the Century' was really anything but. The label is little more than an insult to the original version in New York in '71 - between Ali and Joe Frazier - which carried similar significance to the Rumble. Without that significance, you just cannot ignore the brutality of boxing and the severity of the consequences. Even with the influence boxing gave Ali, you can't ignore the injuries that have devoured his motor skills. It might be time to avert our eyes - not in spite of Ali, but rather, because of him.