Mayweather versus Pacquiao. Brian Campbell of ESPN Boxing details the Vegas mega-fight.
TORRINGTON: Brian “Soup” Campbell is having himself a time. As we speak, the ESPN Boxing guru is in the middle of things, the thick of things as he covers a sport near and dear to his heart.
How focused and knowledgeable is my friend about the sport? Well, I know he goes somewhere that I’m familiar with when I talk about LCS.
He absolutely goes into a “Zone” when he starts to talk about his craft.
The “Zone” is a place some go when they are talking about something they are fully invested in, something they have full knowledge, opinion and facts in line for.
It’s a pretty cool place that I enjoy visiting myself whenever possible.
On Saturday night on a hot Las Vegas strip, Campbell will be no doubt in such a place as he covers the biggest professional boxing match this century.
Now granted, this century is just 15 years old, but you get the point.
The much anticipated, can-you-believe-it-took-so-long-for-it-to-be-here welterweight fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will take place on Saturday at the MGM Grand and Campbell will be front and center (hopefully) for all the action.
Back in the early days of my time as a freelance writer, I met Campbell, a light-hearted, always smiling sports guy at the Torrington Register Citizen.
I was the stringer guy, he one of the ful- time dude who enjoyed some of the treats I would drop off to the sports department after finishing my day with my day job with Frito-Lay. More on the chips and their potential ‘extra protein’ moment later.
A Naugatuck kid by geography, Campbell started his writing career with our good friend, Joe Palladino, who now rules at the Rep-Am and made his way to Waterbury, then Torrington at the Register Citizen before starting with the network in 2005.
Our time at the RC was always eventful and on one particular occasion, Mr. Campbell almost bit off more than he would have wanted to chew.
“I put your Frito-Lay box to shame more than one time,” Campbell said. “Except for one time. You know how there were always a couple of stragglers in the bottom of the box that nobody wanted? We would tear through the good stuff right away and there would be like those mustard pretzels that nobody wanted. On time I went to an half open bag and started eating it, looked on the bottom of the bag and there was about 400 ants. Crawling on the piece I was about to eat. I said we had to go to Alfredo’s.”
This certainly has been a fight that seems like it has been in the works forever and after much haggling and stops and starts, it’s finally going to happen.
“It’s five and a half years of talking about this thing,” Campbell said. “I saw it coming a little bit before as Pacquiao started to rise in weight, he beat an old (Oscar) De La Hoya suddenly he went up and beat a prime Miguel Cotto at welterweight.”
Why all the buzz for a pair of welterweights?
“What makes this fight so great at its core,” Campbell said, “is that it’s so rare to have the undisputed number one and number two ranked boxers in the same division at the same time around the same age. Where you are fighting for the title of the best in your era. It’s so rare to have that. Maybe we have had that twice in the last thirty years. Ray Leonard versus Thomas Hearns the first fight, maybe arguable Caesar Chavez against Pernel Whitaker. Number one versus number two in the same division but you thought maybe they (Mayweather/Pacquiao) missed the window because of politics or bad relationships.”
Boxing is a sport that need a shot in the arm after falling off over the map in a lot of circles. With concerns about concussions in football, soccer and most contact sports, how many families are encouraging their kids to throw some gloves on and get hit in the head?
That’s why this fight is so important to the sport.
“Here’s the gift to boxing,” Campbell said, “five and a half years later we’re getting it and it’s still the most important fight you can get. It should not be because Pacquiao got knocked out in the meantime, three years ago by his greatest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao also suffered a controversial loss that same year. This fight should have dissolved, both guys should have gotten old but at 36 (Pacquiao) and 38 (Mayweather) they are still one and two in the sport.”
They are both at an age that you may think the end is near but thanks to their determination and terrific works ethics, that’s simply not the case.
“These guys are kind of fitness pioneers,” Campbell said, “The old boxing adage was you got in shape for the fight and then you got fat in between, but on another 40 or 50 pounds. These guys are part of the new generation of boxers who are staying in shape all year, staying in fight shape ready to go. It’s a testament to what they have done but at 36 and 38 they are still the best in their division and their era. That’s the gift for boxing.”
Boxing truly is a sport that can sometimes disappoint. There is no overall governing body like in the NBA, MLB or most pro sports but when done right, can still spark the interest of a nation.
“They always say that when it’s at its very best,” Campbell said. “When it’s the biggest fight you can make, it’s as good as or better than any other sport at its very best. You may love football, you may love the NBA but when boxing is at its best, it’s hard to beat. There is a certain level of intensity and raw emotion of a fight that you don’t get in the other sports, but boxing breaks your heart. There’s no organization, its corrupt and all these other things. This fight shouldn’t have happened after they missed their window and it’s still here and it means almost more now because people are arguing that this fight came together so quickly in the last few months and there is talk of how they didn’t even get to do a big press tour but believe me, you had five and a half years to promote this.”
Why is the intrigue high for this fight? What makes these two fighters so interesting?
“It’s a great style matchup with boxer versus puncher which is the most enticing,” Campbell said. “Mayweather is the classic boxer, the more defensive guy, he doesn’t have a lot of power, and he’s so slick. He’s great at hitting you and then making you miss. At figuring out what you do right for about two to three rounds and then completely disarming you of your offense. Taking away you best weapon to the point that you are so clueless and getting hit in the face so cleanly that you sort of make a decision that I’m going to stop coming forward because this guy is making me look silly. There are so many guys who have just mentally broken. He goes on to a boring decision win because he just breaks them.”
“Then you have Pacquiao,” Campbell said, “This hurricane, tropical storm of bunches in bunches with a raw, awkward style in which he throws from weird angles, he has amazing footwork to go from point A to point B and then jump out of trouble. He’s the heavier puncher, Mayweather is the classic boxer. It is that style that is the draw.”
The dollar amounts floating around “Sin City” are truly off the charts. The $160 million mark is not out of reach but in order to create a perfect storm that would bring the casual fan into the mix, two distinct personalities and back stories were needed.
Just having two great fighters was not going to be enough.
“That’s not going to draw in the casual fan,” Campbell said. “And sell three million pay for view buys. You have to have an emotional pull and no other fight in twenty or thirty years has had as natural a hero versus villain narrative as this one. Pacquiao is the Filipino Congressman who turned his life around. He gave his life to God, he’s kissing babies, and he’s so humble. Mayweather is the villainous, abrasive, cocky money flaunting strong willed African American fighter with domestic violence issues that are bubbling up all around. He served jail time recently. If people know anything about this fight they know that there is a good guy and a bad guy. It couldn’t be any better for boxing.”
When boxing was king, it was all over regular television. Friday Night or Saturday Night fights ruled the day. Most people would be hard pressed to name the Heavyweight Champion of the World right now, what with the WBA, WBO and many, many other levels that seem to have diluted the sport.
This fight though, has gotten people talking and trying to compare to past mega-events.
“People have been asking me over the last couple of months on television and radio shows about when there was a bigger fight then this,” Campbell said. “And I have to say that this is the biggest fight since Ali/Frazier back in the 70s. Even though the 80s were a good time for boxing, you had the rise of Tyson and the four middleweights where you had (Marvin) Hagler, (Thomas) Hearns, (Ray) Leonard and (Roberto) Duran who fought each other nine total times. That was a great time for boxing.”
These are different times indeed though for the sport.
“Boxing was healthier then though,” Campbell said. “This fight means so much more now in the social media age, this fight had five and a half years to get people excited about it. This fight means so much more than any of those fights in the last thirty years because it means so much more to boxing. These are the only two guys that the casual fan knows in the sport. It’s the only two people you can name and they’re finally fighting.”
“It is going to be absolutely intense,” Campbell said. “You have all day press events starting Thursday, covering an ESPN Friday Night Fights card. Friday the weigh-in, all day press events, at night there’s another championship fight down the road. They try and package little boxing cards around the area.”
“If there is anything I can compare it to,” Campbell said. “My first ever Vegas fight back in September of 2013 when I covered another Mayweather fight. That was my initiation to Vegas. That was like Vegas fight week on steroids. It was to the point that after three days of the craziness, I had like a breakdown Friday night before the fight when I wasn’t sure I could keep this up.”
It certainly is a non-stop ride.
“You’re up 24-straight hours because of the time change,” Campbell said, “It’s just crazy. This is going to be unlike anything else.”
One thing I do know for sure though, Campbell will love every exhausting minute of it and will bring you some of the best coverage out there.
Check out his work on the ESPN “Grantland” section of the site and look for him ringside and during the build-up over the next couple of days.
Watch out for those ant-covered pretzels my friend, I hear they’re big in Nevada.