Here's an unintended and unexpected consequence of Timothy Bradley's farcical win over Manny Pacquiao: The biggest winner is a guy sitting in a jail cell.
How perfectly boxing.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. didn't see the bout; he's serving an 87-day sentence for a domestic-violence conviction that doesn't come with pay-per view privileges. The idea of Floyd-as-winner-in-absentia seems counterintuitive, since Pacquiao's loss takes some of the luster off a potential Manny-Floyd bout.
But think about it from Floyd's perspective: Pacquiao's loss gives Mayweather all kinds of options. If he really is ducking the fight to keep his undefeated record intact, he can now say Pacquiao doesn't deserve the opportunity. If Mayweather wants to make the fight, Pacquiao's loss -- ludicrous as it was -- removes any possibility of a 50-50 money split. You have to remember, Floyd is a businessman first, and Saturday night's outcome was good for the business of Floyd.
Mayweather knows a fight with Pacquiao will still command enormous PPV buys and ridiculous hype. It could be a $150 million fight, and Saturday's outcome doesn't change that. Boxing fans are codependent that way, and a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight could be billed as the bout to re-legitimize the sport. (If a new scoring system is devised and unveiled for the fight, even better.)
Boxing keeps trying to kill itself off. The scene in Pacquiao's dressing room after the fight was perhaps the most damning indictment. Those who were there say Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach weren't angry at the decision. They were almost laughing that two of the three judges could have watched the fight and seen -- somewhere in the deep recesses of their brains -- a Bradley victory. The reaction might speak well to Pacquiao as a sportsman, but amused resignation is not good for the sport.
Everything that needed to be said about the decision has already been said. Was it rigged? Unlikely, but you can't discount the possibility. Speaking generically, what sporting event could be easier to fix than a big-time fight? The amount of money bet on huge Vegas fights makes it far easier to hide bets than, say, a baseball game or a Thursday night college basketball game. Presumably, judges aren't multimillionaires, so they could be susceptible to the kind of payoff that might turn them into multimillionaires. As long as the fighter puts up a competent defense and stays on his feet -- in other words, a Bradley-like effort -- it could happen. One of the judges scores it the other way and plausible deniability happens.
More likely, though, the decision was the result of rank incompetence, a series of honest mistakes. And if you watched the fight, it's more difficult to believe the judges could have been this bad. So difficult, in fact, that it takes far less imagination to believe there was something funny happening. That's how conspiracy theorists get that way.
It was exceedingly easy to judge this fight: If you had to trade places with someone, who would it be? Would it be the guy who was reeling around the ring two or three times, at one point holding on to Pacquiao for dear life in the hopes of hearing a bell, or would it be Pacquiao, who was smiling and laughing for 12 rounds?
Bradley is tough, game, valiant -- all that stuff. But it appeared Pacquiao could have ended the fight in the fourth round, when he had Bradley wobbling and retreating. Did he decide to keep the fight going to give his fans their money's worth? Who knows, but it's the kind of thing Manny might do. He knew he was in complete control, and he knew Bradley couldn't hurt him, so why not?
What happens to boxing now? It has been given last rites a million times, but fighters like Pacquiao and Mayweather continue to set pay-per view records. Reality TV sells, the messier the better, and it's hard to find a messier reality than the current state of boxing. It's been suggested that UFC president Dana White was the big winner as the boos fell on Bradley. This is almost reflexive: UFC always gets a lot of positive press every time boxing goes on one of its self-inflicted binges, but UFC still doesn't sell personality the way boxing can. UFC events are more like ongoing tournaments than one-time spectacles, and that's why the comparisons don't always work. I'm guessing the percentage of PPV buyers who follow every bout of a UFC event far exceeds the percentage that bought the Pacquiao fight and actually paid rapt attention to the undercard bouts.
Despite its problems, and maybe because of its problems, boxing will remain infuriating, laughable and viable. They're talking about a Nov. 10 rematch, but nobody wants to see Pacquiao-Bradley II. That would serve only as a reminder of Saturday's debacle. There's no reason to relive that.
So. What happens to boxing now?
Jaws clenched, it turns back to Mayweather.