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In a column in Newsday titled Boxing after Oscar?, sports writer Wallace Matthews begins, "Everyone in the world, it seems, will stop to watch two guys fighting in the street, but lately, not too many people have paused to watch two guys fighting in a ring. Unless Oscar De La Hoya is one of them."

The point that Matthews goes on to make in effective style is that even the eminently popular De La Hoya, who fights Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a much anticipated super-welterweight bout Saturday night, is incapable of saving his sport.  Sure, this fight is guaranteed to fill the 16,000-plus seats in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas; tickets on the Internet are going for nearly $20,000, and the pay-per-view buys reportedly are going to challenge, if not break, an all-time record of almost 2 million buys. But the De La Hoya-Mayweather fight stands as the rare exception to the rule in boxing these days.

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Boxing's problems are twofold.

Its self-destruction has been going on for decades. Balkanized championships and -- with the notable exception of De La Hoya and maybe a few others -- uninspiring and sometimes despicable headliners are fatal maladies.

But added to that is the increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts fighting. MMA is succeeding on a couple of levels.  The way it's being televised, with story lines and personality profiles, is much more contemporary and compelling entertainment in contrast to boxing's tired approach.  And secondly, as a group, you get the feeling that the athletes in MMA are simply much more likable people and, in time, have the chance to become pop culture stars because of the sport's appeal among a younger demographic.  With something like MMA poised to fill the vacuum for fan interest in a combat sport, boxing really appears headed for a 10 count.

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