Why Is Boxing Slowly Dying? Can It be Saved?

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIFebruary 20, 2009

In the first half of the 20th century there were three "major" sports: baseball, horse racing, and boxing. 

Today, horse racing and boxing are slowing dying. Unlike horse racing, however, boxing has brought this fate upon itself.

Last century, the most prestigious individual sports title—as well as the most famous athlete—was usually the heavyweight boxing champion.

Quick—name the current heavyweight champion.

OK, as most of you know, there has not been only one heavyweight champion on a consistent basis for 30 years. But that's the point. Do the names Ruslan Chagaev (from Uzbekistan, WBA), Samuel Peter (Nigerian, WBC), and Wladimir Klitschko (Ukrainian, IBF and WBO) ring a bell (no pun intended)? 

There used to be eight world champions—you know, eight weight classes, eight world champions. Makes sense. Everyone knew the heavyweight champion, sports fans could also name the middleweight champion, and serious boxing fans could name all eight world champions.

Now there are 17 weight classes and four organizations for a possible 68 world champions. At any given time, the number of world champions is close to that number, and most of the "champions" in the same weight class have never fought each other. 

Sounds like a brilliant way to run a sport. Now, admittedly, you do not have to be smart to be a boxer, but do the people running the sport have to be that dumb?

There are numerous well-known stars in every other sport, especially American football, MLB, basketball, and soccer/football (either worldwide or in the country where that athlete plays). The difference is that these athletes compete on a regular basis, and do it in front of large crowds and huge non-paying television audiences. The fans have lots of opportunities to become familiar with them—through the sporting events and the constant media coverage of these events. 

Boxers do not compete often enough to develop 68 stars. There are a lot of reasons that boxing is dying; however, having numerous "fake champions" that no one ever has heard of is the number one reason. It is clear as day (even Mike Tyson—perhaps with Leon Spinks's help—could figure it out), and for the last 30 years no one has done anything about it.

For sake of completeness, here are some other theories (not all mine) as to why boxing is dying:

1.  Gambling and corruption (admittedly, this always existed; however, Don King made it more prevalent, gave it more publicity, and made it even more annoying).

2.  Too much time between fights.

3.  The fights that the public really want to see either never happen or we get them several years too late.

4.  All the big fights have to be paid for on pay-per-view (did you pay $60 to watch the Super Bowl?).

5.  Current boxing champions lack charismatic personalities.

6.  The promoter rips off the boxer after the boxer has done most of the hard work and received the life-threatening physical punishment ("pimp/ho relationship").

7.  The best athletes no longer go into boxing because of the physical toll it takes on them (with Ali's physical condition a constant sad reminder). As a result, today's boxers are not as exciting to watch.

8.  Modern society's objection to boxing's violence and occasional deaths (although given the popularity of MMA/UFC this is probably not a very good argument).

That gives us 10 reasons (too many weight classes and sanctioning bodies being the other two)—that is a lot of reasons—with several of them being significant problems.  So, how can boxing clean up this mess and save itself from a slow death? Well, it will not be easy and it may never happen. However, not surprisingly, I have a few suggestions.

First, get one worldwide sanctioning body to run the sport. I do not have a solution on how to force this to happen. However, I do know that boxing will never be popular again until this is done. 

Second, whittle the number of weight classes down to 10 (12 at the most). The new champion is forced to fight the No. 1 ranked contender first, within six months of winning the title. If he wins, then he has to fight the No. 2 contender next, within six months of the last fight. Meanwhile the disposed-of world champion has to fight the No. 3 contender (if he does not retire) within six months, with the winner becoming the new No. 2 contender (since there will be a loser from the first fight I mentioned). 

OK, so this is not perfect. But something has to be done so the best fighters quit ducking each other and boxing fans get to see the best fighters fight each other. In addition, the champion will never be allowed to fight someone not ranked in the top five unless he has beaten all the top five contenders. Then, that fighter has to fight others ranked in the top 10. You get the idea.

All boxer-manager contracts have to be approved by the sanctioning body. The contract must adhere to the guidelines and rules (with limits on the percentage of money a manager can receive), which were previously set by the sanctioning body. 

All championship bouts will have a 10-round maximum—this will increase the amount of action per round. All bouts will have at least five judges, and the championship bouts will have nine judges.

Replace the 10 point must system with a three (or five) point must system and encourage the referees to give more two point differentials when they score the bout (some 3-1 scores as opposed to all 3-2 scores). Appeals of decisions of bouts will be allowed within reason, and nine new judges will re-score the fight. (OK, so this is not perfect either, but something has to be done to get rid of, or at least limit, all the corruption in boxing.)

Only championships bouts will be on pay-per-view, all other bouts will be on cable and network television (with the exception of the opening acts on the pay-per-view events, all of which must be bouts that determine who will fight next for the championship in a particular weight class). This might not be ideal either, but at least boxing fans will get their money's worth (especially since there will be only 10 World Champions instead of 60).

I am sure there are more reasons as to why boxing is dying and more possible solutions to boxing's problems. These suggestions might not solve all of boxing's problems and prevent it from dying a slow death, but at least they will take boxing off the life support that it is currently using to survive.