Bringing Boxing Back From The Brink: Five Ways to Fix The Sweet Science
This past weekend, millions watched the action out of Minnesota as Georges St-Pierre defeated Jon Fitch to retain his welterweight title, among a slew of high octane fights in the latest of UFC's MMA monthly Pay-Per-Views.
Meanwhile in the world of boxing, another quiet week went by without a major bout, with most of the news coming from the announcement that Oscar De La Hoya intends to fight Manny Pacquiao , in his upcoming final match. As stated by fellow BleacherReport writer earlier this week, the fight comes across as more of a money grab then an actual fight, as De La Hoya would have to fight in a lower weight class and Pac-Man would have to rise to a weight he has never fought before.
With boxing taking a back seat these days to the likes of Dana White, Kimbo Slice, and BJ Penn, many have forewarned the upcoming death of the sport. It is hard to believe that one of the oldest sports still practised today, is on its final legs. What follows is five ways I believe to bring back boxing to the forefront of the sports world.
Enough of the Alpha-Bits
Mixed Martial Arts in undeniably ruled by the UFC, sure there are upstarts like the WEC and Elite XC starting to make noise, but Dana White has a firm grip on the market. Since K-1 went belly-up, the champions crowned in the UFC are considered the world's best.
It is quite a stark difference if you look at the sport of boxing. The IBA, IBC, IBF, IBO, IBU, WBA, WBC, WPBF, WBO, WBU, EBF, all lay claim to world titles. Do you know who Matt Skelton is? Well he has been recognised as the Heavyweight Champion by the WBU since 2005(though it has been apparently vacated). What is wrong with that picture you ask? Well Skelton is known more in the kickboxing community then in the boxing world, his most famous bout being against current WBA champ Ruslan Chagaev.
Many experts believe that the Ring magazines rankings are the true measuring stick of the best boxers in the world, and while it would be intriguing to have just one federation crowning champs, it is also unfeasible in the business sense.
In the glory days of the Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and Leonard wars in the 80s, three organisations where the only ones considered legitimate. Though still unofficially regarded as the top councils, the IBF, WBC, and WBA, will always be marred by the numerous minor factions until the latter are abolished and we return to the way things where.
Bringing Boxing Back To The Masses
In September 1923, Jack Dempsey made his last title defence in front of a crowd of 85000 at New York's Polo Grounds. The match-up was so important, it was transmitted to the opponents home land of Argentina, where it was blared through speakers on the the streets of Buenos Aires.
On June 1st 1939, the first ever televised boxing match took place, beginning a love affair the two mediums have shared ever since. From NBC's Fight of the Week, to Howard Cossell's call of Frazier vs. Foreman on ABC's Wide World of Sports, all the way to the USA and HBO Networks reliance on boxing to help build them in the 80s, boxing has been a major influence on the American viewing audience.
While still present on cable with the prolific ESPN Friday Night Boxing franchise, what truly killed what was once an unmistakable part of television, was the rise of Pay-Per-View in the mid-to-late eighties. When once we could see the best of fighters go at it in prime time, we where forced to pay money to watch uninspiring undercards, followed by often underwhelming main events.
Being a big business, turning all the major fights over to broadcast networks would not be the most savvy of ideas, but offering just a few for free in primetime, would be a jester of good will to the long suffering fans, who have been longing for this moment for two decades.
The Best Fight the Best
When Brock Lesnar made his debut in the UFC last year, he was not put in the ring against a patsy, he faced and eventually lost to former World Champion, Frank Mir. Soon after his win against Fitch, St-Pierre was confronted by BJ Penn, a top contender he is scheduled to fight in December.
On the other side of the spectrum, boxers often have to fight years of less-talent to get a shot at a title, as witnessed by Joachim Alcine padding up a 30-0 record before getting his shot at a World championship, and then failing to live up to that record on his first defence against a worthy opponent.
Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins, considered to be two of the best of there era's, are known as two fighters who ducked better opponents, in favour of bigger paychecks and easier defences.
Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns had one of the most famous fights of all time in 1985, a slugfest which showcased the two best middleweights of the time. The reality today is far different, as the the big paycheck come before the need to for greatness.
Having mandatory fights between the best would undoubtedly attract the attention of the fans, and would surely generate larger revenues then the current crop of boxers are used to.
Bigger Does Not Mean Better
Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson did not have legit competition at the height of there talents, and where forced to combat lesser opponents until they where forced out of the game, Lewis actually retired as champ as no heavyweights could possibly challenge him on the horizon.
Wladimir Klitchko, Samuel Peter, and the aforementioned Ruslan Chagaev are the current major champions, and while Klitchko might be the most athletically gifted heavyweight of all time, the lack of competition has made the weight class uninteresting to the point of obsolete. While the media clamors for the Next Big Thing, the more exciting and competitive lighter fighter go unpublicised for the most part.
The last eleven Ring Magazine's Fights of the Year, have involved exactly zero heavyweights, and only three of the last thirty. Arturo Gatti, a beloved fighter, was a part of four during his illustrious career, never having fought over the welterweight division.
While the larger boxers can deliver that one punch knockout, the lower division are chock full of more athletic ability and energy, which offers viewers a better show.
Until that "Next Big Thing" comes along, the networks should continue pushing the stars of the lighter divisions, and see the ratings rise.
The driving force behind the UFC, Dana White, has become the promoter of our time. Taking uncharismatic men such as Randy Couture, Chuck Lidell, and St-Pierre, and making them household names is a testament to his promoting skills.
With a show like Ultimate Fighter to help build up future names, the UFC has its foot firmly grounded in future success. Taking a sport that was once considered barbaric and bringing it up to a mainstream phenomenon is surely admirable, but it pails in comparison to the achievements of one Don King.
Using a mix of street savvy and ingenuity, he built up a corporation that ruled over boxing for decades. While he mistreated and stole from his fighters, he helped keep boxing in the mainstream even when the interest waned.
While promoters and networks have tried to keep interest up (eg."The Contender"), they have yet to succeed in making us care about the boxers. Before retiring, Floyd Mayweather began to enjoy success from his appearance on a wrestling program, ultimately leading to his walking away from his sport.
The greatest failure of boxing in recent years is the failure to promote the stars, outside the fanbase, the names of Joe Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik, and company warrant little or no attention, so exposing them to the mainstream would help rejuvenate it.
In the past few years, we have become enthralled with the Mixed Martial Arts shows put on by the UFC, and while the media has cast a dark shadow over the future of boxing, the truth is that boxing is alive and kicking, the May 2007 fight between De La Hoya and Mayweather generated 2.5 million buyers, close to 2 million more then the highest ever UFC showing.
With some effort, boxing can once become a dominant force in the sports world.
As a lifetime boxing fan, there would be nothing sweeter.
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