Boxing: Breaking Down the Steady Decline of the Sweet Science

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistOctober 14, 2012

Mike Tyson once commanded the boxing stage.
Mike Tyson once commanded the boxing stage.David Taylor/Getty Images

Mike Tyson became the heavyweight champion of the world in 1986 when he knocked out Trevor Berbick.

Before that fight and certainly after he became champion, every Tyson fight became a huge media event. Everyone wanted to see this punching phenomenon dispose of his next challenger with his explosive power and shocking quickness.

However, there's little doubt that boxing was in a steep decline before anyone ever heard of Tyson; his eye-catching punch-out exhibitions in the ring may have provided momentary excitement, but they did nothing for the overall health of the sport.

At one time, boxing, baseball and horse racing were the sports that captured the American public (source: EastSideBoxing.com). None of the three have the status that they did in the first half of the 20th century. Baseball remains a thriving business, but it can't compare with football in terms of popularity.

Boxing and horse racing still exist, but it has been a long time since either sport thrived.

The popularity of football—professional and college—have put all the other sports into a scramble for second place (source: Gallup.com).

Boxing is not in that fight. It was tied for seventh with soccer and ice hockey in a 2007 Gallup Poll.

Boxing has always had appeal to a large percentage of the population, but an equal percentage or greater is revolted by the sport.

Combat sports are seen by a large percentage of the population as barbaric and those individuals have no interest in seeing the sport allowed to continue (source: Guardian.co.uk).

Those individuals can point to the tragedies in the ring that impact the sport on occasion. Emile Griffith knocked out Benny "Kid" Paret in 1962 and the damage inflicted by Griffith's punches resulted in Paret's death. Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini was a popular champion in 1982. When he fought South Korean Duk Koo Kim, the two engaged in a non-stop brawl that ended in Kim's death.

There are other deaths that have occurred and they serve as rallying points for those who would like to see the sport banned.

At one point, the sport's big names were bigger than life. Names like Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali commanded the headlines.

The biggest names in the game no longer have that appeal. Floyd Mayweather is probably as well-known for his sports betting (source: LarryBrownSports.com) as he is for his extraordinary ability in the ring. Manny Pacquiao is also a star, but he cannot command the stage like great fighters of past eras.

While boxing has lost much of its social status, it seems the great athletes who might have gone into the sport in the past are no longer drawn to the sport.

Some of the reason for that may be the popularity of mixed martial arts events that have risen to the level of great theater.

The organized marketing of mixed martial arts events is much more straightforward and far less divided than boxing.

Individual promoters have long made boxing a dog-eat-dog competition. On the other hand, UFC is headed by Dana White, and he appears to represent the sport (source: ESPN.com).

While White's power may ultimately cause problems for his organization, there is no doubt that he is move the sport forward over the last decade.

Boxing has probably been in a decline for more than 50 years. However, the sport seemed to have lost much of its relevance over the last 20 years and there doesn't seem to be much that can turn the sport around.

Boxing is not dead yet, but it needs something to jump start it and make the sport popular again.