Its 2008 and the energy and excitement is all but gone from boxing. For the first time in a generation, an American doesn't own some part of the Heavyweight crown. That's not all bad, but the fact that no one seems to even care really worries me.
Boxing's popularity is rapidly falling in the U.S. and before we can truely discuss how to turn this ship around we have to do the forensic work and find out why we are where we are.
I'd mark the peak of boxing's popularity to the early and mid-80's. Boxing had grown to a swell on the back of Muhammad Ali's professional exploits and the 1976 Olympic team featuring Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Leon Spinks, and Howard Davis Jr. (Aaron Pyor was the alternate at that weight?!). These became the lynchpin names that brought us to boxing and the "Wild World of Sports" later taught us about Duran, Arguello, Hagler, Hearns, and Paez.
In 1981 Hearns v. Leonard became the first Pay-Per-View boxing match. This is a great moment in cable TV and boxing history. It marks the beginning of the super-bouts with super-paydays. 17 years later De La Hoya v. Mayweather grossed a whopping $120 million on pay-per-view (2.15 million buys)
Boxing has never been more profitable, but at the expense of the overall popularity of the sport and its fighters. Compare that 2.15 Million to the 16.9 Million viewers for Game 1 of the 2007 World Series. How can boxing increase the fan base of a sport that is not available for the public to see?
Boxing has excluded the casual viewer from the market to its own peril. You remember all the stories about American boxers coming from “the mean streets” of this city or that city. The kids from “the mean streets” can no longer afford to even SEE boxing anymore. If you want to know who the up & coming fighters of our era are you have to subscribe to ESPN. If you want to see the champs fight chumps, you better order HBO or Showtime. If you want to see the champs fight each other you need to have $60 of disposable income ready. Where will the future boxing fan base come from, the suburbs? I think not.
The solution to this is simple: put boxing back on ABC, NBC, CBS, & FOX. You will make your money and may even create household names that will expand boxing.
Let’s face it. Boxers are not model citizens. In this era of the Internet and media frenzy, ESPN, blogs, and whatever else, Babe Ruth would be treated like Chris Henry by our holier-than-though judgments and criticisms. This makes boxer nearly unmarketable in today’s world of political correctness.
Today’s boxing is full of the most vulgar press conferences the planet has ever seen. Stare-downs constantly turn to fist fights, verbal sparring turns to profanity-filled tirades and someone’s entourage is going to fight at the weigh-in, if not at the fight, if not in the parking lot. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but it seemed that even boxing has seen classier times.
Solution: This is boxing. Putting this on display may create a buzz.
Boxers aren’t as dumb as some of you may think. Boxers have figured out that one way around going broke after boxing is to box longer. The key to boxing longer? Get hit less. Fighter’s w/o the defensive gifts of a Mayweather or a Pernell Whitaker have resorted to the art of the hug. This just plain sucks and is bad for the sport.
The most celebrated title is that of Heavyweight Champion of the World. The heavy weight class is the most boring weight class in boxing; 1 punch, hug, 1 punch, hug; its like watching Mike Tyson vs “Bonecrusher” Smith without Mike Tyson.
For this reason I’d suggest boxing do two things: 1) create a super-heavyweight division for those above 225, and 2) Penalize and DQ fighters for excessive hugging more often. I’m a purist, but John Ruiz and Bernard Hopkins must be stopped.
MMA, WWE, Kimbo Slice, and youtube.com are coming on strong. Unlike some others, I think this is a good thing. McDonald’s never made more money than after Burger King, Wendy’s, Jack-in-the-Box, and whoever came on the scene. These other brands help to create our fast-food society as we know it today. America has enough appetite for violence to handle all these and more.
There is still nothing better than a good boxing match. No hypothetical match-ups are more fun to debate, no controversies will ever last longer than those born from the squared circle. Boxing will be fine, the promoters just need to leave it in a place where America can find it.