Boxing The Sport vs Boxing The Product

02.02.08 - By Chris Akers: After months of negotiations and endless and repetitive comments about one fighter been avoided by another, the light heavyweight contest between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe has been made. While everyone with any connection to the fight game should be happy that these two fighters are meeting each other, various publications stated that they did not want to see the fight. Not because they considered the fight a mismatch, nor that their respective talents did not deserve to grace the podium that they now share. It is because in Hopkins' case, his style is regarded as boring..

Boring? Has something been missed? I thought that sport was about the best team or individual ascending to the top of their profession. Yet boxing has always been about personality and talent in equal measure. The idiosyncrasies of a fighter have always been a pre-resiquite in getting a title shot. Sycophancy has, for the most part, been needed in order to achieve fame and fortune in the sport. That is why Winky Wright, until he fought Shane Mosley, could not get a look in. It is one of the many reasons why Junior Witter, recognised as only behind Ricky Hatton as the best light welterweight in the world, struggles to be considered as an opponent for his Manchester rival. It is why fighters with great knockout ratios, fast hands & feet and attacking instincts tend to be in the spotlight more than defensive technicians who are harder to penetrate than a phalanx. Paulie Malignaggi made the same point just before his last fight against Herman Ngoudjo:

‘Pure boxers today aren't as highly valued as they should be. Even all-time great boxers like Willie Pep and Pernell Whitaker, if they were boxing today, wouldn't be as appreciated. Now-a-days everybody wants to see punching, not boxing skills, and that's a shame. This sport is called boxing, not knockout, and the whole idea is to hit and not get hit. Boxing isn't supposed to be all about grotesque brutality. It's a new generation and they seem to like bloody, aggressive fighters.’ (Source –

While the above quote by Malignaggi I feel is accurate, to some degree this has always happened in boxing. Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Mickey Walker and Harry Greb were always known for their exploits in the ring and their eccentrics out of it. Even Joe Louis, who for the most part was deferential in and out of the ring, fascinated fans due to his sniper like dissection of opponents while maintaining a taciturnly expressionless face. Yet talent was also appreciated. Some sixty years after it happened, people still talk about Willie Pep winning a round without throwing a punch. Nowadays, that would be constituted as running away from an opponent.

Now personality has traditionally also helped other sports retained their focus of attention. From the antics of George Best and Diego Maradona to the play hard attitude of John Daly and the 'Superbrat' persona of John McEnroe. However the difference between that and boxing is that talent, regardless of personality, has always been given the chance to succeed. Roger Federer and Tiger Woods do not have the most lucid and emotive traits, but are still seen at the forefront of their sport and are commended for their talent. On the flipside, Charlie Burley was extremely talented, but due to a lack of structure in the sport and his reputation as just someone who was down to earth, he was considered by the world champions of the day as a high risk, low reward type of fighter.

Boxing in a sense is the world's first commified sport. In that respect, it is no different to any of the major sports today. Most major sporting events have the name of sponsors on equipment and in the arena they ply their trade. They also have an event which is a golden chalice that they use to highlight, advertise and export the game to other parts of the world. Examples have been the Football World Cup, the World Series and the Superbowl. Within these sports however, is a uniformed code that, in theory at least, gives every team or individual involved as equal a chance as possible.

Boxing does not have that and because of this, talented fighters with no X factor personality or no standout physical trait can be rejected by the big players of the sport as they have no unique selling point that can be promoted. The obsession with seeing brawling as oppose to boxing, while exciting, could make the sport less justifiable as instead of an art, they are seeing a street fight in the ring.

The sweet science should showcase the best of the best as it has done for the last couple of years. But the best should be respected and promoted for their talent and not just for any physical or emotive trait they may not have.

Article posted on 02.02.2008

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