Is It Time To Reform Boxing?

10.07.08 - By Paul McCreath: Over the past few years we have seen our once great sport decline in popularity to a position now where it is little more than a niche sport. There is little doubt that a few top fighters like Calzaghe, Hatton or de la Hoya can still pack in big crowds but the average fight card is no longer big news. When you compare the 8-12000 crowds so common at many title fights today with the 50-100 thousand that show up every weekend for American football or soccer in Europe during their seasons and in other sports as well on a regular basis, boxing has become rather small time..

Boxing is no longer seen on regular TV networks and it is no longer written up to any extent in the major papers. TV and radio sports newscasts rarely even mention the results. The average man on the street can probably not name more than 2 or 3 active fighters. The heavyweight championship contests were once the biggest event in sports. Today some of the title bouts are not even telecast in North America.

Why has boxing declined so much? There are many reasons. Competition from other sports, some of them new, the well documented corruption in the sport,the lack of legitimately recognized true world champions, and poor title fights between belt holders and undeserving challengers have all played a part in the deterioration. Along with a few other causes I think that one of the main problems that boxing suffers from today is the complete lack of structure and control.

Look at any other popular sport today. Baseball has its world series which takes place every year at the same time between the champions of the American and National Leagues. American football has its Superbowl. Soccer, or football as it is known everywhere except North America has the best structure of all. Teams from every country in the world can qualify for the world championship by winning a series of tournaments at both club and national team levels. Individual sports like tennis, golf, or even car racing all have definite steps you have to take in order to qualify for the final championship. In other words every sport except boxing has a clear set of rules for determining who is the best. Sometimes the competition is yearly and in some sports it is semi-annual or every four years but it is always held on a regular basis.

Boxing on the other hand is pretty much a free for all. Big matches, even title bouts only take place after both boxers, their managers, their promoters, the sanctioning bodies, and probably the TV people all agree on all conditions. Often this just does not happen and the fans miss out on the fights we would like to see. Can you imagine what it would be like if the New York Yankees had to negotiate with say the Los Angeles Dodgers before the World Series of baseball could be played?

So how can we bring structure to boxing? First you can forget about the politicians. They have been trying in America for years to bring about a National Boxing Commission and have always failed. If one country cannot agree on that how can we hope for all the boxing countries in the world to come together on a plan? There is no hope either for the sanctioning bodies to do anything about this. They can't even agree on who the champions are. We have hardly had any unified champions for years now. I can only see one way that boxing can come out of the dark ages and get organized like all other sports and it will take money,a lot of money to do it.

If one of the major promoters or several of them working together were willing to put up the money boxing could very soon have the same prestige for its big event as the other sports do. They would have to start up a major annual or semi-annual tournament involving the best fighters in the world. This could be done with or without the backing of the sanctioning bodies. If the purses were big enough the best fighters would want to compete to determine the Real World Champion. They would even give up their phoney alphabet belts if necessary if the money was right. I would start with the top 8 fighters in 12 round bouts. After the first round of fights the winners would go on to the semi-finals about 3 months later and finally the championship match in another 3 months. You could call this the World Cup of Boxing and the winner would clearly be the world champion.

The 4 first round losers would drop down to a level 2 tournament which would start at the same time as the semi-finals of the top bracket. This might involve as many as 16 fighters in all and would give them a chance to qualify for the next World cup with the top 4 from level two qualifying automatically as well as the 4 best from the first year's top bracket. Over the years the number of levels could be expanded to as many as 4 with smaller promoters handling the lower tiers. At the lower levels the bouts could be over 6, 8, or 10 rounds depending on the level.

Boxers would move up and down from the different tiers depending on their success the previous year just like the soccer leagues do it. At the lowest level the competition could be open to any fighters with a minimum number of wins. This could be adjusted after the first year to also require at least one win over somebody who was in that tournament the year before. This would eliminate those who had built a record by knocking off a bunch of stiffs.

By following this structured plan any boxer in the world could work his way up to championship status in 3 or 4 years which is about the quickest that any can do it now. It would best of all take all the politics and favoritism out of the rankings.Everyone would have a fair chance.

Between the World Cup tournaments the reigning champs could still make voluntary defenses but they would have to compete each time in the World Cup to retain their titles. This could be done in all divisions eventually but would probably be best accepted if they started with one or two of the most popular weight classes the first time.

All it would take to make this happen would be for one or more promoters with proper financial backing to show the foresight to take the gamble. It would not take long before the World Cup of Boxing was a major event like the Superbowl, World Series, or the World Cup of Soccer. The TV people would be fighting to put their money in and boxers would be anxious to prove who was best.

It would be a great money making event for all concerned. All the politics of the game that spoil things now would be gone. The alphabet boys and their phoney titles would be meaningless and would likely fade away completely.

What do you think? Will anybody step up to the plate? Is it an idea that would work? Your comments would be appreciated.

Article posted on 10.07.2008

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