You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me!

01.09.04 - By Wray Edwards: Recent discussions regarding the plight of Boxing have been based on sub-categories of what is essentially wrong with the sport. The overarching issue is regulation. The age, health or proficiency of a boxer, may affect his relative reliability in the sport, and are certainly a consideration, but none of that matters if he practices his trade in a fatally flawed organization. All systems which are dedicated to any given task require efficient controls. One main reason the Networks have abandoned Boxing is the unsavory and undependable supply of product; and “commercial” television’s life blood is product. Network TV is rather straight-laced and mundane, despite its tendency to flirt with ribald subjects. When it comes to sports, the Networks like to see their heroes squeaky-clean, well-managed, appearing regularly and an example of the “American Dream”. Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya are prime examples of this fantasy.

The kid from the Bronx or a small village in some other nation, who comes up through Golden Gloves to an Olympic victory fighting on through a stellar amateur career to professional success, is the paradigm of that “Dream”. This guy, though involved in a blood sport, must seem to those who admire him, to be just like them, or who they imagine themselves to be if they could. Ethnic or racial identifications add to the mix. The line is crossed when a boxer makes the transition from amateur to “professional”. All true professions, without exception, have governing principles called Regulations and Ethics which are enforced by constituted authority. The word “constituted” refers to a written document which sets forth the benchmarks of the profession.

In order for this document to have the force of law, it is usually promulgated by a corporation. The prefix of that word, “corpor” means essentially: body. A corporation, when formed, becomes a “person” who is responsible for its actions under corporate law and the general laws of society. Baseball, Tennis, Football, Soccer, Basketball, and many other sports, have powerful, well-regulated corporations which micro-manage the affairs of the sport’s individual players and teams. Highly complex rule-books and procedures govern the operations of each team and the event schedules in which they participate.

Boxing has drifted into the cable/satellite market because of its inability to provide dependable product flow, and these media have more flexible schedules. Because Boxing is so exciting, its fans want their supply of adrenaline to be dependable. Network sponsors are not inclined to risk the reputation of their product on such a herky-jerky supply. A good pusher has an ample and regular supply of product. Otherwise he is despised. Add to that, the total chaos of promoters, managers and dangerous life-styles of the sport’s participants, and we have a sport which even subscription media fear. These, and other dynamics, are at work in ESPN’s recent announcement of a major hiatus in their Friday Night Fights series.

ESPN may be a bit mercenary about sports, and may shortchange boxing, but it’s not all their fault. Before boxing is worthy of being treated fairly by TV media, it needs to get its own house in order. True, some of the corruption in boxing is caused by ESPN, HBO, Showtime and others meddling with the sport, but they would not be able to trash it so easily if boxing (who, or what, is that anyway?) would get its act together like other sports. The word is “organization”. Unless all of the greedy, self-serving promoters are brought to heel by a higher authority, they will continue to make WWE style, back-room deals with networks and fighters.

In a recent national conference call where boxers and their managers were interviewed, one of the managers went off on the other channels in very negative terms about their boxers, managers and promotions. This hubris and hostility betrayed the spirit of the sport which does not need organizational friction; That only detracts. Occasional boxer-to-boxer trash-talk is sometimes a mundane necessity to gin up interest in this or that fight, but for others to get involved in such displays is reprehensible. Even one of the boxers indicated confusion and tension in his homeland over the progress of the sport. It’s not just here in America where the disruptive dynamics of not having governing authority messes things up.

Ethical standards are practically non-existent in the promotion and management of boxing. Footballers have player’s unions...ditto baseball. Boxers are essentially orphans, who are completely dependant on their trainers and promoters. Many boxers are used and abused by these people. Why should the media aspire to treat them any better? In the days of Rome, one man, Spartacus, stood firm and organized his “sport”. The plight of single combat warriors is still the same. A national convention of state boxing commissions needs to be held, and some serious, mandatory, nation-wide regulations and authority, with complete, interstate reciprocity need to be promulgated. Otherwise, boxing will remain a “racket” which chews up, and spits out brave and talented young men.

A state which does not have a commission recognized by the national authority will not be allowed to hold sanctioned matches. Boxers and promoters who cannot meet mandatory fight schedules will have their titles and ratings stripped. In sports the word “professional” means that you conform to the schedule, toe the mark and do your thing when you are told to do so. This suggests the use of the “D” word. If there is any sport which should have discipline across the board, it is boxing.

With the greater risk of fatal consequences, humans escalate discipline to the Nth degree. Military organizations require maximum control of human behaviors because lives are at stake. Boxing and auto racing are not far behind in the need for regulation. If you want to see enforcement of specifications down to the last molecule, just try to pass a NASCAR or F1 inspection. The day of the prima-Donna boxer and his back-room promoter must come to an end.

American know-how has often been an example which the rest of the world has emulated. Free-enterprise within well-managed social and economic systems has produced social and material well-being which is the envy of many. If boxing can become a more respectable venue for personal success through regulation, and it can, more talented men will step forward to participate. The ranks of contenders will swell and the current, slow drift of success off-shore will be reversed. If the tide is not turned, the day will come where American Boxing will become a backwater on the world scene. China will spend in excess of thirty billion dollars on the 2008 Olympics. Europe and the Far East are brewing a mix of athletic talent which will easily eclipse Western efforts. The recent paltry showing of the U.S. boxing team is proof positive that a national authority is imperative.

The State and Federal governments must be lobbied to pass legislation which gives boxers at least the same considerations that dog and horse racing receive. The best way to discourage a fan is to never let him know when he will get his next fix. The major sports are successful because they provide a consistent, predictable flow of product to the consumer. ESPN’s hiatus is proof positive that Boxing has stepped to the edge of a cliff and is contemplating suicide. Even PPV will not survive without a national organization to put an end to the neurotic chaos boxing has become.

In modern society Dog-and-Pony shows are becoming a thing of the past. We are not back in the fifties and sixties where Evil Knievel style events can carry an entire sport. Every other sport has proven that through regular application of standards, champions and heroes emerge to thrill us all. There are many dynamics which preclude success, but organization is not one of them; it is the antidote. Other articles have been written on this subject, but repetition is often the essence of education. Everybody on this site and throughout the boxing community, with the possible exception of some avaricious promoters, want to see the sport improved. I suspect that one of the main reasons for the current lack of talent in some divisions, is that guys who are big enough and fast enough to be professional boxers, take one look at the mismanagement of boxing, and take their talents to some other sport.

If you guys don’t get on to your government officials to require that the sport be nationally regulated, it will die. Letter writing campaigns, phone calls and any other method of bringing the plight of boxing and boxers to national attention must be initiated. Otherwise you all best prepare yourselves to be “thrilled” by the tension and excitement of Lawn Bowling and Curling. It seems paradoxical that those who like fights, won’t put one up to save their sport.

Article posted on 01.09.2004

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