By Michael Herron: The phrase “The Fight To Save Boxing” is overused and often overstated. The most recent fight to save boxing for instance, Mayweather vs. De La Hoya, nearly killed it! Not financially but morally for true boxing fans were severely disappointed. Recent reports have indicated however that former cruiserweight champion David Haye and current heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko have agreed to a heavyweight title fight in June. While it may not be billed as the “fight to save boxing” it just may be the fight to instill new life in a sport whose glamour division has faded.
What exactly does it mean to save boxing? Does it mean big Pay-Per-View numbers; or a fight of the year candidate? Does it mean the two biggest names in the sport are going to battle? Is it a fight that will bring boxing back into the mainstream, live on network television? Or perhaps it’s a fight that’s so momentous that it will have a trickle-down effect in the sport and will leave its mark for years to come? Perhaps all of these options are required to save boxing but a major step, whether the boxing world realizes it or not, will be taken when Haye meets Klitschko in a contest that will hopefully bring excitement back to the heavyweight division.
Since the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2003, the heavyweight division has been in shambles. The Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, have consistently competed for the vacated throne but six years later neither have solidified their position as the true heavyweight champion. Title-holders they may be, but not “the unified champion…the real champion” as Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson were before them. Though Vitali has recently returned from semi-retirement, Wladimir, since falling to Lamon Brewster, has consistently defeated every opponent placed in front of him blazing his way to the top of the division. Though his accomplishments are with merit, the reality is that as he continues to rise, the sport of boxing continues to fall. Wladimir Klitschko, whether due to his personality, fighting style, or a string of unmemorable performances, is simply not connecting with boxing fans around the world. Boxing historically lives and dies based on excitement generated by the heavyweight division, the little guys can only carry the sport for so long before fans begin to look elsewhere for their fight fetish.
So how can this fight save boxing? Its simple, David Haye is a face, a talent, and a personality that youth can identify with. Consequently, the sport suffers because it has lost its youth audience. Young athletes who in years past would have chosen boxing as a profession are now choosing football, basketball, and even Mixed Martial Arts! Former heavyweight champions, icons like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, George Foreman, and even Mike Tyson, brought in new fans and inspired the next generation to want to take up the sport. David Haye, if victorious, can perhaps restore this legacy and become the new “face of boxing” a title and duty expected of the heavyweight champion of the world. Thus, to save boxing, Haye will need to succeed where the Klitschko’s have failed: connect with fans, engage the youth, thrill the media, provide exciting fights, and most importantly of all, gain recognition as the true heavyweight champion of the world. Yeah I know, easier said than done, but based on Haye’s downbeat opinion of the current heavyweight division, his willingness to move up in weight, and his belief in himself, it is clear that saving boxing is exactly what he has in mind.
So can he do it? It remains to be seen but he is starting at the right place, the scourge of the boxing world, the heavyweight division. Hopefully the “youth” will be watching.
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Article posted on 04.04.2009