The Business of Boxing

James ToneyBy Ted Sares - You don't play boxing --James Toney

We need to police our sport and show that as an industry we won't tolerate what has been business as usual anymore… We will change this business…There will be boxing reform --Dan Goosen.

Welcome to the boxing’s world of business. Or shall we say to the business of boxing? I’m afraid that boxing these days has become a business more than a battle between two warriors. Boxing is no longer the traditional way of determining the best boxer on the earth but a mix of both business and boxing per se. --Rico Navarro, The Freeman) Updated July 05, 2009

Few activities, much less sports, have what is known as a sleazy underbelly.. Unfortunately, boxing is one of them. From New York mobster Frankie Carbo to the IBF scandal which involved a 32-count indictment to Resto-Collins to the recent “Plastergate” affair and everything in between, boxing has reeled on the ropes and often has fallen from grace. However, though bruised and battered, it has somehow managed to survive.

Like other kinds of businesses, there have been calls for reform, and some changes have been put in place. However, reform really has little or nothing to do with the fact boxing is 95% business and maybe 5% sport.

For one thing, boxers would not engage without adequate compensation. When you put your life on the line, you don’t do it for the fun of the sport. My guess is that the star athletes in other sports might still play their chosen sport without the mega purses. Surely, TigerWoods would still compete in golf and Federer would play tennis. Millions of people play most of the sports because they love the game, but only a fraction would even think about engaging in boxing for minimal or no compensation. The risks are too high. “You don’t play boxing.” It's not like tennis or golf where players can enter dozens of events a year and lose badly in many of them with no ill effects.

Moreover, in most other athletic endeavors, participants get to compete in perhaps thousands of matches, games, and/or events over the course of their careers. These days, a boxer may only compete 30-40 times at the pro level and only a handful take part in over fifty bouts. When a top boxer can fight maybe 3 or 4 times a year, he wants those fights to be as meaningful as possible. Every fight matters because it might be the last. Football (the U.S. kind) might be similar, given the severity of injuries. One of the things I liked about "Baby" Joe Mesi was his willingness to fight, but his demise is indicative of what this article is all about; namely, that today, a boxer needs to get those decent paydays in the bank (not literally) and get out with his health intact. Joe might not have.

When a great fighter like Floyd Mayweather Jr, fights once in 2004, twice in 2006, twice in 2007, and presumably once in 2009 against carefully selected opposition that is designed to maximize monetary return, that is cherry picking at its very best. It’s also business at its very best. Mega purses, hype like HBO’S 24-7, PPV, cherry picking, and catch weight matches simply encourage (or perhaps are an inherent part of) this kind of activity. Those at the top of the pyramid are best positioned to exploit it.

Oscar De La Hoya fought once in 2002, twice in 2003, twice in 2004, zero times in 2005, once in 2006, once in 2007, and twice in 2008 in fights that optimized his ability to earn mega purses, but resulted in a 5-4 record.

David Haye has not fought since November 2008 and likely will fight only once in 2009. Manny Pacquiao, though far more active, has made catch weights his thing, albeit a successful one. Edwin “Dinamita” Valero has slowed down his level of activity considerably,, though “Juanma,”Juan Manuel Lopez, remains fairly active.

The fact that Wlad Klitschko has fought 56 times is the exception, not the rule. Heck, even Hasim Rahman engaged in four fights in 2007, and the Beast from the East, Nikolay Valuev, has been reasonably active, but just reasonably.

Fighters like Hector Camacho Senior (87 fights), James Toney (82 fights), Gerry Penalosa (63 fights), and Yori Boy Campas (107 fights) have been the exception. While there are a number of boxers in the U.K. with over 100 fights, these are simply designated opponents (i.e., designated losers) who also lose over 100 fights but are seldom stopped. As just one example, Karl “Plug” Taylor has a plug ugly 16-128-7 record and has gone 0-12-1 mark in 2009 alone. But these kinds of fighters represent an anomaly and are on the very bottom of the boxing pyramid.

The Upshot

Boxing is all about entertainment and, as such, is a deadly serious business which often entails fatalities and horrific long term injuries. Back in the day, fighters fought almost monthly to earn a living. They don’t do that any more except in the early parts of their careers. Once they are established as contenders, the frequency of activity now falls off considerably. For example, this will happen to the very active Danny Jacobs and also to Sherif Boger (12-0) who has fought eight times already in 2009. This is the pattern that has developed over the past many years and likely will continue for the foreseeable future.

As a fan, I have become inured to the fact my favorite fighters will engage sparingly and will try to get the biggest bang for their buck (maybe that should be the other way around). Only those on the mid to bottom of the pyramid will be active and many will be fodder for those who rise to become elite. And that’s because boxing is a business where money rules and where the promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions call the shots.

As Rico Navarro points out in the afore referenced article entitled, In control of the business of boxing: “The funny thing about all this is that boxing’s alphabet collection of ruling bodies has now become secondary players in the sport. Slowly but surely, boxers are now fighting for the biggest paycheck offered by promoters instead of the world championships being paraded by the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO…”

What do you think?

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Article posted on 09.08.2009

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