What has happened to Boxing?


30.03.05 – By Geoff McKay: “Just a second please, I’ll check”, there was a click and the voice at the other end of the telephone was instantly replaced by Rod Stewarts’ “do ya think I’m sexy?” blaring into my ear as I was put on hold. I had been trying to locate a sports bar in our town that would be showing the Roy Jones Jr. -John Ruiz fight, and this was my last chance. The music cut out and the receptionist came back on the line.

“Yes, the manager says we will show the fight tonight”. I was overjoyed. It had been a long time since a former middleweight champion had a decent chance at winning a heavyweight title, and I felt this was an historic moment in boxing.

Fight time came and I made my way down to the pub. I was shocked to see that hardly anyone was there, and that among those present, only one individual was watching the boxing action. I sat down with the other boxing fan and we watched what I thought was a great fight, two, where hundreds would have once been. That was the last boxing match of any kind shown at any of our sports bars. Since then, those with no satellite access have been forced to settle for highlights or repeat airings.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when even the common sports fan knew relatively obscure names like Donny Lalonde, John “The Beast” Mugabi, Michael Olijade and others. Now, unless you were a die hard boxing fan, you would most likely be unable to name two of the four current heavyweight champions. The real question we have to ask ourselves is; has society outgrown boxing?

I put this question to Russ Anber, the host of the TSN program, In This Corner, and he addressed in on his show. He didn’t simply blame a lack of talent in boxing; instead, he came up with a more plausible explanation. According to Russ, interest in boxing has fallen because exposure has been cut down greatly. I found myself agreeing with him. Groups of friends no longer sit around free television and enjoy a boxing match; rather the die hard fans seek one another out and split up the sometimes costly pay per view fees. Boxing has lost the casual observer.

In a recent interview Oscar De La Hoya said that his promotion company was going to make some changes that would increase the popularity of boxing on the whole. I hope that these changes involve greater access for the casual observer, because they are tomorrows die hard boxing fan.

The real obstacle here is money. Fighters, agents, promoters, and everyone else involved strive to earn as much money as possible for every single event. Professional boxing and professional sports in general represent hyper-capitalism, charge as much and more than the market can possibly bear. Now before I go on, I want to make one thing absolutely clear, I think most professional athletes are overpaid, however, this is not true of boxers. It is my opinion professional boxers earn every penny they make, for obvious reasons.

However, there is a larger issue here, the future of the sport. When a sport becomes too expensive for the average person, when it becomes the haunt of only the wealthy, it invariably losses popularity with the masses on which it relies. A perfect example can be found in the cancellation of the National Hockey League season this year. Whether the blame lies with the players or the owners, what many people see is a massive cesspool of greed, and it turns them off.

Here in Canada there are daily updates by the media on the hockey situation. We have information desks with solemn faced anchor people spouting out dire predictions and rumors on a regular basis. What you are not hearing is that on the street there is very little talk about the NHL, and many people don’t really care if it ever resumes. That is exceptionally dangerous for the sport, and indicative of what can happen to any sport, anywhere, given that hockey is practically a national obsession in Canada.

The boxing “powers that be” would do well to take a hard look at what has happened to the NHL, a sport that priced itself out of business, and learn from it. Yes, it is true that there are a few who will pay large sums of money to watch boxing, but there are millions more who would become boxing fans, and advocates, if it once again became a “popular” sport.