01.04.05 – By James Allan: At this exact moment of writing, I am personally aware of over twenty sanctioning bodies currently operating within the sport of boxing. I say at this exact moment of writing, as the chances are that by the time I have finished this article, another one will have sprung into existence, or else one of the current bodies will have folded.
These bodies have succeeded in doing three things:
1. Made money for themselves.
2. Created an increasing multitude of “World Champions”
And most importantly
3. Turned the average fight fan off the sport.
Boxing is currently enjoying something of a mini comeback at the moment, and while it will probably never regain the mass popularity it once enjoyed, there is no reason that the game cannot once again command a place on the sport’s pages of the mainstream newspapers. However, until the amount of sanctioning bodies can be whittled down to a manageable number, one preferably, the average sports fan is not going to take any real interest in boxing. How can they, when they are being asked to accept a possible twenty different fighters as World Champion all at the same weight.
Take into account that the so called four main bodies are also eyeball deep in allegations of bribery, corruption, dodgy ranking systems and ridiculous judging decisions and you can easily understand why boxing has lost a huge number of followers. You can almost hear people asking what the smaller organisations must be like if the big organisations are this bad.
This is not to lay all of the blame solely at the feet of these organisations. They are only taking advantage of a chaotic situation in order to line their own pockets. The controlling bodies within each country and the boxers themselves must take their share also. If the controlling bodies were to simply not recognise these bodies and refused to licence any match-ups they made, they would have nowhere to ply their trade. But they in many cases are only responding to the boxers wish to fight for these alphabet titles.
Glen Johnson is universally recognised as the light – heavyweight champion of the world, but he is also the current holder of the IBO world title. This is the title that was at stake when he took on Antonio Tarver last December. He and Tarver both gave up what were considered to be more prestigious titles in order to fight each other, why bother fighting for the IBO’s worthless trinket. All that does is give that title a respectability it does not deserve. British fighters who currently hold IBO titles include Carl Thompson, Robin Reid and Jawid Khaliq.
Ricky Hatton is another high profile example of a good fighter who is giving undue respect to a poor title. Ricky is currently the WBU champion of the world. A title so meaningless, that by simply holding it Ricky does it more good than it does him. Other British fighters who currently hold WBU titles include Matt Skelton, Enzo Maccarinelli and Eamonn Magee.
What is the answer? Who knows, but something has to be done. Amalgamation of the organisations, a refusal to recognise them by the controlling bodies of each country, fighters relinquishing these titles and facing each other without throwing a meaningless belt at the match-up or maybe even a concerted legal effort to force the smaller organisations out of business and even a few of the bigger ones (If only Rocchigiani had insisted that the WBC pay him every penny they were ordered to, then we wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with them anymore). Until the average fight fan can once again look at the sport and see one champion to one division, the sport will always remain on the fringes of mainstream popularity.
Why Boxing is in the Doldrums – Part 2
How do people first become interested and then stay interested in certain sports? Participation, word of mouth and watching are probably the three main reasons most people would give. Of these three watching has to be the most important. Why? Because in most cases people have to be in regular contact with the sport in order to maintain their interest in it and the best way to keep in contact is by watching.
Most of the people who are currently boxing fans will remember watching certain fighters and certain fights and being captivated by the sport. Sure it’s tough, it can be cruel and in many cases it is downright dishonest, but it can also be enthralling, exciting and memorable. People will remember being able to watch great fighters and great fights on Saturday Afternoons or Weekend Evenings. In some cases you could even watch boxing matches on primetime weekday television. Not any more. There are a number of reasons as to why not. Alphabet organisations, meaningless title fights, terrible judging decisions and last, but by no means least, Pay Per View all have to take their share of the blame for public apathy towards the sport.
Here in the UK, if you want to see any decent boxing you will have to subscribe to Sky Sports. Sky Sports will set you back around £20 ($35.00) a month. This in itself can be too much for many people to pay. Once you start adding the prices they charge you to watch the best fights on Pay Per View on to this total it can quickly rise. While Pay Per View can be expensive over here, in the States it is even worse.
Pay Per View basically forces your average fight fan to shell out a not inconsiderable sum of money to watch, in too many cases completely forgettable fights. If you think I’m overreacting ask any of our American friends if they felt that the $50.00 Don King asked them to shell out for his last Heavyweight extravaganza featuring such sleep inducers as Lamon Brewster, Chris Byrd and the Daddy of them all, John Ruiz was well worth the money.
Pay Per View shows are now popping up all over the place. David Tua is returning to the ring after a two-year lay-off. Tua was an exciting Heavyweight capable of taking people out with one shot. Dedicated boxing fans know this and given the state of the H/W division they are hoping that he can bring back some much needed glamour. How does Cedric Kushner decide to showcase his return, by asking the already hard done by boxing fan to dig deep into his pocket in order to watch the fight on Pay Per View. No offence to Tua, but how is it that a guy who hasn’t fought in over two years suddenly becomes a Pay Per View attraction? Let’s be even more honest, who, but the most dedicated of boxing fans, has even heard of Tua? Give us a break Cedric.
I am pretty sure that there are many sports shows that would have been happy to air this fight. Instead of trying to fleece the fans, Cedric could have offered the fight to any number of networks, giving Tua the widest possible audience and also giving the fans a little something back in return. The best thing that can happen with this show is that it bombs, thereby forcing Cedric to think again the next time he decides to put on another Pay Per View.
I have also noticed that ESPN have got a Pay Per View coming up. It says that it is reasonably priced at $29.99. Why not make it even more reasonably priced and put it on for free? If enough people buy this show you can bet that ESPN will soon put their prices up. Count the Tua fight, this ESPN show, the next Barrera fight, Hatton V Tszyu, Gatti V Mayweather and who knows what other Pay Per Views that are likely to be shown and I’m sure most people can see where I am coming from. The average fan is not going to be prepared to keep shelling out to buy fights. It’s too expensive and you don’t know what you are going to get. Sure on paper the Hatton V Tszyu fight looks fantastic, but what happens if Tszyu comes out and nails him with a clean shot half way through the first round. End of fight, end of Pay Per View, bye bye fifty bucks.
Same with the Gatti v Mayweather fight. It could be a cracker, or it could be that Mayweather dances rings round Gatti all night. If you are asking somebody to pay out their hard earned cash on a boxing match, they will want to be well entertained for their money, not put to sleep watching Floyd staying well away from Gatti while grinding out a dreary points win. And this is the thing with boxing, these are not unlikely scenarios.
Most people will be able to remember watching fantastic match-ups on television for free, Leonard v Duran I, Hearns v Hagler, Benn v Eubank I and Benn v McLellan are the four fights that still stick in my mind as being among the best I have ever seen. I was still a young kid when I watched the first Leonard v Duran fight. This is the fight that first got me interested in the sport, two all time greats going toe to toe in a fantastic match-up. Ask most young kids these days who Arturo Gatti or Floyd Mayweather are and in most cases you will get a blank expression. If we want to bring through the next generation of young fans who are going to keep boxing alive, then we had better start making sure that they have access to the sport. This is not a difficult thing to do, make the best fights available for free on terrestrial Television instead of allowing greedy promoters and networks to make a packet by airing them on Pay Per View.
How do we do this, simple, it only takes everybody to refuse to buy one Pay Per View and promoters and networks will start to take notice. There are a few people who have been making a financial killing while slowly strangling the game; once they have been hurt in their pockets you can believe that they will start to do everything possible to ensure that the sport has a viable future. After all they are businessmen, and they will be well aware that a share of a smaller pot is better than nothing at all.