Michael Montero’s Boxing Notebook: A few suggestions to help cure boxing

30.03.07 – By Michael Montero: Collectively, boxing fans disagree on almost every issue in the sport (best fighters, all-time greats, mythical match-ups, etc) – but everybody agrees on one thing: professional boxing is not as big as it once was. Everybody has their opinions on how to get our beloved sport back to it’s former glory, below are a few of my suggestions (more like brainstorms I guess)….

Create a boxer’s union

Ever wonder how the biggest names in Hollywood can make $20 million a picture (whether it’s garbage or not)? It’s because they are unionized in the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG). Through this labor union, actor’s rights are protected and caps are put on their agent’s commissions (as well as their managers, publicists, etc). What if professional boxers had a union which mimicked SAG’s rules? Let’s call this hypothetical union the Professional Boxer’s Guild (PBG). Here are a few ground rules:

1. The union recognizes the RING rankings/champions only; all other belt holders (WBC, WBA, WBO, etc) would be seen only as “titlists”.

2. Absolutely no former boxing promoters or sanctioning body heads would be allowed to sit on the union’s board of directors. Only former fighters, trainers, managers, judges, referees and some media officials (writers, commentators, etc) would be allowed to serve.

3. Boxers pay annual dues based on their previous year’s income. Those dues go toward providing said boxer’s health insurance and to establish a retirement pension. Flex college savings plan and other options would be available.

4. All fight cards featuring PBG boxers would feature judges and referees hired and trained by the PBG. These judges and referees would have their rights protected as they would be union members as well. However, their performance would be reviewed by the union’s board of directors annually and those found to be incompetent would be terminated.

Not a bad start, eh? These rules would help protect fighters from crooked boxing promoters, judges and referees. On top of that, their wallets would be protected as well. Observe the capped pay-rates:

1. Promoters would receive pay no greater than 15% of their fighter’s purse, period. This would give promoters more incentive to actually promote their fighters and their boxing cards (instead of themselves. The bigger the event, the more money for them.

2. Judges, referees and ring doctor’s pay-rate would be based on a percentage of the total fight’s purse as well (let’s go with 1-2% for now). These payments would come from the PBG itself (not the fighters and/or promoters) to avoid favoritism.

3. Trainers would receive guaranteed pay equal to 5% of their fighter’s purse, plus any extra payment that the fighter would like to give (incentives, bonuses, etc). I’m sick of hearing horror stories about trainers not being paid and having to go to court to receive their hard-earned money – trainer’s rights need to be protected as well. Other corner men would receive pay based on a specific percentage of their fighter’s purse as well. The specific percentages would be determined by the PBG (let’s go with 1-2%, plus optional incentives), but the payments to these men would come from the fighter themselves.

4. All PBG fighters would be guaranteed a minimum pay-rate, regardless of experience (different rates for 4, 8, 10 & 12 rounds fights), much like the NBA/NFL’s minimum salary requirements. This rule would protect prospects, journeymen, and “opponent” fighters and guarantee them a reasonable wage.

Small payments (also based on a percentage of the total card) would be kicked up to the PBG, the particular state’s athletic commission (wherever the fight is held), the venue (whether it be an arena, casino, etc) and whatever network the fight is on. Of course there are other small expenses that I am forgetting right now, but you get the basic picture. Under the rules of the guild, a fighter would keep the vast majority of their purse, which is a rare occasion today. Not only that, but they would receive health benefits for themselves and their families; and have money lined up for retirement (and a possible job on the union board). To my knowledge, boxing is the ONLY sport that doesn’t have a union for it’s professional athletes. It’s the 21st century people – this needs to change.

Get rid of the “junior” and “super” divisions

Currently, between Strawweight (105 pounds) and Heavyweight there are officially seventeen recognized divisions in professional boxing. It’s hard enough for the casual fan to keep up with all the alphabet soup drama – how can they be expected to follow seventeen divisions as well? Consider that the NBA has only 6 divisions, as does Major League Baseball and the NFL has only eight. In other words, these leagues (considered the best of their sport) are MUCH easier for the casual fan to follow. What if we could cut the divisions in professional boxing in half? Here are my suggestions (of course these would need tweaking, this is just to give an idea):

Heavyweight: 215 and up

Cruiserweight: 190-215 (25 pound spread)

Light Heavyweight: 170-190 (20 pound spread)

Middleweight: 154-170 (16 pound spread)

Welterweight: 140-154 (14 pound spread)

Lightweight: 126-140 (14 pound spread)

Featherweight: 118-126 (8 pound spread)

Flyweight: 110-118 (8 pound spread)

Strawweight: 105-110 (5 pound spread)

Imagine the super-fights that could be made with only nine divisions! I believe you would see more boxers fighting at their “natural” weight and that would produce better fights. And I don’t want to hear the same old argument – “it would ruin the history of the sport” and what not. How many times has the NFL expanded, altered it’s divisions and moved teams to new cities? Has is hurt the league? NO! You have to roll with the punches (pardon the pun) and change with the times. Decades ago instant replay would have never been considered in the NFL; today it’s an important part of the game. Perhaps it’s time for the powers that be in professional boxing to “update” the sport. And ff the alphabet boys don’t want to play along – screw ‘em! These divisions could be recognized by the boxer’s union, the fans and the media at large.

Establish boxing scholarships for college

What if the NCAA sanctioned division I college boxing? Imagine college sports’ biggest rivalries (Michigan-Ohio State, Duke-North Carolina, etc) being settled in a boxing ring? Seriously, what if large colleges had amateur boxing teams competing against one another in tournaments featuring 8 rounds fights? Think of how many kids from lower income families in urban and rural America alike that could use boxing (via athletic scholarships) to better their lives and get an education? A possible college scholarship creates a terrific incentive for young men to get into boxing. Now, vision if you will, the absolute best of the collegiate-boxing youngsters representing their country in the Olympics, then possibly going pro. Think of the problems this could solve…

1. Evening the playing field: ever wonder why the eastern Europeans kick America’s ass in the heavyweight division these days? That’s because most of them have vast amateur backgrounds while most American big men have little, if any, amateur experience. If American boxers had the chance to develop over four years in college, then go to the Olympics, then go pro – the improvement in overall skill (fundamentals) would be substantial.

2. Building young stars: you can NOT build a fan base for a developing fighter on Pay-Per-View undercards (I wish more promoters understood that). The popular boxing-based reality TV show “The Contender” is proof that fighters can create fan bases (even with non-boxing fans) if their names and faces are made public (see Peter Manfredo and Sergio Mora). Much like college football and basketball players; collegiate boxers could develop substantial fan bases before ever turning pro.

3. Creating TV exposure: if women’s college basketball can get major national TV coverage I know that boxing can. Just think about how many new boxing fans that could be made each year as they watch college boxing tournaments on the giant, commercial TV networks. Case and point, every year millions of people who don’t know a thing about basketball fill out brackets and watch March Madness with their friends.

So what does everybody think? Whether you find these ideas completely genius, or completely useless, the point is that we (boxing fans) are having the discussion – how can boxing be improved? If there is a push from the public for something to be changed, it will inevitably happen – it all starts right here. These are just a few of my ideas to get the discussion stared. Of course things like instant replay, unifying sanctioning bodies (or just doing away with them altogether), restricting promoter’s power and toughening the requirements for judges and referees wouldn’t hurt either…

Comments, questions, hate mail – you know what to do. Send those emails – I want to hear from you…