By Geoffrey Ciani: Professional boxing is, first and foremost, a form of entertainment, the same as any other sport. Were it not for the fans who pay good money to watch top tier athletes compete amongst themselves at the highest level, the business aspect of the sport would be threatened, and the entire existence of professional sports as we know them would cease to exist..
As such, boxing fans seek the same things that fans of other sports seek—entertainment! For boxing fans, this means watching good fights and being afforded an opportunity to see elite fighters competing against one another.
Unfortunately, the state of professional boxing makes it very easy for the average boxing fan to become flustered. Far too often, we are denied the opportunity to see the very best square off. Whether it is because there are too many alphabet titles or too many weight classes, somehow or another, the best possible match-ups often fail to materialize. Amplifying this frustration is the fact we have too many overpriced pay per view events, many of which are boring snooze fests, and overall, there are too few fights broadcast on network television.
The biggest problem, however, probably stems from inherent conflicts of interests pertaining to the business aspect of the sport. In other words, the quest for maximizing career earnings often comes at the expense of one’s legacy, whereas, the desire to become great and obtain a legacy often comes at the expense of maximizing earnings. This inherent conflict between “good business” and “legacy” all too often precludes the best match-ups from coming to fruition.
For example, let us investigate the case from the late 1990s involving light heavyweight champions Roy Jones Jr. and Dariusz Michalczewski. When Jones made the jump to 175 pounds in November 1996 to challenge WBC champion Mike McCallum, Michalczewski had already been a champion in that division for over two years. When Michalczewsi decisively beat Virgil Hill June 1997, he had successfully unified the WBA, WBO, and IBF belts, clearly marking him as the division’s top dog. Two months later, when Jones avenged his disqualification loss against Montell Griffin, he emerged as the number one challenger.
A showdown between the two best fighters in the light heavyweight division seemed inevitable, but for whatever reason, the fight inexplicably never occurred! Why? Jones would remain light heavyweight champion until losing against Antonio Tarver in May 2004, and Michalczewski retained a portion of the crown until he was beaten by Julio Gonzalez in October 2003. That means both of these men coincided as champions in the same division for over six years, and somehow or another, they never managed to square off? Why?
The simple answer is that it made good business sense for both fighters to avoid taking the risk of fighting one another. In essence, rather than face each other, both fighters instead opted for the path of lesser resistance. Instead of fighting Michalczewski, who clearly represented Jones’s toughest challenge, he was content making millions in the United States while facing sub par competition. Likewise, instead of risking his unblemished record along with his overseas celebrity status, Dariusz Michalczewski opted against venturing outside of his comfort zone in Germany, where he, too, raked in millions fighting inferior opponents.
Both fighters were to blame, but the biggest losers in this ordeal were the fans, for they never got to see these two great fighters prove their worth by taking on the best available challenge. It is actually quite disgraceful. Michalczewski was an undefeated champion, and although Jones technically had a “loss” on his record (when he became overexcited and punched a fallen opponent while he was down, resulting in a disqualification), Jones proved he was superior to Griffin when he annihilated him in their rematch. Ergo, for all intent and purposes, this would have been a battle between undefeated champions, both in their prime, both the same weight, but rather than taking a risk, the two continued making millions while conveniently avoiding the each other.
Can you imagine if Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier never fought? Not only did the two fight, but they fought three brutal wars, each man determined to prove he was the better warrior! Jones and Michalczewski may have had a similar trilogy in the makings, but we will never know because ‘smart business’ decisions got in the way of what may have been legacy-defining match-ups for both men. In the end, not only did the fans suffer because these two refused to fight, but so, too, did each of their legacies, for I have no doubt that even the ultimate loser would have gained more respect from boxing historians had they fought.
It is a shame that the inherent conflict of interests between “good business” and “legacy” often prevents the best fights from happening. In fact, it sucks out loud from a fan’s perspective. But who could blame them for choosing the easy way? After all, there is money to be made, and not too many people would choose the more difficult path when it comes to earning a living. Such is life.
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