I admit that I am biased against boxing in favor of the UFC and mixed martial arts. However, a recent episode of Rome, Jim Rome’s new show, revitalized my interest in the continuing decline of a sport that was huge for the entirety of the 20th Century, and has been in sharp decline for the last twelve years.
Jim Rome and his two reporter guests were discussing the recent bout between Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. and Miguel Cotto, in which Mayweather won by unanimous decision. They were responding (it’s a live show) to a tweet that asked if Mayweather looked human, to which the one analyst said “it’s not about him being human: [the real story] is about the state of boxing.” A small discussion about the decline of boxing resulted, and they moved on.
This got me thinking (a dangerous pastime I recognize): the problem with boxing is far deeper than anyone in the sport wants to admit, and it is certainly deep enough for me to reassess my opinion on the state of the sport: barring a major change, it is doomed. Not doomed as in it will be wiped out, but rather doomed in the sense that it will become a back room sport, not widely viewed, with only a select few holding any interest in it.
Boxing’s decline can be traced back to the late eighties and early nineties. The face of boxing, and voice, was Iron Mike Tyson, and he let you know that not only was he the face of boxing, but that he was the champion and no one would stop him. That brash, loud attitude made him an attractive fighter to watch, and made boxing bouts with him a hot ticket. While his opponents may have been vocal, they were not as vocal, and as a result I look back on them as being relatively quiet, although I have no doubt that is not entirely true.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. enters the scene here: boxing is still king. As he ascends, though, the sport starts to falter, lose market share to MMA, and becomes increasingly relegated behind it. It’s not just Mayweather: all major boxing contenders and champions now came of age when boxing was huge, and the problem, the deep-seated problem, is many of them do not realize how wrong that mentality is.
Mayweather reportedly spurned Manny Pacquiao’s offer to split profits from their proposed mega-fight evenly, saying that “he should take what I give him,” an attitude that Miguel Cotto was more than willing to have. Now, we can dispute whether or not Mayweather is the bigger draw, but this idea that the sport of boxing can endure without the mega-fight (and its place, fights considered by almost everyone outside and inside of the boxing community to be lesser) is crazy; as if to make things worse, it’s only the start of the rebuilding process.
Yeah, that’s right: boxing needs to begin doing a serious reboot and rebuilding process, but it’s so conservative it likely won’t do it. A mega-fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao would generate buzz, but the only way it helps the sport rebuild is to have the lower cards be perfectly chosen: you need to have young, hungry fighters, who want a shot at the title; you need seasoned champions, who boxing fans will recognize and cheer for; in short, it needs to be a celebration of boxing’s history and its future; hell, two fights in the undercards should be made up of guys who could potentially contend for the crown Mayweather and Pacquiao are fighting for.
That’s just the start. The sport needs to modernize; you want to compete with the UFC, boxing needs a more central authority, and a streamlined organization at the top; matches need to have more standardized rules (i.e. identical parameters for ring-size, match duration, and all referees need to be appointed to the fight by the aforementioned proposed central authority organization); finally, the boxers need to be professionals, treat their sport with the respect it is due, and stop acting like immature children; some of them act like sons of millionaires not aware that their parents lost everything when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.
Now, looking at the UFC, I will admit that Dana White can be a real jerk at times, but at a minimum, having a centralized authority ensures that there is a pace that works for the sport: if you win the title, you will defend the title in six to nine months time; in any fight, you do not have the option of who you fight, rather you just have to beat him, there is no alternative; finally, drug testing is mandatory and not up for negotiation.
Now, while I may not be able to identify all of the UFC champions, I have the desire to look them up, learn about them and their styles, and potentially watch the fights. In boxing, it’s a different story: fewer people know who the heavyweight champion is right now (especially compared with the mid-20th century); fewer people are interested, and still fewer people are likely to care about the buildup and buy the match.
Boxing needs to look deep down into itself; it needs to rebuild, reorganize, change its attitude, and get rid of the prima donnas that are dragging it down.