Okay. So maybe titling my column “Saving Boxing in the year of our Lord, 2015” is a little dramatic. There will probably be a healthy number of quality fights and reasons to cheer for the sport of boxing over the next nine plus months. However, we are not off to a great start if this is to end up being “The Year of Boxing” that so many people have predicted it will be.
In just over a month a half, we have seen the crumbling of the Canelo/Cotto fight, an injury postponement of Froch/Chavez Jr., the sad decline of Jermain Taylor, the horrendous performance of Mike Alvarado against Brandon Rios, and the catch weight nonsense of the upcoming Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson fight.
The best thing we can say about 2015 thus far is an untested Adonis named Deontay Wilder took on a high class journeyman named Bermane Stiverne and largely dominated the heavyweight title fight. All while many viewers clung to their hopes for a Wilder greatness the same way an old lady of means might clutch her pearls had her car broke down on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Chicago. The size, composure, strength, and his big right hand were all in evidence, but those looking for greatness were found wanting even if their sleuth-like skills bordered on the Basil Rathbone level. If you’re looking for Wilder comparable, it’s more like Michael Dokes or Tim Witherspoon. Guys who could fight, but were not likely to be confused with great Americans like Ali, Tyson, or Holyfield. That isn’t to say Wilder isn’t an exciting fighter—in and out of the ring. He looks great, he’s got charisma, but he still feels like a prospect. A 29-year-old prospect.
So let’s face it. That’s pretty much fight of the year so far. A scrap that the best thing you could say about it is looked like a pretty good ESPN fight. Such is the meager nature of our start to what was supposed to The Year of Boxing.
The management problems with the sport are well known. Too many alphabet sanctioning bodies creating too many safe fights so their protected fighter walks out with his alphabelt. The other issue is a long going one. That of the lack of access to the casual fan. Sure, most people have ESPN, but Friday Night Fights is unlikely to create new fans, but more likely to sate the needs of the hardcore while we are waiting for something better. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a hot prospect on the come who shows you some moxie and some skill. Most nights though, you’ll see the B team on ESPN fights. Either faded contenders or “opponent” types who might get a title shot to keep the champion tuned up before his next big fight. In other words, mis-matches. A term all too frequently used in boxing. Beyond ESPN, to see much better fights and contenders, you need HBO and/or Showtime. And if you want a fight really worth getting excited about, you are probably going to shell out additional dollars for the PPV.
Sure, some fight fans have the ability to pull out that kind of cash and the hardcore fiends like myself will tighten the belt to squeeze in that Floyd PPV on my bill. As a middle class person though, it’s no small chunk. Imagine how I feel when the undercard is awful (as they often are) and the headliner ends up being Floyd knocking out Victor Ortiz after the challenger tries to rocket launch his skull into Floyd’s forehead and then feels so bad about it, he continuously tries to apologize and force numerous hugs on him when if he could see in Mayweather’s eyes, Money wasn’t playing. Then, on what must have been Ortiz’s 7th mea culpa, Mayweather reminds him they are there for a fight, not the part of the 12 step program where you apologize profusely to those you have wronged. Next thing you know, Floyd says the hell with all this formality and decides to throw a punch. One that puts Ortiz on his back and for my money a blow he has still not recovered from. While Mayweather/Ortiz is a fun fight to talk about, it was not a fun fight to have laid down $75 for. That statement is coming from me. The boxing fiend. For someone taking that leap of faith for the first time, it would easy to see why they may not go for seconds.
So that’s the deal with boxing. In a nut-shell, we don’t make enough high quality fights to juice up the masses and when we do, we make the fights hard to see. I am pleased to see that at least on the issue of access, there are wheels in motion. In recent years, CBS, Fox, and NBC have added new cable sports networks and have showcased even more boxing.
Even more heartening is the return to boxing in primetime on NBC. Stewarded by Svengali Al Haymon, March 7 will feature a dual headliner of Adrien Broner vs. John Molina Jr., and a fine closer with Keith Thurman standing up with Robert Guerrero. Just a month later, on April 11, we’ll see Andy Lee face Peter Quillin, and then watch Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson finish out the night. The thing you have to like about these fights is they all have solid-to-better names in them and they are on the same card facing each other, as opposed to preceding and following each other against decidedly inferior competition. All four contestants on each of the two nights will be at risk. And now we have boxing back on CBS…
Which is exactly what we want, right? The best fighters getting into the ring and inside of television screen I can gain access to. If done right, this creates a potential sea change for the sports. More people will get the chance to discover they love it. The casual fan will be able to invest their time and money into the fight game because for the first time in a very long time, there will be ease of access. This can and will happen as long as we continue to showcase quality match ups.
Still, these efforts will fall short if boxing cannot produce the sort of fights that everyone from the hardcore to the casual fan wants to see. Super Fights. They are a necessity. Last year, it seems the sport had plenty of solid playoff level games, but no Super Bowl. Boxing needs the big game. At least once a year. So, once again, Floyd and Manny, boxing nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Let’s face it. Each man is somewhat diminished by age, tougher fights, and in Manny’s case that devastating Marquez knockout from 2012. While Floyd has suffered nothing as ignominious, De la Hoya, Cotto, and Maidana (first fight) were able to touch him up in ways we have not seen before. Manny is better than all those guys.
Let’s face it, this is the fight we want. Not just boxing fans, but the casual sports fans. Manny and Pac are known names outside of the sport. The kinds that turn the heads of those who might not otherwise be bothered. Those of us ingrained in the sport know a lot of luster is off this fight no matter when/if it happens. Five years ago would have been just about perfect. But bizarre promoter, network, and fighter (mostly Floyd) machinations kept us from getting what we want.
The thing is, we can still have it, and we can have it this year. Regardless of the current skill level of both fighters and the very real knowledge that they are on the down side of their peak, this is the scrap that will lift people from their seats, pull out their wallets, change their Saturday night plans and pay attention…to boxing. Because on that night, our sport will be THE event.
There are a great many moves that can be made to bring boxing out of its fringe sports status. Many of those efforts are being put into play now. All of them are good and will be helpful. But if our sport can’t get the two most popular boxers to fight when they can match weight on the scale, and hopefully match skills in the ring, we are effectively treading water, just with more Haymon provided bells and whistles.
We need our “Fight of the Century”, “Our Thrilla in Manilla”. We need a match that regular people will be made aware of and a surprising number will be moved to see. Once again, there are only two guys who can provide that. They will be the difference between a nice year where boxing made some baby steps, and a big year where the sport once again pervades the national consciousness.
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