At times, there seems to be a maxim in boxing: “If it ain't broke, fix it until it is.”
One of the few things in boxing that ain’t broke is the time-honored rhythm of the sport; three minutes a round with sixty seconds between rounds. Much of the integrity that has existed in professional boxing since the 1800s comes from that rhythm and the conduct of the fights themselves.
NBC Sports Network is airing a series of fights that run occasionally on Saturday night. Earlier this month, Jon Miller (president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network) wrote to the Association of Boxing Commissions and asked that promoters be allowed to increase the time between each round of a televised fight from 60 to 67 seconds.
Miller believes that the extra time between rounds is a concession that boxing should make to adapt to a business reality. More specifically, in his letter to the ABC, he declared, “NBC has a major concern with the rigid timing between rounds set forth by the Boxing Commissions in each state. We feel strongly this mandate negatively impacts the quality of television production. The Fight Night Series will simply not survive without advertising support and allowing us to be storytellers. We must run two thirty-second commercial units between each round. The inability to come back from a one minute commercial break without any additional time to show highlights from the previous round and set up the next round is a disservice to the boxing viewer and most importantly the athletes who are giving their all in the ring.”
It’s nice that Miller is concerned “most importantly” with “the athletes who are giving their all in the ring.”
His letter closes with the declaration, “This change will make the sport more broadcast friendly and substantially increase a boxer’s ability to make a living on a platform other than the pay channels of HBO, Showtime, and PPV. The NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all have adapted to this broadcast friendly model and, with their network partners, customized mutually beneficial television timings. This timing change will not negatively impact the integrity of competition but only enhance the content in building stars and elevating the great sport of boxing.”
NBC wants the Association of Boxing Commissions to issue a policy statement in support of the proposed change. It would then be up to individual state athletic commissions to implement the 67-second rule or decline to do so. Presumably, other networks that are supported by advertising (such as ESPN) will follow NBC’s lead if the change is approved.
Tim Lueckenhoff (president of the Association of Boxing Commissions) said on Thursday, “I will speak in favor of the proposal. Anything we can do to promote boxing is a positive.”
Sports change. That’s a given. Boxing has changed too.
In bare-knuckle days, a round lasted until a fighter was knocked down. He then had one minute to return to the center of the ring and continue the battle. Fighters now wear gloves instead of fighting with bare knuckles. Championship fights have evolved from “fights to the finish” to fifteen rounds to twelve. A fighter must now go to a neutral corner in the event of a knockdown rather than stand over a fallen opponent and throw punches as soon as his foe rises from the canvas. Weigh-ins have moved from the day of a fight to the day before to allow a fighter to replenish his body. Fighters now enter the ring to their own ring-walk music; something that was not contemplated by John L. Sullivan or Joe Louis.
Through it all, the 60-second period between rounds has been sacrosanct.
Boxing is different from other sports. Breaks in the action are carefully calibrated. Three-minute rounds with a one-minute rest period between rounds is at the core of professional boxing. In gyms across the country, an automatic bell sounds the familiar cadence that becomes second-nature to a professional fighter.
No matter how supporters of the 67-second rule style it, they’re asking for a 7-second television timeout between rounds. TV timeouts don’t alter the nature of the game in football, basketball, baseball, or hockey. They would in boxing.
Dr. Margaret Goodman is a neurologist who served previously as chief ringside physician and medical director for the Nevada State Athletic Commission. She is currently president and chairperson of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association.
“Absolutely, the extra seven seconds could change the outcome of a fight,” Dr. Goodman says. “It would give a tired fighter extra time to recover. It would give his cutman an extra seven seconds to work on a cut. If a fighter is hurt, the extra time might allow him to keep fighting; but to me, that’s bad. If a fighter needs those extra seven seconds, he’s likely to be hurt more seriously as the fight goes on.”
Alex Ariza has earned a reputation as one of the foremost strength and conditioning coaches in boxing.
“It definitely could affect the outcome of a fight,” Ariza states. “Obviously, a fighter who is hurt or a fighter who is poorly conditioned would benefit to a degree from the extra seven seconds. But it goes beyond that. The most important measure of a fighter’s conditioning is how fast the fighter can get his heart rate down between rounds. With sixty-seven seconds, you’re talking about a fighter getting his heart rate down significantly more than if he has just sixty seconds between rounds. In some instances, you could see a fifteen-to-twenty-percent better recovery with those seven extra seconds. For me, everything is based on recovery time. I train fighters based on the sixty seconds that I have. Sixty-seven seconds between rounds would change the way I train a fighter. If I have an extra seven seconds to work with, I would condition the fighter differently.”
Would Evander Holyfield like an extra seven seconds between rounds if he fights again? I think so. Ask Bernard Hopkins if he would have liked an extra seven seconds between rounds when he fought Joe Calzaghe.
Also, not only could an extra seven seconds between rounds change the outcome of a fight; there would be a perception by fans in certain instances that it changed the outcome of a fight whether it did or not.
Greg Sirb is past president of the Association of Boxing Commissions and current executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.
“I understand the point that NBC is making,” Sirb notes. “But one minute between rounds has been the standard for a long time and it works. We’ve given an extra one or two seconds on a few occasions in Pennsylvania. But even that troubles me because, once you start, it’s a slippery slope. Seven seconds is too much. And what happens if someone comes back after that and asks for ten seconds?”
Should boxing have one set of rules for fights that are televised on advertising-supported television and another set of rules for all other fights?
Can the sport tolerate a situation where New Jersey says that there’s sixty seconds between rounds, Ohio says sixty-five, and Texas says seventy?
How much can NBC really accomplish in those extra seven seconds?
How do we know that, over time, viewers won’t simply get an additional station break or commercial plug: “Watch the news on NBC after the fights . . . SportsCenter on ESPN at eleven o’clock.”
What if a network says that it will put a REALLY BIG fight on broadcast television? “We can get Floyd Mayweather. But to do it, we’ll need ninety seconds between rounds for commercials.”
Boxing didn’t disappear from broadcast television because the networks had trouble getting their commercials in. Boxing disappeared from broadcast television because there weren’t enough commercials. Advertisers didn’t want their product identified with a sport that was perceived by the public as brutal and corrupt.
Fans today have a lot of complaints about boxing on television. The most common complaint is, “The fights sucked.” Another complaint is that some commentators say stupid things and don’t understand the sport. I don’t recall hearing a fan complain, “My viewing experience was unsatisfactory because of the transition from the commercial break to the live action.”
Boxing is now being asked to change one of its most fundamental rules. This shows a lack of respect for the history, traditions, and essence of the sport.
The World Cup is one of the most popular televised sports events on the planet. Games are played in 45-minute halves WITHOUT STOPPING PLAY FOR COMMERCIALS in either half. The television networks deal with it.
Television networks should adhere to the rules of boxing; not the other way around.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His next book (And the New: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) will be published later this summer by the University of Arkansas Press.