The year 2010 is nearly done and it has been a good year for the sport overall, with the exception of the most talked about bout not happening. Floyd Mayweather, JR., and Manny Pacquiao never met inside the ring, with the negotiations collapsing on two separate occasions. The talk of a 2011 showdown is already occurring, but if the past is any indication, we shouldn’t hold our breath.
Boxing has taken a back seat to the world of Mixed Martial Arts, a sport that has grown immensely in the last ten years and has used superior marketing to push it above pugilism. Because of the popularity of the UFC, they were able to pay James Toney millions of dollars to step into the Octagon in a match that he had no chance of winning. Boxing does not have the appeal and when you look at what is selling, all roads lead to Mayweather and Pacquiao.
The Klitschko brothers dominate boxing in the heavyweight division and can pack arenas in Europe, but American fans could care less. HBO has no interest in showcasing their fights anymore, and, as they say, so goes the heavyweight division, so goes boxing. American boxing is in bad shape, but there is a lot of hope.
There are several fighters and situations that need to happen to get this sport back into the position it once held. I doubt that we will see all of it happen, but if we get roughly 50%, we’ll be in good shape.
The Heavyweight Title Unification
The Klitschko brothers, Wladimir and Vitali, are nearly unbeatable at this point, and their safety first-distance style of fighting hasn’t captured the hearts of the Americans. Because there is no clarity for the casual boxing fans, we need to clean it up. We have Wladimir holding the WBO/IBF/IBO titles, Vitali has the WBC, and David Haye has the WBA. In 2011, Haye must face one of them in a unification bout.
A loss for a Klitschko brother would be a shot in the arm for boxing. If Tomasz Adamek, Odlanier Solis, Alexander Povetkin, or David Haye were able to upset either Vitali or Wlad, the people would take notice and that would set up a unification between the new champion and the other brother. In the past, Vitali and Wladimir would come to the defense, extracting revenge on an opponent that had gotten the better of their brother. Vitali beat up Corrie Sanders after he destroyed Wladimir, and Wlad beat up Chris Byrd after Byrd pulled the upset over Vitali. If any heavyweight were to defeat Wlad or Vitali, they would have to defeat the other brother too. It’s a package deal.
The Emergence of an American Heavyweight Contender
The heavyweight division is ruled by non-Americans and has been for some time. Lennox Lewis reigned supreme for years and the torch has been passed to the Ukrainian Klitschkos. Pre-Lewis, Americans ruled the division. Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Michael Moorer, Tim Witherspoon, and the list goes on and on. Americans felt entitled to that championship and have now lost interest with the rulers being non-American.
Even the top contenders all seem to be imports. Tomasz Adamek is from Poland, Haye from England, Povetkin from Russia, Ruslan Chagaev from Germany, Nikolay Valuev from Russia, Robert Helenius from Germany, Odlanier Solis from Cuba, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the next Great American Hope. When you examine the long list of fighters from the states, there aren’t many that stand out as potential Klitschko conquerors. The best hope may be Tony Thompson, a loser to Wladimir in his shot where nerves and Wlad’s right hand got the best of him. Unfortunately, he isn’t the sort of blood and guts fighter that Americans tend to enjoy and would be as ignored as Vitali and Wlad.
Finding an American to clean out the heavyweight division as Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes did in 2011 is a long shot to say the least.
Cleaning up the Pound for Pound Triangle
The pound for pound rankings have three fighters sitting at the top, vying for public opinion and two of them eager to prove that they are the best by fighting the best. Floyd Mayweather, JR., is undefeated but seems unwilling to face Manny Pacquiao, the other pound for pound top boxer in the fight that everyone wants. Mayweather, JR., seems to be finding a way around it by going after other name fighters where the deck is incredibly stacked in his favor as it was when he faced the small Juan Manuel Marquez and the old Shane Mosley. Facing a prime beast like Pacquiao is something that he would have to really be ready for.
If Pacquiao-Mayweather should not take place, middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez, would be willing to take on either, with the most likely candidate being Pacquiao. Floyd has nowhere else to hide at this point. The pressure from the boxing fans are going to force him to face one of the other two vying for the top spot or to stay retired and let Martinez and Pacquiao dictate the direction of the game.
The hopeful order is Pacquiao vs. Mayweather early in 2011 with the winner taking on Martinez.
Marketable Stars & Network TV
If NBC, CBS, FOX, and ABC saw the worth of having boxing shown again on network TV, boxing would soar again. With fighters like Juan Manuel Lopez, 30-0, 27 KO’s, Yuriorkis Gamboa, 19-0, 15 KO’s, David Lemieux, 25-0, 24 KO’s, Andy Lee, 24-1, 18 KO’s, Chris John, 44-0-2, 22 KO’s, Chris Arreola, 29-2, 25 KO’s, Tavoris Cloud, 21-0, 18 KO’s, Danny Green, 31-3, 27 KO’s, and the list continues with fighters that typically fight in untelevised bouts, or unseen to the American TV eye.
To the credit of ESPN, they have developed ESPN3, an Internet channel featuring bouts that would have been unseen in the states, but that is not enough. SHOBOX is a great idea and features some great bouts, but the dull presentation and commentary have hurt it from becoming a huge success.
The networks must pick up boxing again and with the right promotion, it would bring the casual boxing fans back. I have to believe that boxing is a more important event then American Idol and Glee.
Out with the Old and in with the New
Boxers have a hard time letting go, and sometimes they have the name value to step into any bout that they choose. Bernard Hopkins is a good example. Thankfully, his dreadful bout against a completely shot Roy Jones, JR., did so poorly on Pay Per View that the message was clear. The boxing fans want to see the up and comers, the stars of today, and they don’t necessarily want to see the stars of today pummel the stars of yesterday.
This sort of goes hand in hand with the Network TV category. We need to push the stars of today to a new audience and network TV, if promoted well, would be that audience.
Less Pay Per View
Boxing seems to be the most unfriendly to its fans. Even if a good fight should headline a pay per view, you can bet that the undercard bouts will be a group of mismatches, showcasing the promoter’s prospects. HBO subscribers get raked over the coals as they not only pay the 40 or so a month just to watch the same 10 or so movies played infinitely but to watch the boxing, but on top of that 40 bucks, they must pay another 60 to watch an HBO PPV. You would figure that the HBO subscribers would get a better deal than that.
Fights that could have been picked up by a network but were forced to be on PPV like Holyfield-Botha and Adamek-Maddalone pop up all the time, but at least the price is reasonable and you know what you’re getting. It’s too bad that NBC or the others don’t jump on these and make some money. Boxing used to rule television but is dead in the water now.
These are just a few things that would help the sport in 2011. As of now, it appears that the only thing that can sell is a Manny Pacquiao related event. Local newspapers don’t carry anything on boxing, the news shows don’t speak of it unless it’s bad press like Ricky Hatton doing drugs or Edwin Valero killing his wife. We have to change the perception of boxing to the casual viewer and if we stay the course, we will get the same results. It’s up to the networks, media, promoters, boxers, and fans to make a stand and do what is right in the long run. The year 2011 could be the year that boxing becomes the premiere sport once again. It’s an underdog, but it’s got a shot.