Friday, May 11, 2007

Death's Door

There was a major sports spectacle in Las Vegas last weekend. It may very well have been the last of it's kind. Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather fought a championship fight and set the all time pay per view record of just over 2 million. The fight drew more viewers than any Tyson fight or Holyfield bout. Now some of the super fights of the past would probably have been able to do a much higher number, but the technology was not widely available until recently. Can you imagine what Louis Vs. Schmeling would have done? Or the first Ali - Frazier fight? However, it is safe to say that the record will be safe for some time to come.

Oscar De La Hoya is the last real draw in boxing. He has name recognition that goes beyond the hardcore enthusiasts of the sport. Boxing has always had at least one name to carry the sport to the masses. Whether it was Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Ali, Foreman, Duran, Leonard, Tyson, Holyfield or Lewis. There was always at least one boxer that the average man on the street knew. I'm not sure that even the average sports fan would be able to name another boxer besides De La Hoya. The Heavyweight championship, once the most prized possession in sports, is split between five different fighters. Most of them are from the former soviet union. I'm confident that even avid sports fans couldn't name all of the supposed heavyweight champions of the world.

The sport of boxing has become more marginalized as time has gone on. It was a victim of it's own success to a certain extent. Championship fights used to be a staple of TV through the eighties. It was only the rare fight that was shown via close circuit. However, once pay-per-view became a reality, the biggest fights were no longer available on free TV. The consumer had to pay extra to see a big fight. This led to fewer and fewer casual fans watching the sport. Therefore, fewer and fewer people knew the fighters, or cared what happened to them. The pay-per-view model is great in the short run, but for boxing it was the beginning of the end. The sport isn't lacking for great fighters, but so few have been able to capture the imagination of the general public because they just haven't been exposed to them. There are dozens of pay-per-view boxing events in a year, but now they are mostly marketed to the Hispanic viewers. The PPV cards are mainly filled with Hispanic boxers in the lighter weight classes. The fights may be great, but the general public isn't watching.

The Olympics used to provide the springboard for boxing careers in the past. Ali, Foreman, Leonard and De La Hoya, to name a few, have used the Olympic stage as a stepping stone to fame and fortune. This doesn't really happen anymore. The US used to be a dominant player on the Olympic boxing stage, but this is clearly not the case anymore. I may be mistaken, but I believe that De La Hoya is the last American to win an Olympic gold medal. The inner city used to give birth to some of the best fighters in the world. Both Tyson and Riddick Bowe were from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and there were hundreds of others who rose from poverty to riches by following that same path. Kids today don't view boxing in the same way that they used to. It used to be one the only ways out of poverty. Sports still can provide that out, but the kids are much more likely to pick up a basketball than to lace on a pair of boxing gloves.

There are those who would say that boxing is a savage and barbaric sport, if it is truly even a sport at all. They would be happy to see boxing become a thing of the past. I don't necessarily disagree with the fact that boxing is just one step above our caveman beginnings. That doesn't mean that I want to see it disappear. To me boxing is one of the few sports that maintains the essence of what sport is supposed to be. It pits man against man in an athletic competition to determine who is better. There isn't a bat, ball, skate, stick or basket in the way. There are no teammates. It's simply one man against another. There is nothing more pure in sport.

Ultimate fighting is attracting a growing fan base in this country. They have a full slate of PPV events every year and can lay claim to as much revenue from the bouts as the WWE (wrestling) pulls in each year. UFC has multiple shows running on free TV to spark interest in their mega fights which they stage in a PPV event. It seems to be working for them. Perhaps boxing could take a page out the UFC's book in order to build up their audience. The problem with boxing is that no one is really in control. There are governing bodies in each state, that have no national component. There are multiple sanctioning bodies which has led to multiple champions in each division. The sanctioning bodies are also ripe with corruption and have been manipulated at times by unscrupulous promoters.

What boxing really needs is a commissioner and an international governing body. They could determine what was best for the sport and perhaps bring it back to relevance. Unfortunately that is probably never going to happen. There are simply too many people who stand to make too much money in the short run. They have no motivation to take the long view of the sport when there's money to made today. They don't care about the sport of boxing, just the money that boxing can make them. That may very well be the attitude that dooms boxing in the future to being nothing but a sideshow in the sports arena.

Of course if another Tyson or Ali were to come along...



Blogger Sandy said...

The Lamon Brewster versus Sergei Liakhovich fight last year was really the last heavy weight fight that I've seen that had me on the edge of my seat. There's one obvious reason why lower weight classes have continued to draw fascination in recent years: speed. Even in UFC and the various Mixed Martial Arts leagues that are sprouting up all over cable that you mentioned, it's only in the light heavy and middle weight classes that you see any rhythm, form and strategy that is an exhibition of something other than brute contest.
Here's the Top 20 as far as the Heavy weight class in boxing is concerned:
1. Vladimir Klitschko
2. Oleg Maskaev
3. Samuel Peter
4. Shannon Briggs
5. Ruslan Chagaev
6. Sergei Liakhovich
7. Lamon Brewster
8. Nicolay Valuev
9. Chris Byrd
10. James Toney
11. Calvin Brock
12. Hasim Rahman
13. Evander Holyfield
14. Luan Krasniqi
15. John Ruiz
16. Sultan Ibragimov
17. Juan Carlos Gomez
18. David Tua
19. Fres Oquendo
20. Monte Barrett

4:09 PM  
Blogger bookfreakchick said...

Why oh why doesn't anyone recognize Calzaghe? He's. . .awesome. And even someone without a Y-chromosome call see his talent. Now if we can just get him to fight a bit more outside of Wales. . .

4:38 PM  

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