Okay boxing fans, let’s step back and look at things objectively.
First and foremost, many of our number are very unhappy with the state of our sport right now. We look at the mainstream sporting news and see tons about Michael Phelps, the upcoming NFL season, the UFC, and a million other things, while barely a word is uttered about The Sweet Science. Hell, even the events that hardcore fans should be pumped for, such as Ward vs Kovalev, are leaving us uneasy. Will that particular bout, we wonder, even come to fruition? Like shell-shocked accident victims fearful of venturing outside the door, boxing fans are so accustomed to disappointment when it comes to elite match-ups, we’re afraid to get excited.
And so here we are, with Canelo Alvarez accused of avoiding Gennady Golovkin; Tyson Fury accused of avoiding Wladimir Klitschko; Adonis Stevenson avoiding Kovalev, and Billy Joe Saunders damn near avoiding the sport of boxing altogether. And when even those who earn money reporting about boxing complain about the state of things – and yes, some are now openly complaining – things aren’t good. But, objectively speaking, just how bad are they?
It’s worth noting that there’s an opposing school of thought that argues fans might want to just take a seat and relax. Sit the bad times out and be mature adults about it all. Boxing is boxing, they say, and times will eventually get more exciting. The word “eventually” is key here, however. While the fight world’s more measured voices may have their valid points, customer service remains an important aspect of the fight game, if – as we’re eternally reminded – boxing is indeed a business. Right now, the customers are far from happy.
Again, though, are the customers being fair? Let’s keep in mind that, big as, say, the UFC’s McGregor-Diaz phenomenon is, it hasn’t had nearly the cultural impact, nor the financial windfall, that came with the Manny vs Floyd. What’s more, it appears some of the UFC’s bigger stars have taken a cue from Floyd himself lately. In other words, they want to start calling their own shots. The point? That boxing may indeed simply be going through an acutely rough time in its natural progression, one that the much ballyhooed UFC may find itself in sooner rather than later.
But one thing boxing is most certainly in need of is intrigue, that sense of anticipation which causes people to look forward to the next big fight. And then the next one, and the next one. Back in the day, Frazier beat Ali. Then Foreman beat Frazier. Then Ali beat Foreman. One match logically followed the other and there was a natural progression. But now, Fury beats Klitschko, then Klitschko brings legal action against Fury for dillydallying over the rematch. Or Alvarez beats Cotto and Khan, but won’t fight Golovkin. See the difference? Fans, whether they be of the hardcore variety or the so-called “casuals,” want to see how things will shake out. They’re asking the questions, but unfortunately, boxing isn’t providing the answers. Or if it does, it’s too little, too late.
That’s not true in all cases, of course, but it’s true enough for fans to be legitimately pissed. That said, there’s some very good stuff going on in the sport these days. Roman Gonzalez vs Carlos Cuadras is one example. Soto Karass vs Kamegai II is another. But that said, the simple truth is fans want the biggest names to get it on and when they don’t, they’re pissed off. And they have every right to be.
Take the welterweight division, for example. There is no guarantee the world will ever know who really is the best at 147 right now. In fact, chances are, we won’t. And that division is loaded with big names and potentially all kinds of great match-ups. It’s not hyperbole to claim that’s pathetic. After all, this is a professional sport. The reason it exists is so exciting contests can happen.
Look, I think it’s wrong of people to say boxing should only be about pleasing the fans. That kind of mentality also keeps the best from fighting each other. Saying you want to please the fans can act as an excuse when the best opponent out there is Guillermo Rigondeaux, for instance. The simple truth is there’s no guarantee that any sport can maintain fan loyalty, or that the best match-ups will result in great fights. But there’s also no denying the fact that the best way for a sport to be consistently successful is to consistently offer meaningful competition.
Here, perhaps, is the bottom line: Boxing, already marginalized in North America, is losing even more of its fan base in 2016. Go on Twitter and read what people are saying if you need proof. Longtime fans are not only turning away, they’re publicly broadcasting their departures. Some may think that’s no big deal. But to not even acknowledge that this may be a sign something is seriously wrong is to ignore the evidence.
With all that in mind, it must be said that things will most likely start looking up at some point soon. Once name fighters stop making boatloads for less than challenging fights, they’re going to have to find another way to cash in. And frankly, that’s only going to be by fighting each other. I suspect that boxing’s fan base will continue to shrink before that time comes, however. And, while some may shrug their shoulders, I think that’s truly regrettable. — Sean Crose