The reports of boxing’s untimely demise, sadly, have not been exaggerated. As one sits for the post-mortem, it becomes clear that what killed boxing, the beloved sweet science, has everything to do with prodigal selfishness and greed. Indeed, boxing and its fighters and fans have been exploited and pimped to death. It is no longer about quality match-ups, it is all about the money baby. The sweetness as well as the science has finally given way to the stunning greed behind it all.
Back in the day when fighters were real men, not the fancy effeminate businessmen masquerading as fighters today, they would fight all comers. While it has always been prize fighting, the real men of a by-gone era took a great deal of pride in being known as the baddest men in their respective divisions. It was the norm to have fighters with well over a hundred fights and in some cases over two-hundred in their careers. And all, to a person, expected to lose somewhere along the way because they fought all comers.
Today, as the lust for money controls a given fighter’s career fans see that the good fights are extremely hard to come by. Amir Khan for example recently complained that there are so many promotional companies and TV interests/contracts that he could not fight any of his top choices. Of course Khan is notorious for avoiding good fighters so his complaint, though correct in letter, reeks of hypocrisy. It is true that the fragmentation, in terms of governing bodies, promotional companies and TV interests, make it nearly impossible to match the best fighters with each other.
One of the good things that have come out of boxing these last few decades has been the profit-sharing that earlier fighters like Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Robinson did not enjoy. Back in the day matchmakers and promoters were keeping the bulk of the profits and fighters were fighting for relative scraps. Muhammad Ali personally and unilaterally changed the economic landscape for not only boxers but for athletes in every other professional sports competition.
In the post-Ali renaissance boxers have been muscling in on not only the profits, but the promotions themselves. But what has followed is what greed always produces; indeed, a post-mortem on what killed boxing as detailed in the prodigal focus on bottom-line profitability at the expense of pure unmitigated, fan-friendly competition. Back in the day, fighters were more about blood-lust, blood-letting and destroying one’s competition than the girlish focus on money, hairstyles and wardrobes we see today. Talk to Mike Tyson, a self-styled and rather impressive boxing historian in his own right, about the difference between today’s fighters and match-ups and those of yesteryear.
Capitalists by definition help the economy but through the greed that capitalism breeds inevitably ends up killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Enter Don King then later Bob Arum, both have been accused in the post Muhammad Ali era of going old-school on their fighters and taking what rightfully belongs to their fighters. Floyd Mayweather Jr. for example left Arum because he felt that Arum was looking out for himself rather than his charge. This of course is the same Mayweather who accused HBO, once-upon-a-time, of offering him slave wages in their contract negations. Say what one will about Mayweather but he ratcheted up what Ali did and made even more money available to the great fighters than what was before.
Mayweather and the current crop of top fighters however are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of fighters barely eke out a living with the leeches and blood-suckers that dot the boxing landscape, caring less about fighters than their own profit margins. Boxing is struggling today not because it is less exciting than what the UFC puts on but because firstly, fans stand witness to fighters who are soft, who want more money for doing less, and have become prima-donna’s along the lines of an Adrian Broner. As the prototypical post-modern fighter Broner is a Mayweather wanna-be without the skill set to match his ego and greed. Punked by Marcos Maidana he yet continues to represent a false-bill-of goods to a public that is well past tired of the circus. Secondly, if one were to look at the range of boxing governing bodies, promotional and media interests one discovers that things are profoundly and shockingly fragmented, and with so little money to go around, proper fights simply will not be made.
Many are looking to the UFC and Dana White for answers to what ails boxing. This past weekend UFC put on a card where every single fight was well matched, best-against-the-best, and compelling to the point that and every single round was draw-dropping for its demonstration of raw fighting skill and determination. If a fan was inclined to put down money for the card he/she did not go away disappointed. The same cannot be said for the vast majority of boxing pay-per-view cards including the much-anticipated Mayweather-Pacquiao match-up.
Boxing fans are leaving boxing in droves and while there was big money thrown around in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight that event may well prove to be anomalous. In the end, greed and wimpy fighters killed boxing and until it mans up and starts doing business in the manner UFC is doing business it will never, like Lazarus, find resurrection. Look at the men and women that dot the MMA landscape; tough does not begin to define their level of dedication to their art form. Put Broner in with any male (or female) MMA artist of similar weight and it is “good night sweet prince.”
Curiously enough it is one Al Haymon who may prove to be the source of Lazarus’s resurrection, and the post-mortem and details of what killed boxing might well become exaggerated. With his new league, one that looks for all the world to be patterned after the way UFC does business, we may finally see resolution. While Haymon is vilified, lambasted and lampooned, he may well be on to something. His fighters enjoy excellent, market-value purses, his fights of late have been well-matched and his ratings are generally good. While it can be argued that Haymon has himself obstructed the best fights being made, as more fighters sign with him he can control boxing in the same way Dana White and UFC controls its fighters. And if this past weekend of UFC competition is any indicator, a true boxing fan can only root for Haymon’s success.
Opinion By Matthew R. Fellows
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Photo Courtesy of akahawkeyefan’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License