Professional boxing has been called the sweet science. It is primal, it is carnal, and it is entertaining. There is a base satisfaction that people receive from watching one man stand in a boxing ring across from another and trade blows until one of them concedes. Boxing was America’s pastime before baseball won that title and before football won the popularity contest. People from all the races, from every religion, and from each generation connect to the sport. Baby boomers would crowd around the radio for each fight, Generation X’ers would sit in front of the television set with family and friends, and today’s boxing fans stream fights onto their laptops and television sets for a ringside view. Boxing serves as a point of national pride for both fighters and fans, serving to unify fan bases behind their pugilist and their country. But, boxing has reached a point where the sport has been corrupted by greed. The sport was always subjected to the avariciousness of promoters, but the egos of the fighters and their greed have combined to make the sport unwatchable.
Promoters have always driven boxing. Boxing stands as one of the few sports where individuals command top dollar for their performance without sharing the spotlight with teammates, trainers, and coaches. Though the same few trainers – D’Amato, Mayweather, Gipson, etc. – seem to hone fighters into champions and into stardom, the boxers drive the market, and therefore earn the money. However, promoters hold all the connections to the biggest fights, so most boxers have to concede most of those big paychecks to their handlers. And, these promoters, like Don King – one of the most lascivious and dirty promoters that ever lived – use their boxers up and exploit them until they stop drawing a big crowd, and then discard them. Promoters are killing boxing because they are no longer looking for the best match ups for their fighters. They are finding the most profitable fights for boxers in the moment instead of building their careers, working with trainers to hone their skills through matches, and ultimately building their resume against good opponents. Tyson was a boxing prodigy training under D’Amato. He had the hand speed of a light weight, but the size and punching power of a heavyweight. Tyson was a brawler who could defend when necessary, and then release a barrage of devastating punch combinations against his opponents. And, because he was not pushed by a promoter like Don King (who he eventually signed with to his detriment) to take on bigger opponents in his earlier fights, he was given time to develop into more of a boxer, rather than just a street fighter. The boxers of this era are given minimal fights against marginal opponents and then rushed into fights against boxers who are more savvied, experienced, and fundamentally sound than they are, rather than being prepared through the gradual processes of training and facing tough but manageable foes. When the boxers inevitably lose their fight against a better trained but less talented opponent, they return to anonymity after the promoter takes all of their money.
The boxers who win against all these odds and continue their boxing careers become overinflated caricatures of themselves, largely through promotion – both through self-promotion and through paid promoters – in order to make more money through sales of HBO tickets and other ventures. The common boxing viewer does not appreciate the roles of boxing style, defensive technique, hand speed, and footwork. These fans only know who wins most of their fights and how many knockouts they have. Therefore, it is more lucrative for a boxer to be an average technical fighter but a good showman than an excellent boxer with a bland personality. The fundamentals of boxing are slowly dissipating and that makes fights slow and sloppy slug fests. Boxers are no longer afforded the time to hone their craft through training and through fights against other skilled boxers, and that propagates the influx of minimally skilled pugilists on the current boxing market. There are fewer capable fighters to contend against the elite ones. Boxers with good punching power and mediocre defense and footwork walk into championship titles against trained fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and get beat soundly.
The few boxers that survive the greed of boxing promoters and make a decent living for themselves in the ring have to protect their product which ultimately means protecting their boxing records. This leads to fighters ducking matches against competitors who can actually beat them and it ultimately hurts the sport by watering down these competitions. Sports only matter if the best teams and players occasionally play against competitors that equal their level. This is the reason that the National Football League dominates ratings during their regular season and the NFL playoffs. The best teams face each other consistently, and there is enough parity in the league for the worst team to beat any other squad on a good day. And, the older guard of the sweet science understood that competition correlates directly with ratings. The boxers of the recent past always fought against the best fighters of their era because they knew that the big fights drove the market. People would flock to see two evenly matched fighters with contrasting styles of boxing because parity fuels the suspense of the fight. This why the contest between Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns, the Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier fights, and Sugar Ray Leonard’s match against Marvelous Marvin Hagler are such iconic battles. The best fighters wanted to make a name for themselves by testing their mettle against evenly matched opponents, beating the best fighters, and collecting the spoils of their win. However, the names of the fighters now drive the market more than their skill level. Current boxers like “Money” Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao never fought each other in their primes because they could make huge paydays without ever fighting each other. Mayweather was more concerned with keeping his perfect record intact and making money from his name than beating the one man with the right natural ability, skill level, discipline, and style to beat him. Pacquiao was too worried about being discovered as a cheat and the split of the Pay-Per-View sales to get into the ring with Mayweather. Mayweather has yet to fight an opponent who had any real chance of beating him. His record now stands at 46-0. Unfortunately, this happens too often. The Klitschko brothers, the two most dominant heavyweights of the past 5-7 years, would not fight each others because they were brothers. Roy Jones Jr. never fought anyone of substance during his prime. The boxers use their power to set up fights that will boost their records without taking a chance against a good fighter.
Both promoters and boxers themselves are killing the sport. The greed of the major players in the sport robs the fans of boxing from seeing the only matches worth paying attention to. It is in a steady decline in ratings, Pay-Per-View viewings, and attendance. Boxing is now being beaten soundly by MMA, baseball, basketball, and of course football in ratings. And, if the selfishness and greed that is inundated in the culture of boxing does not stop soon then the sport will die, and no one will care.