(Note: This article was previously contributed to BTG)
Back in January of 2014, boxing was on a “rumble young man rumble” type of pace but derailed somewhere along the way. Was it the “Fight of The Century” that wasn’t, the return to network television that lacked the intrigue of yesteryear, or maybe that quite often, most coveted matchups occurred on social media rather than in the squared circle? No matter the reasons ….it’s time to take another look at the state of the game, circa 2017.
We can link the state of the game to many areas of the sweet science but to get down and dirty into our systematic inquiry, we’ll focus only on a few key areas. Areas that have hit the sport with a perfect counter shot to score a knockdown but also areas that are strong and have the sport coming off the canvas.
Any questions from the challenger’s chief seconds? Any questions from the champion’s chief seconds?
Let’s Get It On, Come On………………….!!!!
Let’s start with the positive. If there is one area that will sustain the sport it is the matchups with the best fighting the best. We had flashes of it closing out 2016, Andre Ward v. Sergey Kovalev, and Vasyl Lomachenko v. Nicholas Walters (at least at the onset). We’ve had a great start to 2017, James DeGale v. Badou Jack, Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton II with the trilogy now inevitable, and the upcoming Danny Garcia v. Keith Thurman and Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko donnybrooks. This is what is right about the game.
Sure, the lack of the coveted Gennady Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez matchup is frustrating but outside of that the sport seems to moving in the right direction. There are great fighters all over the divisional landscape, Kell Brook, Errol Spence Jr, The Charlo Brothers, Terance Crawford, Gervonta Davis, Tevin Farmer, Mickey Garcia, Ievgen Khytrov, Shawn Porter, Gary Russell Jr, Naoya Inoue, Artur Beterbiev, Gilberto Ramirez, Jorge Linares….Obviously there are some pretty big names left off the list but done so intentionally to show that the talent pool is rich even without some of the bigger names in the sport listed.
Some great Potential matchups in 2017 or beyond-
Brook v Spence, Gonzalez v. Yafai, Ward/Kovalev/Stevenson, Russell Jr. V Santa Cruz, Lomachenko v. Rigondeaux, Crawford v. Broner, Charlo (Jermall) v. Lara, Eubank Jr v. Lee, Selby v. Frampton, Ramirez v. DeGale…and on and on..great stuff.
And what of Lomachenko?…. the state of the game is solid with this pugilist that is part throwback, part present day, and quite frankly, something from the future. In the top ten pound for pound rankings after only eight fights? Deservedly so and unheard of.
Additionally, very excited for the prospects, keep an eye on up and coming fighters Diego De La Hoya, Josh Taylor, Erickson Lubin, Mark Magsayo, Mario Barrios, and Caleb Plant just to name a few.
The continued revival of women’s boxing would be a good thing as well. Amanda Serrano, Ava Knight, Heather Hardy, and Claressa Shields all have skill sets that are every bit as good as their male counter parts. In 2016, there were positive signs that women’s boxing was on the rise. If the women’s divisions can mirror the success of their UFC counterparts, that would be amazing.
Boxing could benefit from more tournaments in the divisions. The Super-Six put a jolt in the sport, and the Boxino Tournaments have been highly successful in sorting out the second tier of talent and providing a spring board for the winners. Tournaments would force the matchups people want to see and currently there are plenty of divisions that would benefit from them.
As salivating as the matchups and tournaments are, they are contingent upon the promotional companies and networks sorting out their differences so that we can get where we want to be. Regrettably, profits will always drive this argument, it’s a business. You’ve heard the nonsense, this one can’t fight that one because this company’s fighter can’t fight that company’s fighter and they fight on specific and rival networks so …blah blah blah. Sadly, the state of the game will suffer until we get more cohesion among these entities.
We cannot leave this section without talking about The Notorious CMG, Mo Money Mo Problems…
If you’re a fan of the linguistic arts of reality rap, that opening did not go unnoticed and you got the pun. The Floyd Mayweather vs. Connor McGregor scrap will most likely happen; however, this does not strengthen the state of the game, it weakens it. Mayweather just about made it a done deal in a ringside interview this past weekend stating “It can happen…….give the fans what they want to see”
Quite frankly, there are many, many worthy opponents on the boxing side that should get the shot at the Pound For Pound King before The Notorious One. McGregor is a true champion in his world of MMA and a top pound for pound king in his sport as well; however, he has not paid his dues in the boxing world coming up through the gatekeepers and contenders to earn this right. If he wants mo money, he’ll get mo problems. Mayweather will not lose a round to him in a boxing ring; conversely, if they fought in the octagon, Money would probably go to sleep or get submitted, different disciplines that should stay in their own lane. I know, I get it, it’s a money making sideshow that will happen, boxing vs. MMA has been kicked around from time to time but boxing doesn’t need MMA.
State of The Game Grade-Matchups & Fighters- A-
Ah yes, everybody’s favorite topic. Why is it that every time there is a close fight it was a “robbery”? Can there ever be a close fight without an uproar? Apparently not. The minute a close fight ends the losing fighter’s faithful takes to social media almost immediately to vilify the judging. Scoring cannot be an exact science when combined with the human element.
You would think that it would be easy enough to score fights based on the areas you assume are being scored: affective aggression, ring generalship, defense, and hard clean punching but maybe something is amiss with the concept. Scoring four areas seems odd considering a ten point must system. Four does not go into ten or nine so if rounds are scored in four categories why is the winner awarded ten and the loser nine? How can the overview of four competencies subjectively be given a ten or nine? What if you have a round where neither fighter does anything which we all know happens from time to time? Ten points would still be awarded to a pugilist that did not exhibit effectiveness in any of the categories.
If scoring is generally based upon the four categories, why wouldn’t you score each category for every round giving the winner of the category a point and the loser of the category none? Deductions due to fouls and knockdowns would still be scored the same way but at the end of the fight. That would surely put the onus on the judges to justify their card and own it.
As a few ring side commentators have been known to say, “Which fighter would have rather been? That is who probably won the round”. Not entirely a bad perspective; however, you could argue that some judges may be operating in that fashion today, which is why in a close fight, at times, the cards are all over the place. Personal preference of who they would rather be in a close fight is most likely the reason majority decisions are generally the outcome of these types of fights. At least two of the three will always choose the same fighter.
Maybe being at ringside is not in the best interest of judging a fight. They are below the action and look upwards with obstructions in their view they must navigate. If a judge cannot see the fighter because of their positioning, a punch may land that only one judge sees. If that happens enough times in a round and over the course of the fight, the cards will be off. Crowd noise may also be an influential contributor as judges may be swayed by what they hear in a given scenario, you would hate to think that it happens but again, they are human. Maybe the solution is to put the judges in separate rooms with a monitor and no sound so they can score the fight without outside influence with the best view in the house, not to mention the availability of instant replay. A bit farfetched but a thought nonetheless.
This is not to imply that there have not been some downright travesties with regards to scoring…. Pacquiao v. Timothy Bradley I comes to mind. A fight scored so terribly it prompted some of these comments:
“It’s either corruption or incompetence. There’ll be a rematch. It speaks to the corruption of the sport. The criminals will be rewarded” –ESPN‘s Teddy Atlas
“People, a great sport is now on a respirator. Boxing is presently a polluted playing field in every respect. Tonight was par for the course.” – Lou DiBella
“It was one of the most outrageous decisions I’ve ever seen.” – ESPN‘s Dan Rafael
Did Bradley really have the advantage for most of the fight in the aforementioned categories? Can you make a case that two of the judges would have rather been Bradley? Unlikely.
And, last year’s Ward v. Kovalev chess match? It’s not often that we get two top five pound for pound fighters squaring off, what an event, what a show it will be! A match fought at the highest of levels, a 50/50 fight that would most likely end up in the judge’s hands. Oh no………
This fight was far from a robbery. It was a very close fight but what about the tenth round? It seems that everyone gave the tenth to Kovalev, everyone that is except the judges???? How can that be?
It is sad that before big fights occur or while close fights are happening, we all cringe at the fact that the judges may come into play. Our comfort level should be at ease if we go to the cards, not the other way around. We expect the rightful winner to be announced. It is understood that the judges and the masses may not be in agreement in very close fights but until the scoring system is cleaned up and clearer the sport will continue to suffer in this area. Maybe, we need someone to lead a remedial training program for judges having difficulty with their scoring, or at the very least some type of in-service annual training.
State of the Game Grade- Judging C
There was a time when holding a belt meant something, one champion in each division. It was the prized possession that was obtained through hard work and beating a long line of contenders for the right to face the baddest man in the division. Today, alphabet soups, with champions, super champions, interim champion, and lineal champions, with over sixty belt holders through seventeen weight classes, the term “champion” has been diluted.
A step in the right direction may be the work being done by The Transitional Boxing Rankings Board. Formed in 2012, this Board consisting of over fifty members representing over nineteen countries aims to provide authoritative top-ten rankings while identifying a singular world champion per division and insisting on the sport’s reform. The Board’s membership includes respected boxing journalists and record keepers who utilize strict reasoning and common sense to carry out their mission.
If boxing can benefit from taking a page from the UFC, it would be here. The UFC has eight weight classes with eight champions for men and three and three for the women. They consistently have solid matchups because contenders must fight each other to earn the right to face the champion and it is less about the “0” and more about the game. This also forces the fighters to remain active. In boxing today, there is way too much inactivity from the top fighters.
Again, there was a time when the sweet science operated in this fashion and only time will tell if the UFC ends up where boxing is now but too many weight classes and champions are not good for the sport.
A few related parting shots …….
Catch Weight Fights- End this now, if the fighters want a piece of each other and neither is willing to go to the other’s weight, compromise, fight twice, once each at the true weight class of both. If the weights are too far apart then you may look at a compromise but often times there is far too much squabble over working out the differences.
Rehydration Clauses- What is the value of a belt won at welterweight when the fight night weight of the victor is that of a super middle? Rehydration clauses and the enforcement of such must get better. A few pounds over the limit on fight night is fine but another weight class or four is laughable.
State of the Game Grade–Divisions/Belts- D
I’ll have to admit, when the PBC concept was launched, I grabbed the microphone and said “I’d like to thank Al Haymon too!”. Bringing boxing back to network television was a no brainer and great direction in righting the ship. While there were some very good fights, the majority were poor matchups which hurt the model. In addition, network time for the PBC was everywhere but again, the matchups did not sustain the brand.
Golden Boy Promotions threw a 300 million lawsuit against Haymon in 2015 with allegations of antitrust law violations. In the suit, Golden Boy alleged several things to include a violation of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act which by law makes it illegal to serve as both a manager and promoter. Wait, what? I thought he was an advisor? J In addition, Top Rank Promotions also filed suit against Haymon in 2015 for basically the same violations to include attempts to monopolize the game.
Several months after Top Rank filed their suit, a federal judge ruled that it failed to prove that Haymon had any economic power in the game and ruled that Top Rank could re-submit which they did. Top Rank and Haymon reached an undisclosed settlement last year which led most to believe that embargos between the two companies may soon be lifted allowing significant fights to be made.
Last week, the presiding judge granted a motion for summary judgment in Haymon’s favor regarding the Golden Boy suit.
Good for Haymon on both accounts. He was attacked from the beginning and almost wasn’t given a fair chance. He’ll continue to build on what he started which is a win for the sport.
One positive thing after the court’s decision was a statement by a Golden Boy spokesman who told ESPN, “Obviously disappointed with the judge’s ruling. However, our top priority at Golden Boy is putting on the best fights for the fans and promoting the best shows in the business. We will continue to focus our energies on working with anyone and everyone to make the best fights happen.”
Hmm…working with anyone and everyone, let’s hope it happens with all three.
State of The Game Grade Promotions- F (Until all companies play nice in the sandbox and thaw the Cold War)
State of The Future
Boxing is at a crossroads. If you have followed the sport your entire life or a considerable amount of time, you know there is a different feel now, you can’t quite put your finger on it but something is different. There was a time that just about every fight would get your blood pumping, now that feeling occurs at random times. As you read that, you began thinking back to those special fights that hold a fond place in your memory bank. You can hear the sounds of the crowd, you can vividly remember the announcers calling the fight, the knockdowns, the knockouts, the sweet science of the game and oh my, the personalities. Where have they gone?
The sport was carried in the past by colorful characters that could fight and would light up a room with their presence…..“I am the greatest…”but now you’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of boxing fans who know who the champions are, let alone the heavyweight champion. Deontay Wilder is virtually unknown even in the USA outside of boxing circles. Anthony Joshua, Joseph Parker?…Forget it
There was a time when everyone knew who the heavyweight champion was, that’s how boxing ruled the world. After that, the other divisions fell into place with their own stars among household names.
Over the last ten years, there have been just a few names that have carried the sport outside of the normal circles. You could argue that Mayweather , Pacquiao, Saul Alvarez and the Klitschko brothers were known to non fans and casual fans alike. Sure there were more, Jones Jr. Calzaghe, Mosley, Hopkins, Trinidad, Cotto, but unlikely household names.
Where will the next generation of stars/personalities come from to sustain the sport?
With different types of combat sports and outrageous contracts in the big four (football, baseball, basketball and hockey), most athletes suitable for a career in boxing will choose a different path. In addition, generations may have a bit to do with it. The millennial generation wants instant gratification, they “gotta have it now” and they grew up on technology with helicopter parents. They were indoors more than out and if they didn’t make the team because they lacked the work ethic and discipline, that’s ok, mommy and daddy would talk to the coach and “fix things”.
You don’t play boxing, everyone does not get a ribbon, and you can’t be saved by the whirlybird when you’re on the end of a one-two. As such, this new generation is less and less likely to sustain tomorrow’s stars. That said, you will still have the athletes that have to fight to win at life and stay alive in the inner city, away from drugs and a life of crime. Some will find solace in the gym and become champions; as the reality of the inner city does not discriminate against generations.
The fan base of boxing has been declining steadily, again, most likely due to the change in generations. Other combat sports have drawn the attention of the millennials. These sports are more in tuned with the newer generations. Fast passed, happening in the now and they don’t have to wait to see their stars in action once or twice a year.
Boxing needs a strategic planning committee and forward thinkers leading the charge, a regulatory agency with oversight on reform. Clean up the judging and decrease the number of champions and title holders, mandate that all promotional companies will work together for the common good of the game and maybe, just maybe, the current and future generations will navigate their way back for the love of the game.
The sport has always survived and will continue to do so; it just needs a better cut man in its corner.