There, I said it. I feel better now. I’ve been feeling this way for years but after this past couple of weeks, I’ve finally come to grips with my sentiments regarding the sport. You see, I really enjoy this sport – when its good. But lately, it just hasn’t been very good at all. It’s been quite the opposite. And that has made it very tough to be a fan. But there were a few key straws that finally broke my back over this thing.
The first straw came when I was realized I had completely missed the rematch of Sylvester Stallone’s boxing reality show, The Contender. It was scheduled to be a live full boxing match between the winner of the first bout, Sergio “The Latin Snake” Mora and “The Pride of Providence” Peter Manfredo Jr. When I finally found the results online, I read the recap of the match, which had ended with a controversial decision. Typical.
The second straw came when Vitali Klitchko, the one heavyweight fighter I cared about, retired due to back and neck injuries. So now the one universally recognized champion was gone, leaving an open division with three different title holders, one of which is John Ruiz. Put another way, think of your favorite sport. Now think of the worst team in that sport’s premier league. Now imagine that team somehow becoming the champion of that league and somehow defending the title year after year with the most boring playing style you can imagine. That’s John Ruiz.
Even worse is that the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Klitchko wasn’t even that exciting as a fighter, compared to the heavyweight champions that preceded him. To use another analogy, it’s like being in a class with a bunch of homely looking girls. Suddenly, every guy in that class is drooling over a girl that in other situations would be considered average at best. Klitchko is that girl…although I’d never say that to his face.
The third straw came when I went to a couple of sports websites, looking for boxing news. In all three sites I went to, the top story was Mike Tyson…on three different occasions. Mike is on a “goodwill” tour in some former Soviet country that has way too many consonants in a name that ends in “___istan.” Then the Tyson Tour 2005 makes a stop in London and a fight breaks out in the crowd. Then the Tour heads south to Brazil where Mike confesses his respect for Diego Maradona and then gets arrested for assaulting a cameraman. Oh and don’t forget Mike and Bobby Brown singing “Monster Mash” on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Actually, that was pretty good. But the point is the biggest newsmaker in the sport for almost an entire month is an ex-champion whose personal life is more interesting than anything else in boxing. It’s not Mike’s fault either. He’s still a big draw and when he fights, he’s still probably the biggest draw in the once great heavyweight division. I just think it’s a sad reflection on the sport when stuff like this is the biggest news.
The fourth and final straw came as a result of watching two solid UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) cards. The last one I saw was a pay-per-view event and featured five main card fights and four of the five delivered solid entertaining matches. In fact, I’ve watched most of the UFC pay-per-view events (as well as most of those from it’s counterpart in Japan, Pride Fighting Championships) and they’ve all left me satisfied and never cheated like I have been with a lot of boxing cards. Boxing is hit and miss as to whether you will see an entertaining match. The boxing cards are usually built to focus only on the main event – one fight – whereas MMA (mixed martial arts) have full cards with two or three “must see fights,” which means better odds for good matches and better value for your dollar.
So that’s what did it for me. This led me to my “boxing sucks” conclusion. But then I got to thinking about what went wrong with boxing. Well, there are several things, all of which are related to the four straws I just listed.
Problem 1: Too Many Belts
There are too champions in the same weight classes because there are too many governing bodies, each with their own corruptible ranking systems that determine different number champions and number one contenders so you never really know who is the champ and who is the challenger. Long sentence, I know but I’m ranting so cut me some slack. In fact, I could go on and on about just this topic but remember the days when you could name the champions and challengers in each of the weight classes and debate match ups and fantasy fights? (Ok, maybe I’m the only one who did that.) Well now you can’t even name the heavyweight champ or middleweight champ. The WBC champion is one guy, the IBF champion is another guy and the WBA guy is yet another guy. WBC champ may fight WBA champ but IBF guy has to fight another guy because if he doesn’t fight some no name guy from Europe that somehow became a number one contender, he’ll be stripped of his belt. It gives me a headache just writing about it, leading to a “who cares?” attitude. Belts mean nothing to me anymore so all I look for is a good one on one matchup, read the results and wait for the television replay a week later.
The sport really needs one top league, like the boxing equivalent of the NFL, NBA, or NHL. This league needs to be closely governed by an unbiased committee and corrupt promoters need to be kept out. Right now, it looks like the best option would be for either HBO or Showtime, the two major pay-per-view boxing providers, to form their own leagues and sign fighters, taking promoters and managers out of the picture and making and promoting matches in house.
Problem 2: Suspicious Decisions and Suspicious Referees
I don’t know how many times I’ve watched a boxing match that was very one sided and heard a decision that just robbed the guy who should have won. I’ve also watched several fights where a referee did things like issue continual warnings to one fighter while letting the other fighter get away with lots of dirty tricks or stop a fight way too early.
See the solution to Problem 1.
Cards that focus on one fight are too big of a risk. You pay $50 to basically watch one fight, which could or could not deliver.
Easy, load up the card: two big main event fights, one fight with a champion taking on a somewhat obscure but still threatening challenger and a couple of fights featuring up and coming fighters. Suddenly there is more value for dollar and less risk of fans being disappointed. Unfortunately with 12 round fights, a card like this would probably last about 12 hours, so I have no point.
The referees can’t push the action. If it’s a boring fight, the best a ref can do is encourage the fighters to go. But if one guy runs or one guy just clutches and holds, they’re really pretty powerless to do a lot.
In Japan, Pride referees can “card” a fighter. What this means is that if the ref decides a fighter isn’t working hard or doing what he’s getting paid to do, he’ll flash the fighter a yellow card, which results in a 10% reduction of that fighter’s purse. There is no limit to how many cards one fighter can get. Not a bad motivator and it usually works.
The premier division of the sport, heavyweight, is a joke. The champions suck and there are hardly any good fighters. I acknowledge that part of the problem lies with other sports like football paying athletes better money without the risk of their brains turning into something resembling rice pudding. However, I refuse to believe that there aren’t enough fighters around to make this division interesting. Remember when heavyweight champion of the world was THE marquis title in sports? Can you even name the heavyweight champion now?
Also, lately it seems like the division is dominated by giant lumbering guys who look like they are fighting in slow motion. Watching this is in stark contrast to the legendary heavyweights of the past who move like middleweights by comparison.
Once again, refer to the solution to Problem 1. Also, more credibility needs to be given to a super heavyweight division where these 6’8″ 270 lb. guys can throw bombs at each other. That would be interesting. Then cap the heavyweight class at about 220 lbs.
One final related note takes us back to the topic of MMA. I really think this sport is doing all of the right things that boxing isn’t and is far more entertaining because of the various mixed fighting styles. Mark my words, in our lifetime, this sport will eclipse boxing as the premier combat sport.
Ok, that’s it. I’m spent. I don’t even have the juice left to edit this beast. If you made it this far, thanks for joining me on this rant. I needed to get this off my chest. It’s all left me with the same stunned, disappointed and betrayed look Mel Gibson had in Braveheart when he realizes the Scottish guy betrayed him in his quest to free his homeland. Obscure reference, I know but go watch that scene and know how I feel as a boxing fan.