Boxing needs more stars, free events and fewer weight classes
Rather than brave the bars on Saturday, I decided to visit my old roommates and watch UFC 171. During the event, one of the new acquaintances I had just met said she loves the UFC, but “can’t stand boxing.”
I remember having similar conversations with my friend Adam Cronin, a black belt in karate and a fellow UFC fan. He sometimes badgers me about how I am wasting my time watching a sport where “all the guys do is punch each other” and “the belts look funny.”
Although it is not currently the most popular, boxing continues to be a staple in sports.
While MMA grips audiences with its unpredictability and outlandish stars—similar to the way boxing has done in the past—the “Sweet Science” has a richer history.
We recently came off the 50th anniversary of when Cassius Clay, who would later become Muhammad Ali, knocked out Sonny Liston to become the world heavyweight champion.
On the “The Ross Report” podcast, Showtime Championship Boxing commentator Mauro Ranallo said the sport is be due for another rise.
In the last year, the Showtime network has been showing events helmed by major fight promotions. The bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez drew $150 million in revenue from 2.2 million pay per view buys, according to ESPN.
Although the revenue and viewership point to boxing making a comeback, I think there are some aspects of the sport that keep newer fans—and in some cases older fans—from embracing the sport.
One of my favorite parts of boxing are the different backstories you get when you dig into an athlete’s past. Something that boxing seems to lack now are competitors with whom fans can identify.
Boxing has certainly had stars that captivated audiences over the years. Jack Dempsey, James Braddock, Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar de la Hoya to name a few.
At the top of the list is Mayweather, who has become—much to the dismay of fans—the face of boxing. Other competitors like Bernard Hopkins, Manny Pacquiao and Alvarez have helped bring fans back to the ring, but Mayweather reigns supreme though his “flashy” persona and habits outside of the ring tend to turn fans away.
But for every one or two stars, there are hundreds of prospects in the shadows who are waiting for their time to shine. If more fighters are willing to promote themselves on the same level, they could reach new audiences and build themselves.
One element of boxing that confuses fans are the abundance of weight classes and championship titles. I am a fan of having multiple championships because they bring some importance to a match. However, I would be in favor of getting rid of some of the weight classes, specifically the “junior” and “super” divisions.
A third aspect of boxing that could benefit from change is how fight cards are presented to audiences.
Years ago shows like the USA Network’s “Tuesday Night Fights” featured free cards on television. Nowadays, with the exception of ESPN 2’s “Friday Night Fights” and the occasional reality show, boxing events are generally featured on pay per view.
Although life-long fans are willing to shell out $70 for an event, those that have a casual interest in the sport may be turned off at the idea of spending that much money on a card that features two fighters with whom they may be unfamiliar.
Networks or even cable channels should take a chance and show weekly or bi-weekly events to draw in new fans. These cards help boxers—especially prospects who are coming up the ranks—get more experience and exposure.
Broadcasting events on television may drain money from the pockets of some promoters and higher-paid athletes, but the sport maybe be getting new fans who will stick with the sport for many years to come.
Al Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.