Gone are the glory days of boxing in America. Regardless of what our occasional boxing/MMA contributor, Arnese wants to tell himself, it’s currently a stagnant sport. Mikey lit a twitter fire, because I mentioned on our podcast that the popularity of boxing is affected by it’s lack of television coverage. He also made an attempt to start a #BoxingOnTV hashtag. He also told me to “do real research.” Well, I did (kind of) and now it’s on. Buckle up. This is a long one.
Let’s talk about WHY boxing has stagnated in America.
Boxing receives no MAJOR network coverage.
Mike pointed out that boxing is occasionally on FS1. He even went as far as to tweet a clip with him standing in the background. However, FS1 is not a major network and isn’t included in all (most?) basic cable packages. Aside from the occasional FS1 match, anyone watching boxing is paying for PPV, Showtime or HBO. These are channels that average, blue collar Americans typically do without (we can revisit that later).
In the heyday of boxing, fights were covered by ABC and CBS. Then, as interest dropped, ABC and CBS would only air the biggest fights. Eventually, it became more difficult for the casual fan to watch young boxers develop, which decreased the interest even further. Finally, major networks stopped carrying fights all together. Fox has invested in boxing recently, but as I noted early, they put it on FS1. You’ll never see a boxing match on the primary Fox station. Fox is technically a “network,” but FS1 is not. FS1 is a premium cable channel, generally included when someone purchases a cable sports package. Boxing also gets very little attention from ESPN, the largest provider of sports news. Boxing, as I stated on our podcast has been banished to premium cable or PPV. The same fights, that years ago would have aired in primetime on network TV (ABC, NBC, CBS), now cost fans a small fortune to purchase.
The question therefore has to be posed, has boxing in America become a sport of the elites, like Mike, who can afford premium cable and $70-100+ pay per views?
It’s difficult to even follow the titles and organizations.
Mayweather recently took a photo with like 100 belts in the background (we also talk about this on our podcast), because there’s a million (probably not the exact number) different boxing organizations and titles. Read for your head to spin? Here’s some grade-A-journalism-101-research-shit for you. When the 90’s rolled around, the WBC was basically the gold standard and most legit boxing organization. In the 80’s the same was thought about the WBA, until contract disputes (shout out, unscrupulous promoters) saw the formation of the WBO. Now we have the IBF. But, it appears that everyone (the majority, more casual fans) mainly care about The Ring Magazine belt? Sorry, I just blacked out.
Wow. Is your head spinning yet? Imagine being a casual fan and having to keep all that nonsense straight.
Make America Great Again?
I hate to quote Trump for any reason. But, if you want Boxing to matter again, in America, there needs to be more marquee homegrown talent. Floyd Mayweather is the only American boxing SUPER STAR of recent memory. I’m sure an in-the-weeds boxing fan can quote a million “good” or “great” fighters, but those aren’t household names. Mayweather’s biggest fights were against a boxer from the Philippines. Now, he’s set to fight an Irish MMA star to get another payday. Casual fans. Mass appeal. Boxing needs it or it’s going to remain stagnant.
The talent pool in the U.S. isn’t that deep. The ability for Russian and other eastern European talent to compete on the international stage is now possible. It wasn’t in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, because socialism and communism didn’t allow it. Well, guess what? The rules have loosened and those countries, where boxing is embraced, are putting out world class talent.
Boxing is more competitive, which should be a good thing, but this gives less Americans, Mexicans and Puerto Rican’s the chance to shine. America isn’t putting out stars anymore. North America isn’t dominating the sport anymore. Joe the Plumber isn’t tuning in anymore.
When I was a kid, American boxing greats were household names. Everyone knew who Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and George Forman were. Now, I can name Mayweather and maybe someone that Mike mentions in one of his blogs. Just kidding, I don’t read those.
Boxing was/is a blue collar sport.
Boxing was a blue collar sport, for blue collar Americans. Our grandparents watched their three channel TVs (which actually air boxing), drank black coffee with a side of bacon, built railroads and dug coal mines. We’ve become a culture dominated by the white collar mentality. We do CrossFit, pay $8 for a Starbucks coffee, sit at a computer all day and treat our dogs like people.
Boxing is a brutal sport. We’ve seen what a career in boxing did to our heroes of the past. We watched Muhammad Ali deteriorate and have seen the self destruction of Mike Tyson. Contributing to and creating an old, punch-drunk boxer isn’t a scenario that appeals to many Americans. Boxing is a violent, brutal sport. That’s just reality. Have you ever seen a miss matched fight? It’s not fun to watch. A clearly superior boxer can turn his opponent’s face into hamburger.
Boxing’s popularity has grown in emerging economies. It is and always has been a popular sport for tough, blue collar areas. America used to be a tough, blue collar economy. It’s not anymore. Regardless of what Trump wants to tell you, it’s not. For the most part, America has becoming a white collar leaning country and our youth is not as concerned with being perceived as “tough.”
Our attention span has diminished. Instant gratification has become a staple of our society. A good boxing match can go twelve rounds and a casual fan perceives that as an investment of time. An MMA match consists of three, 5 minute rounds. It was basically (unintentionally, perfectly) modeled for the minds of millennials.
Boxing is great and boxing in America can be great again, but major changes have to be made. Pretending anything different is enabling the problem to continue.
Larry Wilmore form “The Nightly Show” famously asked Mike Tyson what advice he’d give to up and coming boxers.
Tyson said, “Go to MMA.”
Game. Set. Match.
Here’s the podcast that caused this article.
Listen closely or you might miss my off handed comment about Boxing not being on TV.