“…They emptied themselves, for us, gave up a piece of their lives, for us, thanks guys, this is why we do it.” – Larry Merchant speaking about the Gatti vs. Ward trilogy.
At it’s best a professional boxing ring is to us what the colliseum was to ancient Rome. An exhibition of man’s primal need to compete. Whether it be the playground, gym, playing field, or boardroom, as a species we have a genetic hardwiring to physically prove ourselves. Below is an amazing documentary about the rivalry between 4 of the greatest fighters in history, and how it cemented their legacy and defined an era.
Greatness isn’t a mathematical equation, it isn’t purely about what you achieve, but also how you achieve it and how you made people feel. Historically as that amazing documentary shows, to proclaim yourself to be the best, you needed to prove yourself better than other competitors who had the same pretensions. We’ve now reached a point in the sport of boxing where this seems no longer to be the case.
“I get sick to my stomach that the top fighters today don’t fight the best. Wouldn’t be surprised if Mayweather fights Cotto” – Oscar De la Hoya (Jan 2015)
De la Hoya was ultimately wrong (Mayweather has since signed on and won the fight we all wanted to see vs. Manny Pacquiao) but at the time he was voicing his frustrations about the failed negotiations between his own fighter Canelo Alvarez and Middleweight champion Miguel Cotto. Earlier quotes from Canelo suggested he’d agreed to all of Cotto’s demands, so it begs the question what other obstacle could there be to getting the fight made?
At the time of that quote the richest fight in history was in jeopardy. The two best pound for pound fighters in the world, the same weight division, and the court of public opinion had ruled that the only thing holding the fight up was the unwillingness of one man to put pen to paper…Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
This is symptomatic of how “Money” has managed his career, highest reward for the lowest risk. Picking fighters with a big enough name at the right time in their careers; fighters who don’t represent an unnceccesarily big threat, yet still create enough interest to generate a huge payday. You’d probably do the same if you were guaranteed a minimum $32m every time you fought regardless of the level of opposition.
The problem with this is that other fighters are adopting this career model without realising that Floyd Mayweather is the exception rather than the rule itself.
Who’s to blame? That’s not for me to tell you; that’s for you to decide for yourself and form your own opinion. Multiple organisations, WBC, WBA, WBO, IBF, Interim champions, silver champions, super champions…Too many belts and too many champions.
Boxing itself (by design) is very fragmented with no real cohesive order. So much so that if an individual or an organisation came along and did things differently, they could turn the boxing world on its head. Well that indivdual and organisation are real and are changing the landscape of boxing right before our eyes.
Step forward Al Haymon.
Al Haymon is a Harvard educated Economics graduate who made his name and fortune in the entertainment industry managing MC Hammer, Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige and Eddie Murphy amongst others. Back in 2000, Haymon ventured into boxing managing Vernon Forrest and since then has amassed a client list unrivalled anywhere in boxing, with the jewel in the crown being Floyd Mayweather Jr.
What Haymon has realised and more importantly acted upon, is the nature of boxing means that he can earn his fighters more money for less risky fights. As a fighter who’s professional career is by nature short, dangerous, and not always lucrative, that can be a very attractive proposition. So in this world where lesser fighters earn more money due to larger exposure, everybody wins right? Well no. Haymon wins (obviously), his fighters generally win, but consumers ultimately lose. The reason being spectators are continuously served fights that aren’t the best quality available. In contrast to the UFC where there is one champion and quality match ups are a necessity. The thought process being if theres 1 champion and 20 challengers, the 20 challengers have to fight between themselves to earn a shot at the crown and the champion cannot remain champion without fighting the top challengers. This cannot be said for boxing.
So if we the fans are losing out, what can we do?
Simple answer is to stp watching & stop paying unless they are the quality match ups that we all expect to see. Recently Haymon launched a series on NBC where he has agreed to provide 24 fight dates on network TV in a move that aims a bazuka at Showtime, HBO and the current structure of boxing as we know it.
“He’s promised NBC that he’s going to take his fighters off premium cable … he’s going to put Showtime and HBO out of the puzzle and he’s going to do away with pay-per-view and create an over-the-top network. He’s got the fighters and he’s presumably got the money. I wish him the best and I totally and sincerely mean it. I pray he doesn’t blow it because if he does, we’re not going back to [network TV for a while]. If he’s successful, all the networks will want boxing.”
– Kathy Duva
For me the key line in that quote is “I pray he doesn’t blow it…” If his current busines model is the blueprint of the future, then I fear that’s what’s going to happen. When fans start to reject substandard product, then it becomes a wider problem.
Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”. For the sake of boxing, I hope Al Haymon and his fighters soon come around to that way of thinking.
The best fighters consistently fighting each other, to earn greatness and cement their legacy.
One man more than any other is in a position to make happen.
Al Haymon the future of boxing is in your hands. DO NOT BLOW IT!