2016 was to many a really shit year. A lot of great things happened but i think it’s safe to say that last year will not be remembered as a vintage year. We lost a lot of great people, in many different industries. Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and the list goes on…
In the fight game we saw the passing of two all time greats, Muhammad Ali passed away forever and Floyd Mayweather Jr retired (until further notice). Two very different people, two contrasting losses, but combined, both occasions give us an opportunity to reflect on this beautiful sport we love.
Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. If you disagree with that then you don’t know boxing. Simple. An elegant fighter who’s legacy will live on long after the man himself, and whose influence will be seen in the sport of boxing for generations to come. Muhammad Ali represents a golden age of boxing, not just for the quality of fighters; Foreman, Frazier, Norton, etc. but the fact that all of those hall of fame calibre fighters fought each other…at their peak. In a time when there was one champion in each weight, to be the best you had to beat the best. A situation which is not too different to the UFC today. Multiple weights, many contenders jostling for position and the opportunity to fight for the throne but crucially, only one champion. This produced a different breed of fighter, one who wasn’t so transfixed by remaining unbeaten. Put simply fighters in the Ali era were not afraid to put their record on the line because it simply didn’t matter as much as testing your skills against the best people in your division.
Why? Because in those days that was the only way you were going to succeed.
Somewhere along the line things changed, the fight business evolved, priorities shifted and we’re knee deep in an era where preserving your “0” is more important than being part of career and era defining fights that live long in the memory.
Nobody represents this era better than Floyd Mayweather Jr. Money Mayweather “retired” (for the right check he’ll be back) with a perfect 49-0 resume. Tying Rocky Marciano for the best record in the history of boxing. Talent wise Floyd Mayweather should go down as one of if not the greatest fighter of all time. The problem is his resume just doesn’t stack up. When you look closer, and put all his fights within the context of when they happened, you start to look at Floyd in a different light. He IS the undisputed TBE of the boxing game, a man who had a style, persona, and brand which economically exploited the boxing community better than anyone in the history of the sport. He and Al Haymon together have played the fight game like a world class orchestra and in the process laid down a blueprint for the success of generations of fighters, but ironically, they’ve probably also opened the door to the demise of boxing as a sport.
I get it, boxing is a brutal brutal sport. A mental and physical battle between two men who are each trying to impose their will on the other for two reasons…1) money and 2) to see who is better. That’s IT no other reasons and In that order. It is not for me to denigrate a boxer for putting money ahead of a sporting spectacle. There is no boxing fighters union, it is a lonely and solitary sport, once a fighter is done and is no longer useful, the media, fans, promoters, and managers will disappear so it is up to the fighter to look out for no.1
If I had a son and he wanted to get into boxing, I would be in his corner and would make sure he modelled his career on Floyd Mayweather Jr and that’s both fighting style and career business model-maximum revenue for minimum risk and punishment. However in life there are consequences and trade offs to every decision you make; and going down this route means you disqualify yourself from genuinely being TBE or The GOAT. And here’s why…we remember Muhammad Ali as the greatest not purely because of WHAT he achieved but also and more importantly HOW he did it. Ali vs. Frazier (1,2 or 3), Ali vs. Foreman, Ali vs. Liston; era and career defining fights against bigger and tougher opponents who you’re not supposed to beat. Not because they represent the easiest payday but because they were the best fights out there and they paid enough money to make them viable and worthwhile.
The UFC has figured this out brilliantly. one champion at each weight, One organisation who choses when fights happen and who fights who. Can this work in boxing? I believe the answer is an unequivocal YES. Is it easy to implement, absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing. With PBC, Al Haymon has effectively created the foundation for this to happen, and I believe firmly believe that Haymon’s end game is to create just that. Check out this previous article on Al Haymon –> Al Haymon – Puppet Master
The Ring magazine has an unofficial “champion” at each weight, however this status is very political and isn’t necessarily directly earned in the ring. Having an official organisation and making the status a prize to be earned in the ring is better for fans, better for the fighters, and better for the sport of boxing.
We go deeper into this subject in our “Story to Tell” podcast. Make sure you check it out and get involved in the discussion.
That being said…here are the Top “unconfirmed” fights we’d like to see in 2017.
Canelo vs. GGG
When you give up a belt and give the excuse that your body isn’t ready for the weight…and then proceed to accept another fight at the weight above, it’s obvious to the world that you’re ducking. For the record I don’t believe that it is Canelo who is ducking, I think Oscar De la Hoya is protecting his cash cow and milking it for as long as he can. This needs to end in 2017.
Andre Ward vs. Kovalev II
Possibly the most important match up in boxing since Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Billed as a decider of the No.1 P4P winner the first fight was a damp squib for the casual crossover boxing fan. It turned out to be an ugly dogfight with two high level fighters in their prime playing chess with boxing gloves. Not the action packed spectacle needed to be a cross over hit. Andre Ward is the best fighter on the planet and it’s a damn shame he isn’t appreciated as highly as his talent deserves. The rematch will be heavily anticipated and hopefully it’s a bigger commercial success than the first one.
Vasyl Lomachenko vs. any top fighter
Vasyl “Hi Tech” Lomachenko is flat out gifted. There are some people in life who look like they were touched by god to specifically do what they do. Their movement is different, everything seems so effortless, so smooth, they anticipate things 3 steps ahead of everyone else. Cristiano Ronaldo is an all time great but his success is engineered to the point that it is abundantly clear his achievements are down to work ethic and sheer force of will. Lionel Messi is a man who produces the same (if not better) results, in such a way that he makes it easy to overlook the hours of work he puts in day in day out, simply because he make it look so easy. Vasyl Lomachenko is the Lionel Messi of boxing. Rigondeaux, Carl Frampton, Leo Santa Cruz, there are many big fights out there for him. Lets hope he gets the platform to prove it but we could be looking at the greatest fighter of all time!
Kell Brook vs. winner of Danny Garcia vs. Keith Thurman
Danny Garcia takes on Keith Thurman in March and some people will view the winner of that fight as the No.1 Welterweight in the world. Those people will be wrong. Kell Brook is the best fighter in the division, he needs an elite level fighter to have the balls to sign on the dotted line and fight him. Eddie Hearn needs to put the money up and get the deals done, Kell Brook’s talent deserves it and so do boxing fans.
Kell Brook vs. Amir Khan
Too many years, too much talking and not enough punching. These two guys genuinely do not like each other and finally it looks like they can settle it once and for all. It would be a massive fight in the UK and with the right card would sell out Wembley Stadium. Amir Khan is an average fighter but he always comes to fight and always brings excitement. Kell Brook is an elite level fighter who needs big fights to get the recognition his talent deserves. Eddie Hearn…MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. There isn’t a more prestigious title in the world of sport. This potential fight would be for all the marbles. Stylistically this would be an amazing match up; two knockout artists, evenly matched in height, weight, and most physical attributes. The results would be explosive must see TV. I can’t wait.