9 Ways Boxing Can Save Itself and Become Relevant Again
For umpteenth time in a row, a high-profile boxing match left most fans a little disappointed. It’s hard to say that the Pacquiao–Mayweather fight is the death rattle of boxing when it managed set revenue records across countless avenues, including sponsorship, PPV, and actual fight tickets. However, this was the biggest letdown in a recent string of letdowns that goes back to perhaps the heavyweight days of Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, and certainly to the days of Roy Jones Jr.’s reign.
So what can be done to get boxing back on track and in the hearts and minds of Americans? Fortunately, or not, depending on your level of optimism, there are a lot of weaknesses that can be improved upon without having to re-engineer the sport.
The most unfortunate part about boxing’s state of affairs is that there’s no one to manage these issues. The tail wags the dog with the fighters pulling most of the strings, and when that’s not the case, there’s often corruption in the ranks. But I’ll spare you my thoughts on how David Stern should be the commissioner of all boxing everywhere.
With that in mind, we took a pass at listing the top nine ways that boxing can save itself. Feel free to disagree, but you’re probably wrong. These are in a pretty good order.
Tennis players don’t get to pick their opponents. Neither do the Cleveland Cavaliers. It used to be that boxers felt so much pressure and had so much pride that they would feel obligated to take a match, even if it meant they would get knocked out. There’s no virtue in getting to an undefeated record by avoiding the tough opponents, or just passing on fights. Make fighters fight. More than the commissions already do.
9. Make the Fighters Fight Who They Should
Make no mistake, a good sponsor can lift up an athlete (or a sport) as much as a sport can lift a sponsor. So while betonsports.com or Everlast might pay the bills and find a direct path to their customers through boxing, it doesn’t do much to mass-market the sport. Boxing has long existed separate from other major league sports, but some common sponsors could go a long way to bridging that psychological gap without too much legwork.
8. Get Some Decent Sponsors
Sure, the natural fit for boxing is cities with legalized gambling, but if the sport wants to cut ties to seediness and corruption that have plagued the sport for the past century or more, they need to get a little more national. Travel around so that a fan in Atlanta or Seattle will have a chance to see an important fight without having to get a hotel or a flight.
7. Rotate Cities and Venues
This might seem a little counter intuitive, because the heavyweights are generally the slowest, least deft of the boxing universe. BUT…they’re larger than life and they knock people out. And you know what makes people excited? I’ll give you a hint…It’s not judges’ decisions after the 12th. It’s knockouts. And those guys do it in spectacular fashion.
6. Promote the Heavyweights
Think of it like the Premiere League. There’s a closed group of fighters every “season,” so fans can get familiar with the universe of fighters in their preferred weight class. They all fight each other, creating rivalries, friendships, and interesting subplots. However, the bottom tier gets relegated, so we’ll have fighters fighting for their lives, and it will put less importance on staying undefeated, which basically encourages fighters to dodge the worthy opponents.
5. Create a Defined Pools of Fighters
It’s hard to follow a sport when you have no idea when the next matchup will be. The logistics of coordinating a boxing match are often kept in the dark, with a lack of consistency or structure further fueling that shortcoming. If people know that they can tune into ESPN or Fox on Saturday nights, they’ll get used to watching boxing. And you know what people who are used to watching boxing will do? They’ll watch boxing.
4. Maintain a Regular Fight Schedule
I understand that there’s something elegant about wearing a tux and cruising through a casino at 10 PM to find your way to a fight. And that totally works for big event fights. But getting marquee match ups to shift earlier in the evening will work if the next suggestion is followed as well. Because, like so many other instances in this list, the public might be willing to meet pro boxing more than halfway once or twice a year, but to become a viable sport as it once was, it’s going to need to operate on normal-people time.
3. Make Most Fights Primetime Fights
You know what sports are bigger than boxing? Almost all of them. You know what other sports charge their fans to watch the biggest events? None of them. You might be able to fleece fans for a huge payday every few years, but I’m guessing the interim fights get closer to zero dollars on PPV. It likely warps our perception of how successful the sport is. Sure, the familiar faces are getting rich, but until there are regular, free fights being broadcast, the sport as a whole won’t be viable.
2. Go Easy on the PPV
God help us. It’s come to this. It’s safe to say that boxing is one of the more intimate sports you can watch. The fighters are in the ring, beating each other, largely bare. So it’s safe to say there’s a human and emotional component to boxing fandom. However, unless you’re a bookie in Atlantic City, you’re probably not familiar with many fighters. And even if you’re familiar, you might not KNOW the fighters. However, sports shows such as 24/7, Hard Knocks, and The Contender have been incredibly successful at humanizing the fighters. And since at the end of the day, you’re rooting for a person and not a team, and their histories are limited. A reality show profiling fighters would be the ultimate Cliff’s Notes for the millions of casual fans.