From 1% Inspiration, The Guardian’s Pick Of The Web last week (ending Oct 30, 2010)
The once-great sport of boxing is not what it was. Except for a small pool of loyal fans, and the occasional high-profile bout, such as the upcoming Haye-Harrison contest, the public have lost interest.
Once the domain of heroes and stars, boxing is now almost a fringe sport. But it needn’t be. Here is my simple, 4-point plan to revive it.
Before I start I should just declare my own interest. I have a brother-in-law who is a top pro, and I have worked as a ring announcer. Both have given me some insight into the sport, but, really, I am little more than an enthusiastic spectator. Sometimes, however, it takes an outsider to see what needs to be done.
In this article I want to focus on boxing in the UK, but there is one major point that needs addressing on the global level:
1. One Belt For Each Weight Division.
There are too many bodies governing the sport. Five world heavyweight title belts is four too many. The value of a title belt has been diluted almost to oblivion. How does one unify the bodies? That is the seemingly impossible task. Someone with a lot of charisma and a lot of capital is needed, someone who can make each individual body realise that owning a 20 or 30% stake in the world’s only boxing body is worth a great deal more than full ownership of something that is depreciating in value as each year passes.
|Ali: The Most Famous Man In The World?|
2. Get Some Boxing Highlights On Terrestrial TV.
When I grew up in the 1970s boxing was as big a sport as football. Mohammed Ali was the most famous man in the world. Everyone knew him. Everyone knew Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Henry Cooper, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson. In the 1980s dear Frank Bruno was one of the most known faces in the country.
Then in the late part of that decade boxing began to move off terrestrial TV and onto Sky. That’s when it started to slide out of the mainstream.
Take Joe Calzaghe. His record makes him the greatest British boxer of all time. Yet he’s no household name. My mum and dad wouldn’t know him if he walked down the street. Yet they’d recognize any Man Utd player.
|Do You Know This Man?|
Until David Haye’s high-profile fight against Nikolai Valuev, he was not well known outside of sport, despite his obvious star quality. Yet his win against Mormeck in Paris was one of the greatest overseas victories by any British boxer.
The public are not as familiar with boxing’s biggest stars as they should be. It’s because they don’t see them on terrestrial TV.
I’m not denigrating Sky. It’s just that I cannot emphasize enough the power of terrestrial TV. I am a stand-up comic and I see it all the time. There are hundreds of comics who have been good for ages, but are unknown, they get a slot on Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and they’re famous overnight. They can suddenly sell out an entire tour, just by storming a five-minute slot. Even in this new internet era, terrestrial TV still puts your mug in everybody’s living room.
We need to get boxing back onto terrestrial TV again, to increase the profile of the sport and its participants. The problem is how.
Boxers like the pay per view model, as they earn more money out of it. (I happen to think they could earn more through terrestrial TV, by the way. But that’s an argument for another day).
|How Much Damage Did He Do?|
Terrestrial TV, meanwhile, after ‘Fraudley’ is wary, to say the least, of boxing. It is hard to understate the damage Audley Harrison did to boxing with his stint at the BBC. The BBC were tempted to return the sport to our screens, but they got their fingers burnt so badly burnt by this series of mismatched bouts that they now daren’t touch boxing, apart from that brief contract with Amir Khan.
ITV flirted with boxing, but ran out of money and confidence at just the wrong time. The Froch-Taylor World Middleweight Title fight of 2009 was another stunning overseas win for a British fighter. It’s one of the best bouts of recent years, with Froch stopping his opponent with just 14 seconds to go. Yet ITV didn’t show it until the next day, and then only on ITV 4.
In the short-term, one solution is a highlights show that does for boxing what Match Of The Day does for football. Then, at least, the broadcaster has some control over the quality of the content.
Terrestrial TV will come back to boxing if boxing can find a way of delivering a quality product consistently. Boxers will come back to terrestrial TV if they think they can earn more money out of it than through PPV. We must marry the two.
3. Pit Equally Matched Boxers Against Each Other.
Many promoters seem more concerned with protecting the record of their fighter than they are with putting on a good show. So you get these boring mismatches. They don’t do anyone any favours and ultimately erode the public’s trust in the sport. Audley Harrison at the BBC is one example. The Klitschko brothers are another, although to be fair to them there has been a shortage of opposition. I’ve watched some Frank Warren nights at the York Hall and wondered why I bothered coming out.
Promoters need to take bigger risks with their fighters and put on more equally-matched contests. Everyone benefits. The viewing public, the broadcasters – and ultimately the fighters. They’ll become better fighters if they’re stretched.
|Dodson vs Quigley: The Fight Of 2009?|
Tony Dodson vs Tony Quigley for the British Super Middleweight Title was probably the British bout of 2009. Why? Because they were both brave, they both ‘wanted it’ desperately and because they were equally matched. It really isn’t rocket science.
One way to achieve this, might be for the sport to have a clearer structure to it, with a national and international rankings system, one that is (dream on) agreed on by all the governing bodies. I’m sure with such a system promoters would find it easier to negotiate with each other and we would thus see more fights and better fights.
4. Improve The TV Coverage.
There is a great deal the broadcasters can do to improve the sport. Boxing needs a face, a Harry Carpenter, a charismatic character that people associate with the sport. The closest thing we have at the moment is Steve Bunce.
|The Face And Voice Of Boxing|
Boxing needs a voice as well. I like Radio 5’s Mike Costello, I like John Rawlings, but where is TV’s answer to the great American commentator, ‘The Colonel’ Bob Sheridan? Who is boxing’s Alan Green?
Perhaps more urgently, boxing is full of great characters, but many of the pundits are not outspoken. Where is boxing’s Geoffrey Boycott? Even if they don’t agree with it, people respond to strong opinion. We need more wit, more outspoken opinion and more insight.
Similarly, boxing coverage has not developed in the way that, say, football or cricket has. Look how much imagination has gone into finding new ways to analyse football and cricket: wonderful camerawork, new technologies, supreme statistics. Do the same with boxing. Give us more angles, more stats, find a way of measuring punch power, the calories a boxer has burnt, distance covered, energy expended, measure his body-fat ratio, anything. Give us stats. Give us insight. Give us analysis. Give us opinion.
|Let’s Get Ready To Rumble ...|
Finally, the MCs. I confess I have an agenda here, as I have been one. But the current crop of ring announcers are second-rate. They may as well be announcing trains the way they sound. And as for their appearance, a couple of them look like they’re attending the gala night of a geography teachers’ convention. UK boxing needs an MC with a bit of class, a bit of style a bit of panache: a rival to Michael Buffer of ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ fame. It can’t be that hard to find someone, can it?
Dominic Frisby, October 2010
All 4 points are spot on but of course it’s impossible. What we need most of all is point number 1 though. We need someone to do what Dana White has done with MMA and have a successful franchise that tries to run the sport properly. Of course this would take a hell of a lot of patience, money and would require the backing of every single boxing media source out there. It can be done, but as we all know it won’t be.
Boxing can capture the public’s imagination like no other sport. Take Amir Khan’s spell on ITV as an example. He was getting viewing figures of 5 million plus for fights against Michael Gomez and Gairy st Clair!
Sky Sports can help by stop showing awful ‘afrobum’ commonwealth title fights. The commonwealth title is nothing, yet somehow boxers/promoters seem to think that holding one helps sell a fight. And it does. But why? Because boxing media sources are telling fans and casual fans that certain fighters are champions when they’re not.
Take the David Haye situation. Every boxing fan on the planet knows that Haye’s not ‘the’ heavyweight champion of the world. Haye just picked up an alphabelt from the weakest title holder and is now defending it against poor, non-worthy opponents. But who can really blame David Haye? It’s not his fault that boxing is the way it is. Had it not been for the collapse of Setanta, Haye would have fought Wladimir Klitschko back in June 2009 for the genuine heavyweight world championship. It would’ve been a great fight but d’you know what the most disappointing part is.. hardly anyone knew about the fight!
26 October 2010 00:10
Although point number 1 is the most critical, it might be better to look at it as the last. If the sport has more to make it commercially attractive – more competitive, meaningful bouts with a high public profile – then the advantage to the governing bodies of working together becomes greater, a share of a larger pie if you like.
And speaking of meaningful bouts, I’d also love to see the kind of international ranking system that you find in tennis or golf (but ideally a bit more sensible than golf’s). Following a competitor’s rise or fall through the rankings does make a good story, and one that can capture the attention of the occasional or new fan. But the different bodies’ refusal to work together shouldn’t prevent it entirely – if the larger media organisations (especially the ppv broadcasters) can agree on a system, and they’d have a clear commercial motivation for doing so, then it could become accepted over time as a de facto universal ranking system (much as the ICC eventually adopted Wisden’s unofficial Test rankings).
Yes, I like the idea of a ladder system – like a squash ladder …
28 October 2010 01:19
Point 1 is by far the most important. How can you have multiple fighters who are ‘heavyweight champion of the world’? Why try and coerce the alphabelt organisations to work together??
One new organisation that ALL top boxers in the sport flock to. There is too much self-interest for the current system to merely reform. Revolution in boxing is required.
28 October 2010 12:04
Check out the huge resurge of interest in the Republic of Ireland with the broadcasting of boxing on RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster – and the partially resultant success being experienced by Irish boxers internationally.
29 October 2010 07:14
I am in agreement with all the points made. Certainly a monthly highlights package on BBC/ITV would help the profile of the sport. The PPV model is not going to be abolished any time soon, what HBO have done (24/7 programmes) as regards hyping up fights in the US has helped the PPV figures greatly. Also the US main networks wouldnt see the advertising revenues they do in other sports who have planned game times which boxing doesn’t.
The amount of decent fights this year has been dreadful, the worst ever in 15 years of following boxing, this is the promoters fault who are so narrow minded and don’t see the big picture.
29 October 2010 09:03
“Who is boxing’s Alan Green?
Alan Green is an ignorant, loudmouthed, brash halfwit with a vastly overinflated sense of his own importance to the sport in which he’s involved. Surely the boxers themselves fulfil this role within the sport? I’d suggest boxing doesn’t need an Alan Green, it needs a Richie Benaud.
29 October 2010 09:23
Really interesting bout boxing’s revival in Ireland.
As for Alan Green , you might not like him or his views, but he expresses strong opinion and that stirs people up. It’s better than the bland nothing we are currently served up.
Last comment is correct too: current British boxing MCs, whether it’s Gary Logan, Mark Burdiss or Michael Paas, they look and sound awful.
31 October 2010 15:17
Boxing has been dying since it was removed from schools, and the chances of it ever becoming a school sport, as it used to be, are nil. People follow sports they have played, which is why football, rugby and cricket are popular and get the TV coverage. Five champions are just a symptom of people cashing in while they can because as sure as eggs are eggs, the days of big money in boxing are over.
1 November 2010 03:49
* Put out DVD/Blu-Ray special box sets: 24/7 series and the Main event and boxed up really well eg Pacman Vs Cotto, Mayweather Vs Hatton etc
*Give YouTube editors the freedom to edit whatever boxing footage they wish as some out there inspire great enthusiasm for the sport. Do not shut the m down with Copyright crap!
*Pacman Vs Mayweather has to happen. NOW!
*Super 6 is a great idea but needs to be refined at the moment – it is such a mess!!!! But man if they could get this happening they way it should be happening then wow! Boxing will have an entire new franchise!
5 November 2010 23:46
Boxing DVD Specialist said…
I agree with pretty much everything said about boxing.
The problems are going to be hard to overcome and in the meantime MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is taking over, specifically the UFC banner which is huge and it is getting more and more worldwide coverage slowly as more countries are willing to hold shows in their country. Soon it will take over from boxing especially after all of the Pacquiao’s and Mayweather Jr’s have left the sport.
The main thing for me is to get it back onto normal TV, like the days of Benn vs Eubank.
Unfortunately aswell all of the belts really kills boxing and when Joe Bloggs cant identify with one champion it takes away from the importance of a title fight.
UFC and MMA however have a model that boxing needs to look at and do similar as it works and everybody knows who the champion is in each division because there is only one and if there is an interim champion it’s normally not for long.
6 November 2010 01:32
Point number one is spot on… People want undisputed champions – in fact I’ve never met anyone who disagreed with that. Now, even if you hold 3 belts you can decide that your next fight is only for 1 belt. It doesn’t make sense to Joe public.
My biggest problem with boxing other than that is it seems to me that prominent boxers get to dodge who they want – to pick and choose fights. I’d like to see a system where the number one contender gets to fight the champion, the number 2 gets a shot at the number 1 and so on. If you refuse the fight in a given time period you lose your position on the ladder…
That would reduce the number of dud fights, and I think TV coverage would respond accordingly.
Also, I went watching amateur boxing recently and it was a genuine treat to watch – they’re all so hungry. Why not have TV coverage of amateur boxing also to whet the appetites of viewers and to give the amateurs the support they need if boxing has a future.