Paul McCreath - In the past few years we have seen a gradual decline in boxing in America. The flagship division, the heavyweights has seen the most obvious change. Where once we could take it for granted that most if not all of the champions would be American and probably at least eight of the top ten fighters as well, now we have no alphabet champs from USA and only 3 rated in the Ring's top 10 the last time I looked. The problem is not just with the big guys but extends into the lighter divisions as well and even worse into the amateurs. A few years ago Olympic medals were plentiful but today they are rare. Few Americans are world top 15 rated in any division..
Another sign of decline is the complete lack of any boxing on main network TV. Once we had twice weekly telecasts almost year round. Today many of the newspapers don't report any boxing results and little news. They don't send reporters to the big fights anymore. The sports news programs on TV or radio seldom mention boxing these days. Boxing has become a fringe sport followed mainly by the Latinos (thank God for them) and ignored by the main general population. Many of the die hard fans complain that they can't find anybody else that is still interested in the sport. Big superfights still draw well but people are buying the event and not really the sport in this case. The sport is fine at the top but the foundation is very week.
So what do we do to turn things around? I certainly don't have all the answers but I have a few ideas. Perhaps after you have read this piece you the reader can add a few more suggestions.
Any sport is only as strong as its foundation so the place to start is at the amateur level. Right now it is a mess. We frequently hear from old-timers that many of the trainers of today don't know the basics so how can they teach them to boxers?Other sports have coaching certification programs and boxing should do the same. A few of the most respected trainers should be hired by Boxing USA to run courses to upgrade the knowledge of the other trainers. With better teaching we could eventually expect better results in the ring. Another problem at the amateur level is the practice of putting the officials first instead of the boxers. We hear reports of officials being put up in plush accommodations at major tournaments while the boxers get sent to fleabag hotels. This has to stop or we will continue to lose good young lads from the sport.
Moving into the pro game one thing that would help would be the establishment of national champions in America. The Association of Boxing Commissions could do this. USA is probably the only country where boxing is at all common that does not have national champions. This again would be part of the foundation on which to build new stars to attract new fans.
We would also need to see promoters, especially the big ones take a more long range approach to their business. Today the promoters offer an attractive main event and undercards that are often pure garbage. Instead of filling out their undercard with club fighters with little following they should be showcasing their young guns in competitive matches. They are the future of the game. Look at how they do it in Europe. Every big card is packed with young prospects who soon get to be recognized by the fans since thousands see them fight on these cards. By the time they are ready for a main event fight they are well known and they too can pack the place.
Fighters need to fight more often. If a fan sees a fighter he likes in action he wants to see him again. Now it takes so long between fights that by the time that fighter appears again the fan has forgotten who he is. This is no way to build a fan base. Speaking of fan bases it would help if fighters would fight in their hometowns more often. Remember how Joe Mesi used to draw the big crowds in Buffalo? They knew him and liked him. Would he have been big in Vegas or Florida? Probably not nearly as much so.
Another thing fighters should do is get more reasonable in what they expect to get paid. It is fine for the superstars of the sport to get their millions but there is only a handful of them. The rest are not that great at drawing crowds. If a promotion draws 2000 fans that might result in a gate of $60000 gross. With no TV and rent to pay as well as preliminary fighters and other expenses how can the promoter pay the main event guys $25000 each or more? In the old days the main event fighters usually split about 60% of the gate between them with often no guarantee. Maybe a few fighters need to think about this as a guideline. If you can draw the crowds then you will get paid more.
The Brits have a practice I like. Over there it is common for ordinary club fighters in the preliminaries to sell 2-300 tickets themselves when they appear on a card. Even regular losers get plenty of fights if they can sell tickets.
PPV of course is a great liability to the sport as a whole although it makes a few stars and promoters rich. All other sports offer free TV for their full schedules and playoffs. This is how new fans are created. Boxing shuts them out with PPV so the number of fans dwindles each year. New fans will not buy something they are not yet interested in. They need to see it free in order to get interested. Perhaps the internet could help here. We already get many fights on the net on sites like YouTube on a delayed basis. Why not all the fights on similar sites?Make them free of course. This would not hurt the live gate any and would help create new interest. It would be great to get back on network TV too but realistically that will not happen with the interest level in the sport so low. It has to make business sense for the networks and boxing fans are not big spenders. The demographics for TV advertising are not good. The corrupt reputation of the sport does not help either. Anything that can be done to clean up the image of boxing would sure help.
Finally I think the sport has to be open minded about possible changes in how it is run. One possibility is an increase in the number of tournaments of all kinds. The Super Six has created a lot of interest. The old Contender series was good although many felt there was too much emphasis on the background and too little on the actual fights. In the UK the Prizefighter Series has been hugely popular. Any kind of tournament is good because it gets fighters active in competitive fights. Let's have more of them.
That is about it for my ideas. Now it is the reader's turn. How would you improve things?