How Do We Fix Our Sport? I'll Tell You
25.03.05 - By Frank Maloney: I'm amazed at the response I received from my most recent article regarding the state of small hall boxing and thought I would continue along a similar theme for two reasons. One, because I make my living from boxing and have done so for quite some time now and two because I'm a fan who would still attend boxing shows even if I weren't in the industry..
Article posted on 25.03.2005
So, I write this piece both as a person involved in the business and as a fan that has more inside knowledge than most.
The state of boxing may not be very rosy at the moment but many people involved in the sport today do not realize this. At the moment boxers who were earning a certain amount of money twelve to eighteen months ago for their efforts are finding it hard to adjust to the fact that the same sort of compensation is simply not available at this time. Additionally, before this situation improves, it may actually worsen.
I feel that we have to ask the reasons why the sport finds itself in this condition. Is it that there are too many world organizations pushing too many phony championship belts out there? Could it be that there aren't enough television dates? And why has television cut back on boxing?
These are the kinds of questions that people in the sport should be asking themselves. I can only speak for the English market because that's the market that I'm mainly involved in. But I also know that promoters, managers and boxers are having the same problems in the US, although boxers are still paid better in this country than they are in America.
I've heard credible accounts of some major world title fights taking place in the US, where the challengers have received less than $50,000 US dollars. If you convert that figure to English pounds in today's market, that is not a lot of money as the dollar has been trading at around 1.92 pounds sterling.
Some fighters in the UK have been getting paid more than that just to fight for British titles or lesser versions of world titles. But, the fighters themselves over here have to understand that these instances may be coming to an end for the moment. Unless we can produce a superstar that gets the national press back into our sport, those times may be gone for quite awhile.
But what of the boxers and what roles have they played in the general poor health that is affecting the sport? Is it that managers are too fussy about who we put our fighters in the ring with? Do we want to hand pick their opponents and build up records before finally putting them in for phony titles?
Well, I will admit to being guilty of that in the past and to be honest, I'm still guilty of that now. Maybe though I have to sit down and re-adjust, looking at the situation in a different light. If I did that, it would mean that boxers who work with me would have to look at the business in a different light as well as those fighters who want to begin working with me.
It would also mean that trainers would have to look at the situation in a different light and therein lies part of the problem as I see it and one that isn't often discussed. Over the years I've found that trainers are not content with simply being trainers; they want to expand the roles they play in the career of a fighter by taking on the additional jobs of managers and matchmakers.
When I started in this business in the late 60's and early 70's it was as a trainer. I was given charge over a handful of fighters to work with. Some of them went on to become British champions while one of them went on to become the world champion of one of the major ranking organizations.
A typical situation would play out like this; I'd be at the gym and the phone would ring. It would be a fighter's manager and he would tell me that one of my trainees would be fighting a particular opponent and that I'd have a specific amount of days to get the fighter prepared. And that's how it was.
These days a manager phones a trainer and tells him the same thing. But what's different between now and thirty years ago is that the trainer will want to know many of the details that the fight has been made under and sometimes even what the fighter in question has had for breakfast that day. After discussing this information, the trainer will then tell the manager whether the trainer will take the fight or not.
I believe this is where the sport has gone wrong. Everyone in this business has a job and as such, trainers and managers have to work together. The manager has to manage and the trainer must train. What trainers have to realize is that it's not to the benefit of the manager to get the fighter beaten. Furthermore, if a fighter is given a fight and can't beat that opponent then the trainer has to wake up to the fact that maybe the fighter is not the genuine article they are either hoped to be or are hoped to have the potential of becoming.
We have to be in reality about this concept because if we aren't, at the end of the day, we are only kidding ourselves and more importantly we are only kidding the fans. Obviously, the paying public is who actually provides the fighter's wages and those of people employed in the industry. Additionally, we in the industry are going to have to rely more on the paying public than ever before as televised airtime of the sport is cut back and TV dates shrink more and more over the next couple of years.
I myself don't think that boxing is finished, as some people have claimed, but I do feel that it's going through a quiet period, which may become quieter still. I'm confident the sport can however, bounce back.
I firmly believe that there will be someone out there that will become a star in Britain; it may be Amir Khan, it may be someone else out of the present crop. I think that two fighters I'm involved with, namely Andy Morris and Kevin Mitchell, could break through in a big way but who knows, possibly tomorrow's star could be handled by a different manager than myself or be promoted by someone other than Sports Network? Despite the many variables, one thing is certain; someone will rise through and capture the imagination of the fight public.
People used to say that during the time Lennox Lewis fought, that he wasn't exciting and wasn't a big draw. I myself have to think how lucky I was to live through the Lennox Lewis era and manage the majority of his professional career. The viewership figures he generated on both American and British television are not bad compared to what the top heavyweights of today are drawing.
Many times in the recent past I've listened to people who have lived through the eras of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Those fighters lives and careers are much talked about but I believe to get this sport back on it's feet and in vigorous health we must forget about the past and what has already happened. I believe we have to look towards the future and it's everyone's job, from the fans, to the people that work in this business and to the media to build a star. If we truly want the sport to survive, I believe this is what has to be done.
Certainly the world changes and our societies that we live in change further still but I believe we must get back to the time where everyone in the sport had their specific role to play and those responsibilities were carried out by those who were entrusted to do so. The boxer has to box, the trainer has to train, the manager has to manage and the promoter has to promote. The boxer and trainer must then have confidence in the manager and promoter otherwise I think then the sport will actually die.
However, if everyone gets back to play their roles, at the end of the day, the sport will rewarded, with the fans being the ultimate winners. If television does come back to the sport, what it must do is cut back on some of these phony titles. I say this because it's not the titles that are important but the fights. The fighters themselves, the ones who step into the ring are what really count as it was proven last weekend in America with Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao.
In that great matchup, there were no major world titles on the line whatsoever. What was on the line was something far more important: the reputations of two great fighters. That is what is important and that is what will make the sport great again in my estimation.
I've talked about the past in this article and I've also seen recently the comments made by fans on website forums regarding Lennox Lewis' appearance on the Jonathan Ross (Rush?) show. I actually watched that program myself this past Friday and no matter how much the fans would like for Lewis to return to the ring, I honestly believe that will not occur. I don't think that Lennox has the desire to do so anymore, or even really wants to. To me, that's why he talks about a figure like $50 million dollars for him to return to the ring, because he knows that that amount could never be offered to him.
It is time for people to remember Lennox Lewis, pay him the respect that he deserves and move on as it is time now for a new heavyweight for us all to follow. Let's not forget that after Muhammad Ali finished his career, people struggled to find a new heavyweight to lead the way. Larry Holmes was very good but he didn't grab the public's imagination like Ali did. Then, out of the blue, young Mike Tyson emerged to rule the heavyweight scene.
I can see something along the lines of that scenario being recreated as a new figure emerges from the heavyweight situation we have now to dominate the division and bring the fans back to the sport. Is that someone already with us, in the form of Vitali Klitschko? Only time will tell. I believe that this sport and the business of boxing will be here for a long, long time and all those who have written an obituary of the fight game shouldn't get too carried away because the ink they've set down on paper has yet to dry.
Frank Maloney, www.frankmaloney.com
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