Boxing's Death at The Hands of Democracy
“Deontay Wilder has done it!” Or so Mauro Ranallo, the ShowTime Championship Boxing commentator, and the 17,000 in Staples Center thought; no one had ever withstood two Wilder bombs in the same night.
“Deontay Wilder has done it!” Or so Mauro Ranallo, the ShowTime Championship Boxing commentator, and the 17,000 in Staples Center thought; no one had ever withstood two Wilder bombs in the same night. But as if he were late for work, Tyson Fury woke up and outclassed Wilder to finish the 12th round. The controversial draw between Wilder and Fury in 2018 set up the 2020 rematch and it garnered the headlines, media coverage, and attention that boxing seemingly lacked since Mayweather’s last professional fight. Both Wilder vs Fury fights showed us that America clearly still has a passion for boxing when promoted and matched properly. But the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), spearheaded by President Dana White, seems to put on Wilder-v-Fury-type mega-fights every other month, even through a global pandemic. While performing an autopsy on boxing in the midst of a pandemic may not be fair, given the rampant rise of the UFC over the past few years, even surpassing boxing’s viewership, it has become ever more conspicuous that boxing is dead.
While it may feel as if the number of household names in boxing is dwindling by the years, the problem does not lay within a lack of characters or superstar fighters. Boxing does not necessarily need more superstars, nor can it just magically make them. Mike Tyson’s intimidation or Roy Jones Jr.’s swagger cannot be fabricated by executives working at Top Rank or Golden Boy Promotions (the top companies in the boxing world that sign and promote their own boxers); characters and personas are crafted from unique upbringings. However, executives can create a better platform for fighters to display their individual personas: the superfight. We’ve seen in the past that a Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fight can create different narratives and different stars; Deontay Wilder appears as a violent, raw, once in a lifetime specimen, whereas Tyson Fury is known as a resilient fighter for both his in-ring performance and overcoming of depression. Both have big names because of their superfight.
On one hand, the underwhelming number of superfights can be attributed to the mindset of promotions, where managers are too caught up in the pursuit of their fighters’ undefeated records. Due to Mayweather’s record-breaking success, managers and promoters will do whatever it takes to retain a young fighter’s illustrious undefeated record. By doing so, they’re able to market their talent as a once in a generation, when in reality the fighter is simply defeating weaker competition without being challenged. One of boxing’s biggest social media stars, Ryan Garcia, is an embodiment of this system; though he’s being built as a unique talent with a 20-0 record, he has yet to be actually challenged by great lightweight and super-featherweight fighters. How can Garcia be considered a rare talent when seemingly dozens of others in his division hold the same undefeated record? It’s a disingenuous system that does not favor the fighter. Diamonds are made out of pressure, and without worthy competition, diamonds in the boxing industry cannot be formed. Mayweather, deliberately or not, has perpetuated the myth that a star fighter has to be undefeated. Perhaps what promotions don’t realize is that Mayweather is not a star because of his undefeated record, but his unbelievable ability to withstand the greatest fighters of his generation.
Another contributing factor to the passing of boxing is the democracy within the sport. Simply too many people have a say in boxing’s overall narrative, and thus the internal politics are stagnating the sport’s progress. As undemocratic as that sounds, it’s almost unique to boxing. While fans know that the best basketball players reside in the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the highest pedigree of golfers play in the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), there’s a tangle of different promoters, federations, and agents that control high-level boxing. For example, there are four major sanctioning bodies, including the World Boxing Organization (WBO), International Boxing Federation (IBF), World Boxing Council (WBC), and World Boxing Association (WBA). Then there are major promotions like Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions, and Mayweather Promotions which sign fighters and can even hold their own individual cards. Typically, mega-fights are cross-promoted with the top fighters from each promoter. There are also networks that stream the fights and make it available to the public such as DAZN, ESPN, PBC, and BT Sport. Each federation, promotion, and network is trying to pool in as much money as it can, which results in drawn-out negotiations and stagnant matchmaking. A prime example of this is the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout that was five years too late. Negotiations in the drug-testing rules between both fighters unnecessarily stalled negotiations temporarily. On the other hand, the UFC gives fans what they want because they essentially control the entire elite talent pool. If the fans want to see Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov in the primes of their careers, they will get that fight because both fighters have no other competitive promotion or network to go to. A democracy may be ideal for running a country, but for running a sport, it’s best to give the fans what they want which can only be done through a monopoly-like system.
To meet the huge demand for mega-fights, major promotions should merge into a single controlling organization. If that happens, the best fighters wouldn’t have to negotiate endlessly to meet each other in the ring, and fans would be treated to showdowns where the best of the best collide. Great historians will tell you that once power is tasted, it will never be peacefully relinquished; it’s quite unlikely that the major promotion agencies would sacrifice a lot to create an unified promotion, even if such a sacrifice could revive boxing. We will likely still get a fight of great magnitude every other year, but without consistency in appealing to its consumers, boxing slips just a bit deeper into a cesspool of irrelevance.