Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Professional Boxing

Reports have come out that the recent Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto Pay-Per-View fight card only generated between 400,000 and 550,000 buys and the crowd at the MGM was well short of sellout capacity. In the end, the overall event did not net a major financial profit despite this supposedly being the “Money Mayweather” final fight. Despite all the hype from Showtime and other media outlets, the collective sports world did not put their money up to see Floyd Mayweather dance in circles and play his counter-striking game one last time.

Whether you are a fan or hater of Mayweather, there is a reason he has the nickname “Money” because he has been very profitable for himself and his promoters for over a decade. Despite the 49-0 fight record, the truth is that it does not stack up against the likes of Mohammed Ali, Rocky Marciano, “Sugar” Ray Leonard and “Sugar” Ray Robinson. Furthermore Mayweather’s career is arguably a weak overall resume compared to contemporaries Andre Ward and Oscar De La Hoya in the fact that Floyd never won an Olympic Gold medal. Over the last 55 years all the great boxers from Ali to Joe Frazier to Leonard won Olympic Gold medals. Mayweather supporters would say he was “robbed” at the 1996 Olympics but most of Floyd’s life has been mired in controversy. From the domestic assault charges and convictions to being stripped of his WBO championship title to him hand picking fights with guys who are “past their prime”; some people say Floyd Mayweather has done more hurt the reputation of Professional Boxing than any other fighter.

But I contend Mayweather is just a bi-product of what big time Professional Boxing has become: A convoluted mess. From the alphabet soup of organizations to corrupt promotors to judging controversies, Boxing over the last 30 years has fallen from its pedestal as one of the premiere sporting events. Even the skills of Olympic Boxing competitors has dropped off during the last few Olympics. Let us also not forget that according to the online Journal of Combative Sport 2007 research since 1960 over 667 deaths directly resulting from boxing related injuries in the USA alone. The sport known as “The Sweet Science” sure has left a sour taste for many over the years.

Still, millions of dollars are made every year off a sport whose fighters lack the refined skill of years ago. Men such as Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Ali, Frazier and Leonard were considered among the greatest athletes of their generations. In today’s world the greatest athletes are training to be the best in other sports. You see phenomenal athletes playing sports such as Football that would have been found fighting in the ring 30 years ago. That is because boxing was considered a way out for those who came from working class or poor economic backgrounds. These men would channel their anger and rage against the world into hours at the gym in order to exact that violence on another man to make the money they couldn’t get working at the factories and warehouses across America. In today’s world many great athletes who come from the same backgrounds look to the NFL and NBA to raise themselves and their families out of poverty.

Also the rise of Mixed Martial Arts has drawn men who would have gone to the boxing gym into the local kickboxing club or convinced young kids to wrestle in High School and College. Anyone who has watched MMA champions such as Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Nick Diaz, and Connor McGregor know that they have the natural skills needed to potentially be championship Boxers. Instead Jones and Velasquez were amateur wrestlers; Diaz trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since his mid-teens; McGregor has formal boxing training but found professional MMA more appealing so he later trained in Kickboxing, Taekwondo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Furthermore, MMA is overall a less brutal violence sport than Boxing. Many MMA fights are ended via submission or Technical Knockout via referee stoppage. Even though MMA is a fairly young organized compared to Boxing, we have not seen older or retired MMA fighters suffering from the same psychological and money issues as retired boxers. In fact, there has been only one Professional MMA injuries related death and that was because that organization did not have their fights or fighters sanctioned and overseen by a reputable Athletic Commission. After that incident, that commissioner was removed and there was an overhaul in that state’s MMA regulations.

But still Professional Boxing generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year while MMA grosses out only a quarter of the amount only thanks to television contracts.  Boxing has been making a dent into the television market but many of the cable television fight cards are relegated to average TV slots or they are stuck going head to head with more popular sporting events like the NFL or College Football. The UFC, who is the king of Professional MMA, has a multi-year TV deals with three different media companies internationally and those deals total around a billion dollars. MMA has not been able to draw the casual or hardcore boxing fans mostly because these people do not find the submission and grappling aspects of MMA appealing.

The truth is that the casual boxing fan tunes in for the excitement or violence of the sport.  Similarly to the people who watch sports because they have money invested, these watchers do not appreciate the game or skill involved, they want their money’s worth whether that is made off winning a prop bet or seeing the explosive entertainment they expected. The reality is that most of the people who watched the Floyd Mayweather fight just wanted to see him win or lose and cared less about the rest of the fights on the docket that night.

If Floyd Mayweather is truly done with boxing, it will be a blessing and a curse for the sport. While he made many promoters and opponents money, he also lost many people money and cast a dark shadow over the sport. Mayweather was a counter-striker with great speed who outside the ring had numerous domestic violence charges who promoters and the media turned him into a money making villain. Gone are the days of Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., Oscar De la Hoya, and Mickey Ward giving the fans an event to tune in for; without Mayweather, Boxing potentially sees their last cash cow walk away.

The future does not look very promising for the professional ranks of “The Sweet Science” with the numerous other sports options out there for people to take interest in and spend their money on. The mainstream sports media has Football, Basketball and Baseball deals that produce money and drive ratings.  Also media corporations such Fox Sports, NBC Sports and Viacom have invested a lot of money into the UFC, World Series of Fighting, and Bellator MMA already, so you know those events will get publicity and marketing dollars. NASCAR is another sport growing in popularity, getting big advertising dollars and TV contracts. Let’s not forget that the NHL and college sports conferences like the Big Ten, PAC 12 and SEC now have their own television networks. 

The market share for Boxing is shrinking with the all the other options out there and most people have no idea who Gennady Golovkin or Roman Gonzalez are, yet both men are undefeated champions. How can Boxing keep the money train going without the recognizable names to sell tickets and PPVs to fans? How will they keep the financial commitments from media outlets and advertisers? The clock is certainly ticking on that conundrum.  

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