Why boxing still has some way to go to raise its profile
No one knows who the best fighter is, or even who the world champion is in each division, writes Mike Pope
Over 16,000 fans watched Carl Frampton become a world champion on Saturday night in Belfast, a record attendance for a boxing match in Northern Ireland, and earlier this year Carl Froch and George Groves sold out Wembley Stadium.
The public still likes boxing.
However, the same problem continues to arise. No one knows who the best fighter is, or even who the world champion is in each division.
Big events a few times a year still generate interest, but boxing’s importance to the sporting world, has and continues to diminish.
There are a number of reasons for this, and together they have brought about the sports demise.
Firstly, the plethora of governing bodies has led to there being at least four “champions” in every division and this had generated the disenfranchisement of the casual fan.
Football has Fifa, Tennis has the ATP, but boxing has the WBA, the WBC, the IBF, the WBO and more.
The reasons for the emergence of the various bodies and their corresponding belts are political as well as financial. However, the fundamental point is that there is no consensus on who is the best in each division because at any one time, several fighters can lay claim to being number one.
The promoters must also take some of the blame. For too long they have been willing to play along with the governing bodies and their meaningless titles, promoting events and fighters as if they were Muhammad Ali v George Foreman or Sugar Ray Leonard v Marvin Hagler.
After a while the fans had enough of expensive tickets and pay-per-view events that never justified the hype so left in search of better value for money.
Boxing is, after all, a sport – and the audiences are there to be entertained.
And whilst the likes of Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport have done a lot to try and counter this trend, too often the biggest fights don’t happen and a true champion doesn’t emerge.
Finally, the boxers themselves bare a great proportion of the responsibility for the decline of their sport.
Inactivity, ludicrous demands and poor fights have pushed away the fans and left boxing in the peripheries of the entertainment business.
Floyd Mayweather, the sport’s biggest revenue generator, demands to be paid so much that his current promotional label actually lost money on his first fight against Robert Guerrero in 2013, despite the boxer himself making more than £20m.
There are, however, solutions and they would not be difficult to implement.
If the boxers and promoters chose to ignore the governing bodies and their made-up belts and instead made the fights against the best in their respective divisions, the fans would come, as has been proven throughout the history of the sport.
Next, boxing has to re-enter the public sphere which would require the fighters to box more frequently, on domestic television and with cheaper tickets for the fans at ringside.
This would initially mean a decline in earnings but in the long run, the greater exposure afforded to the athletes would help to develop their fan bases and public interest in their careers and the sport as a whole, thus generating more income.
If all these ideas were implemented, boxing would see itself regain at least some of the importance it once held.