If you are not a hardcore boxing fan and say last week’s poorly dubbed “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, you may be not only confused by even disgusted by the display. Oddly enough, this was not the sentiment among hardcore followers of the sport, most of whom were not only unsurprised by the outcome but even less shocked by the judging. Those who felt the fight was unfairly judged are unaware of what unfair looks like in Boxing, a sport so riddled with home-cooked scoring you could mistake it for your grandmother’s kitchen.
Yet this divide in perception speaks to a much larger issue for Boxing as a whole: it has a major brand problem. USA Today wrote a tombstone piece for the sport immediately after fight, and somebody made… this.
If mainstream America thinks the rightful winner of a fight is the wrong winner, then that speaks to the game itself and its perceptions far more than the abilities of the audience.
The good news? Boxing can recover if it takes the right steps. Here are five moves the industry must make immediately to stay relevant.
1) Adjust the Rules
Boxing scoring is decentralized, so there is no official rulebook on how to score (a symptom of a much larger issue we will address in a moment). Yet the generally upon approach of the industry is to score based on clean punching, effective aggression, defense, and ring generalship.
The divide that comes into play is what constitutes “ring generalship” and what is allowed to make for good defense. Ten years ago, a somewhat successful heavyweight named John Ruiz would mug and maul each and every fighter he got in the ring with to such an extent that every fight was an immediate snore fest. Ruiz didn’t sell many tickets.
Mayweather held whenever Manny cornered him in their bout, and the outcome was not pleasing to the eye. If Boxing is to adjust its rules in a helpful way that doesn’t simply read “remove gloves, allow kicks and wrestling and replace the ring with an octagon” it must find a way to decrease the impact of holding. Refs should be empowered to penalize when a stall tactic is used repeatedly… especially a tactic such as grabbing someone so they literally can’t punch.
2) Regulate and Reorganize
There is no central governing body in Boxing. The sport has 4+ belts across more weight classes than you can count. The weight classes should stay; they promote safety and mirror MMA, a sport that has seen no issue with weight class drama. However, if fighters do not want to face off, there is no central body compelling them to do so. They merely promote outside of that sanctioning body and move on.
This is a bit like if the Yankees didn’t want to play in the World Series and demanded more money to take the field, then waited seven years until their opponents weren’t as good before finally playing a lesser version of them. Mayweather and Pacquiao should have fought years ago, but they didn’t when negotiations broke down over steroid accusations and money differences. If the sport were more official and took care of its injured fighters, then that would never happen.
3) Highlight Bright Spots
Lost in the feud between two fighters that basically turned off everyone in the audience was the amazing performance of Vasyl Lomachenko, a nasty featherweight with one of the all-time best amateur records. Lomachenko’s second career bout was a title shot he lost amidst controversy.
There was no such controversy on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard. Lomachenko wowed the crowd over and over by popping his opponent six and seven times in a row, spinning him around and all around dominating with a display of furious speed and power. Boxing must highlight fighters such as these if it is to regain the regular attention of mass audiences.
4) Work with MMA, Not Against It
When MMA got hot ten years or so ago, Boxing developed a hostile relationship with the sport in an effort to hold it down. Now, it not only can’t afford to do that, but needs a good relationship with the sport to rise from its current ashes. There is no reason not to hold co-events with both kinds of fights on a single card, and Boxing will greatly benefit from crossover fans… as long as it puts its most exciting fighters on display (such as the aforementioned Lomachenko).
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