The Vast Boxing Conspiracy By Brian Gorman, Doghouse Boxing (June 25, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
In one of his former incarnations, as “The Body,” Jesse Ventura served as colorful commentator for the World Wrestling Federation, where he’d memorably badger head honcho Vince McMahon and declare, “I’m telling it like it is.”
He later tried to do the same in politics, with less success. His crusade against Democrats and Republicans was arguably noble but indisputably destined for failure; despite their obvious ineptitude, the two parties remain impervious against collapse.
Ventura and other politicos who hopelessly rail against that system like us Pittsburgh Pirates fans who have endured the longest-running loser in the history of major professional sports maintain their allegiances in spite of the poor quality, incompetence, fraud and audacity of those in power.
The sport of boxing has a similar problem, decades in the making. Many have asked or answered the misguided question, “Is boxing dead?” That misses the point; better yet, it falls just short of finding it. In large part by its own doing boxing has marginalized itself, but it isn’t dead.
The problem’s not that boxing’s dead or dying, it’s that the sport’s powers that be know that it won’t die, and its faithful won’t stray, regardless of their misdeeds against the sport and its fans.
Any expert will tell you that, above all else, the remedy lies in more competitive and quality fights. Despite that simple formula, boxing’s producers namely, the four major sanctioning bodies (the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO), the major promoters (such as Top Rank and Golden Boy) and cable network executives (primarily with HBO) continually thumb their noses at the consumers by intentionally or recklessly denying them the high-level showdowns they literally beg for in favor of self-serving, second-rate farces.
That’s not an opinion, it’s fact, and anyone saying differently deserves a cynical look into whether he’s connected or in lockstep with the major offenders.
The media leaders offer smatterings of criticism but no concerted, unified effort to fulfill the watchdog role so desperately now needed. For example, when Floyd Mayweather, Jr. versus Manny Pacquiao fell through for a second time in six months, commentators should have expressed outrage and condemnation in the form of the most public of rebukes. Instead, many if not most declared themselves tired of hearing about failed negotiations regarding lest they forgot only the most significant fight in over 20 years.
Whether it’s to avoid constantly focusing on the negative or finding themselves on the outside looking in, or simply due to a disorganized, lazy effort, the most prominent voices all too often let the big boys off the hook. Yet we sometimes forget about the elite athletes’ complicity. At a time when the fans who made them insanely wealthy most needed them, and even though the audience has no interest in them against anyone other than each other, Mayweather and Pacquiao once again disappointed the fans by failing to come to terms. All they needed to do was insist that the only fight they’d accept was with each other, and the fight happens.
True, the boxers deserve their share of the blame, and while the financial divide between the top and lower tiers continues to grow, very few if any have summoned the courage to take on the establishment out of fear of getting Pearl Jammed. Still, the louts who have far and above caused the most irreparable damage to boxing do not include the combatants themselves, and though we hardly need to justify railing against alphabet organizations, promoters and network types, let’s consider just a few of their wrongs.
According to ESPN.com, the four major sanctioning organizations recognize a total of 86 “world champions” in the 17 divisions, 23 of whom are specially classified by the WBA, WBC or WBO as “interim” or “super” champions (allowing for more title-bout sanctioning fees). The WBC’s gall, spearheaded by its czar Jose Sulaiman, with 23 “champions” that don’t even include the ultra-ridiculous titles it creates such as the Diamond belt, would be comical if it wasn’t so sad and damaging.
As the oldest sanctioning body, the WBA would most obviously take the forefront, but its record 30 “champions” in the 17 weight classes strips that sorry group of any credibility it might otherwise possess. Free market capitalism also hasn’t catapulted the WBO (19 “champs”), the newest and least regarded, or the IBF (14), the second youngest, and recent survivor of an internal coup, into the lead role.
With dozens of so-called “world” champs, and as many as six or more in any given weight class, an expanded pool call themselves world champs or challengers. And yet, not one of them not a single one can truly make such a claim, leaving us with a sport lacking a pinnacle, where the belt holders who should square off, such as Nonito Donaire-Vic Darchinyan, Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander and Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye, can avoid doing so without adverse effect to his “world championship.” In fact, the alphabets discourage unification by stripping those belts in order to find new “champions” to give them their undivided attention… and fees.
Like the sanctioning groups, promoters find new and creative ways to continue to only promote their own interests at the repeated and long-lasting expense of the sport. Top Rank Promotions and its CEO Bob Arum prefer to and often do forego risky bouts against other companies’ boxers in order to keep things in house, where Top Rank can’t lose, such as its rotation of bouts between Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and Joshua Clottey, among many other examples.
Golden Boy, the other leading American promoter, has proven disappointingly similar to Top Rank, especially with its exclusivity on HBO that produced countless unwanted showcase mismatches for its young stars. Second-tier promoters like Gary Shaw have also protected their stars and avoided big matches to the sport’s detriment.
Speaking of HBO, as a result of its failure to recognize or exercise its power, it has illogically relegated itself to a position of servitude to certain promoters, as if it needs them more than they need it. Perhaps no one deserves greater current blame for the sport’s failings than, by far, the most powerful American network that continues to resist wielding its considerable power over the unsavory promoters and matchmakers it fears offending.
The misgivings of the promotional-organizational-network triumvirate has resulted in a miserable 2010 that didn’t have to be so. Since we’re staying put though, what can the hardcore do to most enjoy the sport that constantly slaps us in the face?
ESPN 2, despite a tight budget, has easily outperformed the other networks’ boxing coverage this year, with quality, entertaining bouts each Friday night. Couple that with the Showtime Super Six World Classic, and by attending local live shows, to maximize your enjoyment of the sport right now.
As for the higher budget events, they’ll continue to let us down for the most part, so long as the current power brokers remain in place. Consider some of the other terrific bouts we’ve been denied in the past few years: a Kelly Pavlik-Arthur Abraham middleweight unification; a pairing of any of the top junior welterweights, Bradley, Alexander, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana; Yuriorkis Gamboa-Juan Manuel Lopez, or either of them against Celestino Caballero; or Donaire challenged by anyone.
Boxing needs an authoritarian figure running a highly influential promotional company or network in the mold of former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle or current NBA Commissioner David Stern, with the sport’s best long-term interest driving him, before we reap rewards and receive more favorable attention.
As we know, that won’t happen anytime soon, because the selfish men controlling the sport know we’ll reluctantly accept whatever scraps they feed us out of a love of and dedication to boxing.
For what it’s worth, we can at least let them know that we see them for who they are and won’t forget what they’ve done and are doing to our sport. They may leech from us, realizing that boxing will survive in spite of their bloodletting, but we should aggressively counter them at every turn.
This is boxing after all, and we should do the same as we expect from the men who lace them up. If they’re going to keep knocking us down, let’s get in as many shots as we can along the way.