It seems like boxing has enjoyed a slight revival over the past year or so. Great fights, interesting stories and some fresh faces have all aided in making 2012 a pretty decent year for the sport. But is this a sign of a turnaround, or merely a temporary increase in momentum?
Boxing fans and detractors alike have a never ending argument over the state of boxing. Some say it is on its death bed while others believe the sport has been given up for dead for decades, and that it isn’t going anywhere. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
The biggest problem boxing has is its lack of star power. In this day of celebrity and media driving everything, it is shocking how few of the top boxers embrace this aspect of the business. Outside of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, there are staggeringly few stars in the sport. And for a sport that is based on star power, that is frightening.
In the past, the stars of the sport were what captured the imagination of the fans. The boxing was great, but it was the personalities we gravitated to. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, George Foreman and others were like magnets drawing us to them. Sure, there were some less exciting fighters who were elite, but they almost always had other great fighters to elevate the interest.
Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns were all looked at as near equals, so when they met, the anticipation was enormous. Their talent alone sold the fights.
When Mike Tyson was wrecking the heavyweight division, the sheer force of his personality made even the most lopsided fights something to look forward to. There was little doubt he would win, the only question was how quickly he would do it and would there be any chaos involved.
Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are not the only great boxers out there. It just feels that way. Andre Ward, Sergio Martinez, the Klitschko’s and an assortment of others are all incredibly talented. But when was the last time you heard any news about them from any source other than a boxing website or magazine? The best any of them can hope for is a quick result on the news ticker at the bottom of ESPN.
So what is going to happen when Manny and Floyd retire? Clearly time is not on their side. Who will take their place? Who will we actually CARE about?
It is worrisome that the old guard in boxing has for the most part elected to bury their heads in the sand and just ignore the problem. Look around at the crowd the next time you attend some fights. What is the average age of the fans in attendance? It is getting older every year, and as those fans die off, will there be anyone to replace them?
In this media driven world, you need to evolve or be left behind. Boxing needs to address its problems sooner rather than later. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will not be there for long. When they leave, how will new stars be made? With so few fights on free television and no news networks covering it, potential fans are not exposed to potential mega stars. Nobody is going to pay $50 for a pay-per-view when they don’t know the fighters.
Boxing had a good year, and hopefully the momentum can carry them to new heights. Unfortunately, because the people who make decisions in the sport are usually more concerned with lining their own pockets then improving the sport, it is hard to be overly optimistic.