Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"A Boxing Wishlist For 2018"

A new year here at The Boxing Truth® means it is time for what readers have come to know as a “Wishlist” of what this observer feels could benefit the sport of Boxing in the year ahead. The year 2018 appears to be in a good position to continue the momentum of what should be viewed as a successful 2017 and overall success over the last several years for the sport.

As is the case with most “Wishlists” one often does not get everything they might want at once and as such some things that have been on this observer’s “Boxing Wishlist” in previous years remain on my list as 2018 begins. Readers might recall at the beginning of 2017 I stated that in terms of a rematch of an encounter that was a candidate for “Fight of the Year” honors that I wanted to see during the year was between undefeated two-division world champion Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. The rematch between the two did indeed take place during 2017 with Ward emerging victorious in what turned out to be his final fight as he retired shortly after what was his second victory over Kovalev.

Much like last year, there is one fight that many including yours truly want to see a continuation of in 2018. A rematch between undefeated unified WBA/IBO/IBF/WBC Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and former two-division world champion Saul Alvarez. Much as was the case with the first encounter between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward in 2016, opinion as to who got the upper hand in the battle between Golovkin and Alvarez, an encounter ultimately declared a draw, were mixed and set up an ideal scenario for a rematch. Whether or not a second encounter between Golovkin and Alvarez takes place in 2018 remains to be seen, but if it does indeed happen it could lead to something that has been a regular item on my “Boxing Wishlist” in previous years.

Unification of all world championships to determine one “Undisputed world champion” per weight class. Obviously, with seventeen weight divisions in the sport this is one item/wish that is extremely difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons, but in terms of the 160lb. Middleweight division, this is something that could be accomplished sooner rather than later. There are currently two world champions in the Middleweight division with Golovkin and undefeated WBO world champion Billy Joe Saunders.

Saunders emerged victorious by producing a dominant performance in winning a twelve round unanimous decision over former IBF Middleweight world champion David Lemieux on December 16th in Laval, Quebec, Canada. Saunders has successfully defended his portion of the World Middleweight championship three times since winning the championship in 2015 and off of the strength of his victory over Lemieux seems to be the logical option for the winner of the potential Golovkin-Alvarez rematch.

On the subject of further unification throughout the sport, it would appear that Boxing’s Heavyweight division could also be in a position to make further progress toward determining one “Undisputed World Champion” in 2018. With Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, and Joseph Parker each holding portions of the World Heavyweight championship, it will be interesting to see if a bout featuring two out of the three champions will take place in the first half of the year. Although the ideal scenario in my eyes would be for a bout between two of the three current champions to be made with the provision that the winner goes on to face the third champion to determine the “Undisputed Heavyweight World Championship “ before the end of the year, I believe it is more likely when one factors into the equation the potential of injuries as well as the annual mandatory title defense obligations that a fight to determine one champion may be more likely for 2019. If further progress toward the goal of that taking place is made this year however, it should be viewed as beneficial to the sport.

Longtime readers are probably familiar with other items that have been discussed in previous years that have been on the “Boxing Wishlist.” Items such as the established dialogue between Boxing’s various sanctioning organizations to discuss issues that surround the sport and to hopefully work together in order to benefit Boxing in the long-term. There was not much made public about the dialogue that was established in 2014 involving the leaders of the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), and the International Boxing Federation (IBF).

It is my hope not only that the dialogue that was established between the three sanctioning organizations resumes in 2018, but also grows to include the leaders of the World Boxing Organization (WBO) as well as the International Boxing Organization (IBO) as I have said in previous years. In order for true progress to be made, this observer believes that all five major world Boxing sanctioning organizations should be involved in whatever discussions might be with the goal of ultimately benefiting the sport and it’s fans.

There is however, one aspect of the sport that will hopefully garner the attention and recognition it deserves in 2018. Women’s Boxing. It should be no secret to longtime readers that I have long been an advocate for Women’s Boxing and feel that valuable television exposure as well as a spotlight on some of the major pay-per-view cards that take place throughout a calendar year has been long overdue. Readers might recall a bout that took place on the undercard of the Shane Mosley-Ricardo Mayorga rematch in August 2015 for the IBF Women’s World Jr. Featherweight championship between Yulihan Luna and Maureen Shea. A bout that was fought to a ten round split decision draw, which was the first Women’s world championship fight to be featured on a pay-per-view Boxing card in the United States in well over a decade at that point.

In my coverage of that card, I stated that it was my hope that the spotlight of the sport focused more on Women’s Boxing in the future. Many fans are probably familiar with two-time Olympic Gold medalist Claressa Shields, who turned professional in November 2016 and has since won four fights including becoming a unified world champion in her last fight against Nikki Adler in August of last year. The unbeaten Shields will make the first defense of her unified WBC/IBF World Super-Middleweight championship on January 12th against undefeated top contender Tori Nelson in Verona, NY in a fight that will headline a card televised here in the United States by Showtime Sports as part of their popular ShoBox: The New Generation series.

This will be Shields’ second fight broadcast by Showtime and it should represent an important step forward for the sport of Women’s Boxing overall. In an era where many Women’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) stars have been showcased in main events on major pay-per-view cards, it is now time for Women’s Boxing to be showcased in a similar fashion. Whether or not a major Boxing “Pay-Per-View” event headlined by a women’s world championship fight on a card also featuring men’s bouts is closer to becoming a reality remains to be seen, but it is something I want to see happen. It is long overdue.

Finally to wrap up this year’s “Boxing Wishlist”, the subject of “Pay-Per-View.” It should also be no secret to longtime readers as well as those who know this observer that I have also been a strong advocate for Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution and have established a dialogue from time to time discussing the benefits that the distribution model could have for Boxing. Readers might recall a column this observer wrote on the subject in December 2015 titled “Is It Time For “Big Time” Boxing To Go Over The Top” where I first discussed the evolution of what we know as “Pay-Per-View” and the changing landscape as OTT distribution has gradually become a preferred choice of consumers over traditional cable/satellite pay television.

In the years since I wrote that column, OTT as a distribution model as well as a preferred option for consumers has only continued to grow as more options including streaming services as well as A la carte live television services delivered exclusively over the internet have been introduced including YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, Sling TV, and DirecTV Now just to name a few. As streaming services ranging from sports, general entertainment, movies, Broadway, and others continue to be introduced, it is my hope that a streaming service aimed exclusively for Boxing is eventually introduced.

Although there have been digital networks such as Fite TV, FloSports, EverSport, GFL Combat Sports, YouTube, Facebook, and others that have been successful offering Boxing either as a digital “Pay-Per-View” option offering lifetime on-demand access included with purchase of an event, or as part of a subscription model which includes other sports, or as free events in some cases, I believe it is long overdue that Boxing join the future with a direct to consumer OTT subscription model, which would include live events from around the globe as well as on-demand access as part of a subscription. Readers have likely heard me suggest on more than one occasion that a model for such a digital Boxing network/streaming service can be found in the United Kingdom’s BoxNation cable/satellite network.

The subject of an affordable OTT subscription option for Boxing has long been “A Wish” for this observer primarily for the benefits that it would offer Boxing fans overall who cannot afford to pay what has become increasingly high prices to watch Boxing’s top stars compete on cable/satellite “Pay-Per-View.” Even though there are still exceptions where Boxing still produces significant numbers in terms of buys of cable/satellite pay-per-view cards, most cards underperform in terms of overall buys and that has only continued over the years as prices have gone up and “Cord-Cutting” by consumers choosing to bypass traditional pay television has increased, but it has also led to a change where more marquee fights are now being made available live either on traditional over the air (OTA) television or on cable with networks such as ESPN, Fox, CBS, Showtime, and HBO all striving to bring the best fights possible to their audience.

While it may be true that the rare exception of a “Big” or “Major” event can still produce sizable pay-per-view revenue as was the case with the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor bout in August of last year, which generated 4.3 million pay-per-view buys of an event that was priced at nearly $100, Boxing should and frankly needs to take a step toward a subscription-based OTT option much as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) have done with their respective digital networks. Although the UFC still puts on pay-per-view events, with those events being added to their UFC Fight Pass digital network on a delayed basis, I believe that there will come a time where eventually the UFC’s pay-per-view events will be made available live as part of a subscription to their Fight Pass digital network. As for World Wrestling Entertainment, some may recall the backlash the company dealt with shortly after the announcement of their WWE Network subscription-based OTT network at the International Consumers Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV in January 2014 with several cable/satellite providers refusing to carry WWE pay-per-view events, due to those events being available live and included as part of a WWE Network subscription. Despite that backlash, WWE has shown that it can succeed without traditional cable/satellite pay-per-view with a subscriber base that has gradually been approaching two million paid subscribers paying a price of $9.99 a month even though there are some providers that still offer those pay-per-view events to their subscribers even on a selective basis.

The idea of a digital network delivered exclusively on an OTT basis dedicated to Boxing at a similar price as WWE Network and UFC Fight Pass, which both cost $9.99 a month may seem far-fetched and no pun intended “Wishful Thinking”, but I feel that is only a matter of when and not if Boxing as a whole will need to adapt to the changing times and landscape of technology. While it may also be true that some of the recent cable/satellite pay-per-view Boxing cards that have also been offered on a one-time live showing OTT basis have not done well and in some cases have resulted in litigation regarding problems customers had streaming those events resulting in some getting refunds of their purchase, if there is a dedicated effort between promoters throughout the sport as well as some of the networks who have been major players in the sport for decades to come together to step into the OTT realm, I believe it can be successful.

Something that is a benefit to subscribers of both WWE Network and UFC Fight Pass is both networks have a deep catalog of classic content and full events in addition to live programming and exclusive content. One can only imagine what a dedicated Boxing digital network could be for Boxing fans with potentially a plethora of archived Boxing events, live events, magazine style programming, and documentaries, but I am confident that if such a concept were introduced at an affordable price, Boxing fans would embrace it with open arms.

 For now, the concept of an OTT digital network for Boxing remains merely “A Wish” for this observer, but if progress can be made in this direction much like the other topics on this year’s “Boxing Wishlist” it should be viewed as a great thing for the sport and the fans who support it tirelessly in both good times and bad. We will have to wait and see what becomes of this year’s “Boxing Wishlist” as events take place and news breaks. This observer is very much looking forward to the year ahead.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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