A new feature for 2022 here on The Boxing Truth®, which this observer hopes will become a semi-regular addition amongst the variety of content offered to readers where yours truly will attempt as best as he can to cover several topics in a condensed manner that may or may not be worthy of a standalone feature column.
As some Boxing fans know, the month of January has been a relatively slow one for the sport of Boxing. This is due in part to several scheduled international Boxing cards being cancelled and/or rescheduled due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic and travel restrictions internationally as several countries look to limit exposure to the COVID-19 virus. There was however, one notable bout that took place on January 15th in Verona, NY. I am referring to WBO Light-Heavyweight world champion Joe Smith Jr., who defended his title against late substitute Steve Geffrard. Much like several other bouts to have taken place over the last two years throughout the entire sport, this Light-Heavyweight world championship bout saw Geffrard step in on a little more than a week’s notice when original opponent Callum Johnson had to withdraw from challenging Smith due to contracting COVID-19.
Something that this observer has said too often particularly since the COVID-19 crisis began is when it comes to fights that are made on short-notice, it is as difficult for a fighter who had a change in opponent to prepare as it is for the fighter that is stepping into a bout with limited notice. While the practice of fighters stepping in on short-notice is certainly not a new one and did not become common because of the ongoing epidemic, the fact that there is a crisis going on, on a global scale certainly has to be an additional stress for fighters that find themselves in this scenario.
For his part, Geffrard did enter the bout having won his last eighteen bouts after beginning his career with losses in his first two bouts. Geffrard was however, taking a significant step up in class of opposition having been relatively unknown prior to this fight. Geffrard did manage to have some success periodically throughout this fight in landing sporadic counter punches from a high defensive guard. The challenger was unable to take the initiative and be the one throwing punches first throughout the bout. This was due to the consistent pressure that Smith was able to put on him as well as the champion’s consistent offensive output throughout. It was Smith’s pressure that eventually further limited Geffrard’s offense and ultimately an accumulation of punishment resulted in Smith dropping the “Game” challenger in round nine where Geffrard was unable to beat the count.
What was the first defense of the world championship that Smith won in April of last year was the definition of workmanlike in that he simply went through the motions and took care of business under circumstances, which had to of been stressful. As for what this will mean for Joe Smith in the big picture, he still maintains his position atop the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division along with fellow world champion Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol. Although yours truly strongly wishes for all world championships throughout Boxing’s seventeen weight classes to eventually be unified to determine one world champion per weight division, something that has been a regular addition to this observer’s annual “Boxing Wishlist” over the years, it would appear that in regard to the Light-Heavyweight division, all three current world champion, the WBC/IBF world champion Beterbiev, the WBA world champion Bivol, and the WBO world champion Smith may not be focused on each other, but rather trying to secure a lucrative fight against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the sport’s biggest star and the man currently recognized as Undisputed Super-Middleweight world champion, one weight class below the Light-Heavyweight division.
Alvarez as some may remember, also briefly held the WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship, but opted to move back down in weight where at the time he held a mandatory challenger position in the WBA’s Super-Middleweight ratings that eventually saw him win the WBA title and go on to unify the championship with the WBC, IBF, and WBO crowns to earn undisputed champion status. Recently, there has been talk of Alvarez testing the waters in the normally obscure Cruiserweight division, which is one weight class above Light-Heavyweight. The reason why the division is obscure is it is not thought to be the most lucrative option for most fighters as a possible steppingstone to competing at Heavyweight.
What this could mean for the Light-Heavyweight world champions is simply waiting to see what Alvarez will do before possibly turning their attention to each other to possibly unify the division. Obviously, if either Smith, Bivol, or Beterbiev can secure an opportunity to face Alvarez, that will likely take priority over any potential unification bouts simply due to economic interests if nothing else. As for Steve Geffrard, he did his best under circumstances, which are not ideal for a fighter challenging for a world championship for the first time. Hopefully, this will not be the last time Geffrard will see action in or around the top of the Light-Heavyweight division because it is frankly hard to form an opinion as to how viable a fighter may or may not be when they are tasked with taking fights on such a limited notice. Perhaps, under different circumstances where he is able to prepare for a fight that does not come as a result of short notice/unforeseen circumstances, he may be able to show more than he was able to against Smith, but he should be given credit for the effort he did put forth. With the discussion of Smith-Geffrard, the Light-Heavyweight division, it’s champions, and the possibility of Saul Alvarez interjecting himself into the equation now complete, it is time to focus on the second and last topic for this edition of Jabs And Observations.
As many readers know, particularly those who have followed the work of this observer over the years, one subject that continuously comes up more than most is my continued criticism of the pay-per-view model as well as the benefits of the digital subscription-based streaming model as it relates to not only the fans who support Boxing in good times and bad, but the benefit it also has for the sport itself in providing a more economically reasonable option for consumers to view Boxing and not be forced to pay often steep prices on a per card basis via pay-per-view. Despite the pay-per-view model continuing to dwindle due largely to price points, which more often than not begin at a $60 or above price point here in the United States, which has consequently resulted in most pay-per-view offerings producing underwhelming returns in terms of buys, there remains some promoters who continue to rely on such a model rather than adapt.
In the coming weeks, there are three pay-per-view Boxing cards on the schedule that occur within a week of each other, with two taking place on the same day. The first of these cards will take place on January 29th in Warren, OH as Hall of Fame promoter Don King will present a seven fight card headlined by WBC Cruiserweight world champion Ilunga Makabu, who will defend his title for the second time against top contender Thabiso Mchunu. While neither fighter is particularly well-known here I’m the United States, Makabu has generated interest as a potential opponent for Saul Alvarez should he test the waters at Cruiserweight. While the Makabu-Mchunu card will be priced at $49.99, a price point that is lower than many pay-per-view cards in present day, there may be questions as to how successful the event might be due simply to the fact that Makabu and Mchunu are not what one could consider household names. A further detriment to the potential success of that card is the fact that two pay-per-view events will take place on February 5th, one week later. First will be the rescheduled event headlined by Women’s Boxing superstar and multi-division world champion Claressa Shields, who will defend her Undisputed Middleweight world championship against Ema Kozin in a bout scheduled for ten rounds in Cardiff, Wales. Some may recall that this fight and its undercard, which will feature a Super-Middleweight bout between former IBO world champion Chris Eubank Jr. and Liam Williams, was postponed from its original January 29th date due to the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) suspending all combat sports events throughout January in the United Kingdom due to COVID-19 concerns. If the suspension of events is not extended, this card will cost Boxing fans $29.99, a much lower and arguably reasonable price point than the norm. It is an event that will face some competition for buys as later that night former WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman will return to the ring after a new two year layoff to face Mario Barrios in a Fox Sports Pay-Per-View main event promoted by the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters for a price point of $74.95.
It is important for me to state, despite my ongoing criticism of the pay-per-view model, that my criticism is not aimed at any of the fighters involved, but rather the promoters who for whatever reason refuse to see the need to adapt. Although it should not be viewed as the sole reason for the need to adapt, by those that I often refer to as “Hold Outs,” we are still in the midst of an ongoing epidemic and as such there remains uncertainty as to whether whatever is on the schedule whether those events are pay-per-view offerings or not, will go on as planned under the current circumstances. Here is a scenario where the Boxing fan will be asked to pay $154.93 for three separate Boxing cards. When one considers the amount of Boxing content that is offered on digital subscription-based sports streaming networks such as DAZN and ESPN+ where each offers an annual subscription plan where the total combined cost for a year’s subscription to both networks is just shy of $169 per year and keeping in mind that in the case of ESPN+ they have done pay-per-view Boxing events on an occasional basis with underwhelming returns, it is not hard to see where the value is for the consumer.
One should also keep in mind that promoters, much like the rest of the world have had to deal with circumstances created by the COVID-19 crisis and while it is also not hard to understand that promoters want to/need to make a profit, if nothing else to pay whatever guarantees are made to the fighters that are competing, the circumstances, as well as the generally better value of the subscription model should be all the more reason to adapt. Further evidence of the pay-per-view model being less viable and needing to change can be seen in two recent pay-per-view offerings, the Jake Paul-Tyron Woodley rematch, which was produced by Showtime Pay-Per-View on December 18, which at a $60 price point produced just over 65,000 buys. The most recent pay-per-view offering, the Luis Ortiz-Charles Martin Heavyweight themed card, done by Fox Sports Pay-Per-View, with the marketing tag of it being a bargain for Boxing fans at $39.99 produced under 25,000 buys according to some estimates.
At the risk of being repetitive, I ask the promoters who continue to fight against adapting a simple question. How much evidence does one need? Perhaps instead of pay-per-view, the revenue that is hoped for from pay-per-view buys can be achieved by seeking out advertising sponsors and/or investing in marketing where a network across digital or traditional platforms may be able to see the viability of paying for rights to stage these cards.
A brief observation in closing that might give a bit of insight for the reader as to why I feel as strongly as I do. First it is not merely a matter of saving money for me personally or consumers as a whole. The fact is, despite the progress networks like DAZN and ESPN+ have been able to make by proving that there is a new source of revenue for not just Boxing, but all of sports, which may be even more beneficial to promoters than the pay-per-view model was in time, Boxing remains one of the few sports that remains behind a paywall for many consumers. In comparison, as some readers know, I am a sports enthusiast and try to watch as much as I can of the sports I do not cover. Simply put, I’m a sports fan. This past weekend, I was, like many glued to the National Football League’s (NFL) Wildcard weekend, which over three days Saturday through Monday consisted of six games. All six games were scheduled where they would not overlap each other allowing viewers to consume as much of the games as they wished. I personally watched all six. Each network involved, advertised the other games that they would not be carrying on their platform and in general, speaking only for myself, I did not miss anything from any of the games, though in the interest of honesty with the reader, I did fall asleep during the Sunday night game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, but thanks to the benefits of a DVR, I was able to go back and watch what I missed. My point is, no such paywall structure is used for major team sports and even though all the networks, which carried these games and will continue to carry games throughout the remainder of the NFL Playoffs, though in one way or another are in competition with each other, all promoted each other’s games. It also goes without saying that the NFL as well as their television partners make significant revenue from advertising and sponsorships, which makes the idea of a paywall structure less viable. More importantly, it allows the sports fan the opportunity to watch the sport they love regardless of whether they may or may not be able to afford a premium price.
Now, obviously I’m not naïve and I know that the cross-promotion these networks did in promoting each other’s games likely had to do with agreements with the NFL more than a gesture of helping each other, though I would like to believe in the way things are currently, that a gesture of good will also played a role in things. It is hard for me to understand however, why Boxing promoters cannot or will not see the potential for revenue streams that will replace pay-per-view revenue, but also allow the sport to be seen by as many eyes as possible regardless of whether a Boxing fan can afford to pay an often inflated price. Some may suggest that one solution, which may reduce pay-per-view price points might be to reduce the purses that fighters are paid.
While it is indeed true that most fighters on the top level of the sport earn millions of dollars each time they enter the ring to compete, I am against the idea that the solution is to reduce how much a fighter can make. The reality is Boxing is a combat sport and whether some want to believe it or not, fighters risk their lives each and every time they compete. It is not something to be taken lightly or treated as a joke. As such, I am and will always be in favor of a fighter being able to make as much money as they can while they can because you never know how long a fighter’s career might be. What I am advocating for beyond wanting to see the paywall structure the sport has operated under for decades changed or outright done away with in order to have Boxing seen by as many viewers/eyes as possible is for the promoters that be in the sport to see the potential revenue that is being left by not adapting and that there is a way to ensure fighters can make the most they can, while at the same time making the sport and it’s biggest events accessible to all. Am I overly optimistic? To be fair, I have been accused of such over the years, but at the end of the day, I am really someone who bases his views on facts and evidence, and it is becoming more clear with each passing day that Boxing and more specifically, the “Hold Outs” need to adapt for the sport to grow and in order for those “Hold Outs” to not be left behind.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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