It is the beginning of a new year. What that means for readers here on The Boxing Truth® is it is time for this observer to share his annual “Boxing Wishlist” regarding some of the things that I would like to see in the sport during the upcoming year. While yours truly is writing this year’s edition of his “Boxing Wishlist” in the latter days of 2022 ahead of its scheduled release, I feel it important to state for anyone who may be reading what has become an annual tradition for me at the beginning of a calendar year that this list does not feature a formal list from 1 to 10 for example as one would see in a countdown-like television show, but rather you will see this observer list an item and go into an explanation as to why it is on the list and hopefully a brief explanation or as brief as I can make it within the context of a single column as to my feelings on the subject. As tends to also be the case with each passing year, there will be items that have been featured in previous years lists that will unfortunately remain on the list as circumstances warrant it. Now that I have explained the structure/criteria for new readers and hopefully a bit of clarity for longtime readers who may have wondered what goes into my process, it is time to get on with the task at hand. Unlike previous years however, I will be highlighting each item rather than simply going from one item to the next in an effort to make it easier for the reader.
“A Boxing Wishlist For 2023”
To See A Clear Distinction Between “Influencer Boxing” And Professional Boxing:
In recent years, the sport has seen the introduction of what is referred to as “Influencer Boxing.” Although I have stated in previous columns discussing the subject that it is twist of sorts on a “Celebrity Boxing” concept that we have seen on and off over previous decades, I feel that the genre if you will of what is “ Influencer Boxing” needs to be clearly defined as to not be confused with Professional Boxing and to be more specific, needs to be clarified to the casual sports fan for which the concept is clearly targeted towards in terms of demographics.
While some Boxing purists would probably call the “Influencer” concept more of an intrusion than to the sport’s benefit, I do see it as a benefit in the sense that it does generate interest, particularly amongst those who have either never been exposed to Boxing before or for whom the sport is of only a casual interest. Where I feel there needs to be a distinction between what is “Influencer Boxing” and what is Professional Boxing is in the fact that most of those who are influencers are not professional fighters and, despite the boasts of some of those who have generated interest, you are not likely to see one known as an influencer competing against pro boxers that are either contenders or world champions simply because they are not taking a route into the sport that amateur fighters take upon turning professional and though many influencers have proven to be good promoters, the structure of the sport needs to be respected and if an influencer truly wants to compete against boxers, they should go the same route as every other fighter that enters the sport.
If however, influencers are only interested in facing others on a similar level it needs to be defined clearly as different from Professional Boxing particularly since we have seen influencers pushed in main event positions on pay-per-view cards without facing professional boxers. If nothing else, it should be defined for consumers as well. Although I have said that any influencer/celebrity that enters the ring will get a fair shake from me as long as the sport is respected, which will continue, the difference between what is “Influencer Boxing” and what is “Professional Boxing” needs to be clearly defined.
To See An “Exhibition Circuit” Established In The Sport:
While some might argue that this and “Influencer Boxing” go hand and hand, there has also been an influx of Exhibition Boxing that has surfaced over the last two years. Some may recall the exhibition that took place on Thanksgiving weekend 2020 at the venue previously known as the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA where Boxing Hall of Famers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones boxed an eight round exhibition in a fanless environment due to the COVID-19 global epidemic. The event, which was broadcast on pay-per-view was a humanitarian effort by Tyson and Jones in a charitable gesture to the first responders of an epidemic that as we enter 2023 continues.
Both Tyson and Jones should be praised for the initiative they took, but in an inadvertent way, that event, which was done for a cause, has given way to an unofficial circuit where retired fighters like Tyson and Jones engage in exhibitions. Sometimes those exhibitions are between former fighters, while other times it may be a former fighter going against a badly overmatched celebrity/influencer. It is important for me to say before I go further that I am not against the idea of fighters staging exhibitions especially when it is for a charitable cause, which was one reason beyond curiosity that I was happy to cover the Tyson-Jones exhibition in 2020. Having said that, one thing that I as someone who truly cares about Boxing that I do have an issue with is when exhibitions are staged not for a charitable cause, but as an attempt by some to secure lucrative offers to participate in clear mismatches that ultimately have no benefit to anyone, least of which the sport of Boxing.
With this in mind, if former fighters are truly interested in partaking in exhibitions rather than actively competing in the sport, I think it would be wise to establish an “Exhibition Circuit” within the sport, but there also should be some guidelines if such a thing were formally established. The first and perhaps most obvious among them should be to ensure that any boxer partaking in an exhibition goes through the same thorough medical screenings and neurological testing that all boxers should be subject to prior to getting licensed to fight. Some may recall the regrettable exhibition, which took place in September 2021 between the fifty-nine year old Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield and former MMA world champion Vitor Belfort. An exhibition that was moved to South Florida due to the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) refusing to clear Holyfield for the event citing his age, many years of inactivity, and the punishment he had sustained over a long career prior to retirement.
While the CSAC should be applauded for trying to prevent what could have been a tragedy, a clearly compromised Holyfield was allowed to get into the ring and was quickly overwhelmed by Belfort before Referee Sam Burgos did what the Florida State Athletic Commission apparently would not do and protected Holyfield against himself and from possibly permanent damage if not worse. If this were not a bad enough black eye for the sport, it should also not be unnoticed that the fight was listed as an official professional fight prior to the event, but was changed to an exhibition afterwards, perhaps in response to the subsequent backlash. Although I made my feelings on that shameful night clear in my coverage of that event, I am still embarrassed for the sport that something like that, despite clear evidence that one of the participants should not have been in a ring, was allowed to go on. Especially, after one state commission refused to license said fighter citing concern for his health.
Therefore, under an “Exhibition Circuit” all participants should be put through as thorough screenings and neurological testing that currently exists. Furthermore, no participant should be cleared unless it is clear by testing/screening that they would be licensed by just about any state or international regulatory board one could name. It may be true that you cannot completely eliminate the potential for accidents inside the ring, but at least if such protocols were in place under an exhibition concept as they should be in active competition, the risks should at minimum be reduced.
While not likely in the present time we live in, it would also be nice if an “Exhibition Circuit” were in place to see a standard set that such exhibitions are to be staged to benefit a cause. Whether that be for things like relief efforts or circumstances like those of COVID-19 will obviously depend on the circumstances at a given time, but I personally would like to see some of these exhibitions used to raise funds to assist retired fighters and others who have been involved in the sport both financially and with healthcare. Exhibitions are a great way to spread good will and for charitable causes, but it would also be nice if it were also used as a way for the sport to help care for it’s own and give back to those who gave so much to Boxing.
To See The Push Towards Undisputed Continue Throughout The Entire Sport:
One of the regular additions on the “Boxing Wishlist” seemingly every year is the desire of yours truly to see one undisputed world champion be crowned per weight class throughout the sport's seventeen weight divisions. A wish that as I have pointed out in the past is truly easier said than done with five recognized world sanctioning organizations with each having their own respective ratings per division and policies in terms of regulation.
Despite this, it is one consistent item on the “Boxing Wishlist” that as years have gone by has actually seen gradual progress being made not just in regard to the men competing in the sport, but for Women’s Boxing as well. With undefeated Heavyweight world champions Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk appearing to be the next fight in the pipeline that will determine an undisputed world champion in the Heavyweight division for the first time since 1987 when Mike Tyson scored a twelve round unanimous decision over Tony Tucker for what was then an undisputed world championship with the crowns of the WBC, WBA, and IBF being on the line in that bout, the yet to be announced unification bout between Fury and Usyk will be the first in history where all five recognized world championships will be on the line in a single fight with the WBO and IBO, two organizations that were not established in 1987, now being included in the process of determining an undisputed world champion.
Although unfortunately any process towards determining an undisputed world champion will have its obstacles and complications regardless of weight class, only with rare exceptions, my hope/wish is to see the progress that has been made in recent years continue. With fighters below the Heavyweight division either moving up or down in weight depending on whatever opportunity might be available to them, which includes some fighters who are able to become undisputed champions in a given division, the idea of seeing one undisputed world champion per weight division at any time may seem impossible. The progress that has been made however is something that cannot be ignored and given the amount of progress being made in just a few years time, there should be cautious optimism, but it is certainly not complete and should be viewed as an ongoing process.
To See The International Olympic Committee Institute A Permanent Boxing Taskforce For All Future Olympic Tournaments:
One subject that I have been keeping an eye on over the last year or so is the one regarding the potential that Boxing may not be included in the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics. Anyone who follows Boxing closely including the amateur ranks knows that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been at odds with the Amateur Boxing Association, now known as the IBA, due to numerous issues involving alleged corruption in previous Olympic tournaments. While that subject is one that would frankly probably require yours truly to write a series of columns to cover the whole scope of the long-standing issues between the IOC and the IBA, it were those issues that led to the IOC implementing the use of a “Boxing Taskforce” to oversee the delayed 2020 tournament as part of the 2020 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan in the summer of 2021, which had no involvement from the IBA.
Although an Olympic tournament is truly a marathon over sixteen days of competition and thus is nearly impossible to insulate from potential controversy, I personally felt as someone who with the exception of the 2012 London games, has covered every Olympic Boxing tournament since the 2000 Olympics in some form, that the delayed 2020 tournament was a significant step in the right direction if the goal is ultimately to ensure the credibility and integrity of the tournament.
As much as I feel it was a step forward, the IOC, does not appear willing to keep the taskforce that they put in place going forward and with the committee’s ongoing issues with the IBA continuing, have threatened to remove Boxing from the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. Without going into specific incidents that led to accusations of corruption against the organization now known as the IBA, the issues of possible corporation is something that unfortunately goes back decades and while I applaud the IOC for attempting to address the issues that be in an effort to both hold the association accountable and restore integrity in the tournament, I feel threatening to remove Boxing from the Olympics is going too far.
While I make no secret of the fact that I look forward to covering the Olympic Boxing tournament every four years, and keeping in mind that I detest corruption in the sport on any level, removing the tournament while on the surface seems as though it would be punishing the alleged wrong doings of an association that is supposed to oversee and regulate Amateur Boxing, the only ones who will be truly punished are the fighters around the world who aim to conclude their amateur careers by attempting to win Olympic Gold before setting their sights on the professional ranks.
If there were to be a removal of Boxing from the Olympics, I feel that a situation will emerge where fighters will be forced to turn professional simply because the pinnacle of Amateur Boxing competing in the Olympics will have been taken from them through no fault of their own. Unlike a scenario where an individual country might boycott the Olympics as the United States did in 1980, this would be on a global scale and may ultimately result in Amateur Boxing needing to be completely reformatted, which could take many years before the sport is able to be a part of Olympic competition again.
While some may feel a complete restructuring of Amateur Boxing is needed and I do not necessarily disagree with such a view, there has to be and should be a more sensible way to both hold accountable and ensure the integrity of the tournament is upheld without doing away with the tournament and the sport’s participation in the Olympics altogether. It is my hope that the IOC reconsiders it's stance and tries to build on what they were able to accomplish in 2021 with it’s Boxing Taskforce. Until the IBA can demonstrate over several years that it has addressed the issues of corruption and therefore can be trusted to oversee the tournament again, the IOC should keep it's taskforce in place. The solution is not to punish kids, who simply want to compete in the Olympics, by taking the opportunity away from them.
To See Fights Of Significant Interest Made In A Timely Manner:
This item may truly be easier said or let me rephrase, easier “Wished For” than done. One of the biggest drawbacks that I hear on a more frequent basis then I would like to admit particularly among those who criticize Boxing is that it takes often too long for a fight that has significant interest to be made. This is something that you are likely to hear either from those who are casual fans or from those who are primarily fans of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), who often cite that fights that have significant demand from the public often occur in a much more timely manner in that sport than is the case in Boxing. To be more specific, fights made between stars of the sport, which occur when the fighters are at or near their physical prime.
This is something that frankly is hard to argue against simply because there is plenty of evidence with regard to Boxing that shows that such fights often occur well past the time where both fighters are at their competitive best. Rather then list an endless log of examples, what are the reasons for this? More often than not, the philosophy that I have heard used is by delaying a fight from being made in a timely manner and continuing to let anticipation build as two star fighters continue to meet and presumably defeat other opposition, it allows for promoters, managers, and networks an opportunity to try and maximize potential revenues that could be gained when a fight is finally made. The obvious flaw with that argument/philosophy is such tactics often benefit outside interests like those aforementioned aspects more than it does the fighters involved.
As time has gone on, we see more an emphasis or so it would appear that what is more beneficial for a promoter or network and the vested interests therein often take priority over what is in the best interests of the fighters and more importantly the sport in terms of giving the Boxing fans the fights they want to see on a consistent basis. While the last couple of years has seen improvements overall for the sport, even in the midst of an ongoing epidemic, there is still much more that can be done and progress to be made. A good starting point might be if there is sufficient demand for a fight between two fighters, maybe the best thing a fan can do is take their arguments as to why a fight should happen directly to the promoters and networks involved. In the age we live in where social media is a source of communication for many, there may be no better way for the fan to get their point across, short of choosing not to continue supporting the sport financially and otherwise, than to go straight to the source. Which coincidentally leads this observer to the final addition on this year’s “Boxing Wishlist.”
To See The Pay-Per-View Model Either Significantly Revamped Or Done Away With In The Best Interest Of The Sport And The Fans That Support It:
As a longtime critic of the pay-per-view model, it should surprise no one that the conclusion of this year’s “Boxing Wishlist” features perhaps the one singular item that has been featured year after year with very little variation. To see the pay-per-view model either done away with completely or to see a significant revamp. What do I mean by “Revamp?” It is really simple, a reduction of both the amount of events/cards that are considered to be “Pay-Per-View Level” as well as what the price points are to the consumer.
Although I do not want to delve into the past too deeply for the purposes of this column and at the risk of showing my age, when I was growing up in the 1980’s and to a certain point in the 1990’s prior to when I began my journey writing about and covering combat sports with Boxing as my primary, the pay-per-view model was one that was used sparingly, and for the most part, was only used for the “Big Fights,” the “SuperFights” to use a term that this observer has used more than once to illustrate a point whenever this topic is discussed.
Furthermore, even the biggest fights of that era were affordable to the consumer with many not exceeding $40 in most cases. While I can sit all day and often all night talking about the ills of the pay-per-view model and how it does more damage to Boxing than it does to benefit the sport, as 2023 begins, we have regressed slightly in the implementation of reasonably priced subscription-based models, which could ultimately replace what is often hoped for, but rarely achieved in terms of pay-per-view revenue.
How has the sport regressed? I think a major reason why you have seen digital subscription-based streaming networks like DAZN, which marketed themselves heavily as an alternative to the pay-per-view model, reverting to use the model on what they insist is an occasional basis, can be in some ways directly attributed to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. DAZN much like many sports networks and sports leagues was severely impacted by what was a months-long pause in sports in 2020 and the circumstances of what may be a global economic recession also plays into the need if one wants to call it that, for them to use the pay-per-view model.
As someone who has been very vocal in supporting what digital streaming networks like DAZN and ESPN+ have done in terms of offering a viable alternative to the inflated, overpriced, and undervalued model of pay-per-view via reasonably priced subscription plans, I would not be objective or honest with the reader if I said I were in favor of using the model, even on an occasional basis. When one looks at the competitors to subscription-based streaming networks, using only here in the United States as an example as these are the platforms I personally have access to, you have premium cable network Showtime and Fox Sports. Each have produced pay-per-view cards in recent years promoted by the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters that more often than not start at a near $75 price point before taxes and additional fees are added into the equation. Not surprisingly, many of those events have failed to be profitable, which I believe is a case of both an overuse of the model and more specifically the price points.
It should also be pointed out that a reason given for DAZN’s implementation of the pay-per-view model was that it was the “Only way” for some fights to be made and to draw certain fighters to the negotiating table. If one views this objectively, there may be some merit to that claim. After all, fighters are often promised additional money from the pay-per-view model and as such, much to the determent of the sport, some fighters per those promises feel that the model is a requirement for them.
Before I go further, let me state that it is not my intention to criticize fighters with my previous statement. Boxing is after all a combat sport and fighters should be able to make as much money as they can, while they can because a career can end almost as quickly as one begins. Having said that, if pay-per-view cards at inflated price points fail to draw significant numbers in terms of buys where it is profitable for all involved, network, promoter, cable/satellite providers, streaming platforms, and finally the fighters, things need to change.
One such approach that I have suggested is for a network like DAZN, who is still a subscription-based platform that has for lack of a better term been forced to implement what is an outdated model for the time being is to say to fighters and promoters if pay-per-view is a requirement for you, we expect to hit x amount of buys not as a break even point, but for profit. Failure to meet that number, we will not do pay-per-view going forward. As I have also pointed out before, if a network were to impose that kind of standard, it does put the onus on the fighter and the promoters to ensure everything is being done on their end to make an event successful. The reality that a lot of these fighters and promoters need to realize is as 2023 now begins, pay-per-view as a source of revenue may still work on an occasional basis, but the key word is “Occasional.” Furthermore, when the market is predominantly focused on reasonably priced streaming networks and subscription-based options therein, many will not be willing to pay $70 to $80 a pop regardless of who might be on the card. Promoters who have also criticized the pricing model of pay-per-view, but still use the model and also charge the same inflated price points that they criticize also need to be held accountable.
The solution from the standpoint of what is good for the sport is a simple one and was already firmly established prior to the COVID-19 global crisis by networks like DAZN and ESPN+. Subscription-based alternatives that are reasonably priced for the consumer. As for how that might get over with fighters who have been conditioned to think that pay-per-view is the only way to achieve additional revenue, I believe a solution to that might be giving a percentage of subscription revenue, especially if certain milestones are met based on a fighter’s appearance on a network/platform. I would also feel confident that additional revenues can be found in the advertising/sponsorship area.
It is a matter of getting the fighters and promoters to see that what they think is being generated by pay-per-view in terms of revenue is not matching reality and thus the need to adapt to change is necessary both for promoters to survive and for fighters to make what they can, while they can. The solution to continued declining numbers at inflated prices is not doing more of the same. It is time for Boxing as a whole to embrace change rather than segments of the sport continuing to fight against it.
As 2023 now begins these are the main things that I as a proud Boxing Lifer, would like to see over the course of the year. Whether or not we will see continued progress in any of these areas remains to be seen, but someone who truly has the best interest of the sport can at least hope.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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