As the calendar turns to another year, that means it is time once again for what has become a tradition to start the year every year here on The Boxing Truth®️. Yours truly is referring to this observer’s annual “Boxing Wishlist" of things that I would like to see take place in the new year.
For those who may be new to this tradition, this is not a Wishlist in the sense of a numbered list from 1 to 10 as an example, but what I will do is list an item and proceed with 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. Unfortunately, to those who are loving readers,some items that have been on the list in years past will remain on the list this year, but as frustrating as that might be, it is worth revisiting and updating the various subjects that remain in the list in present context.
With what I hope is as clear an explanation of the structure/criteria both for new readers who may be reading this observer’s work for the first time as well as a refresher for longtime readers, there is only one thing left to do. Get down to business. As was the case for the 2023 edition of “A Boxing Wishlist," each item on the list will be highlighted in an effort to make it easier for readers rather than simply moving from paragraph to paragraph as one would expect in a standard column.
“A Boxing Wishlist For 2024”
To see Women's Boxing moved to three minute rounds:
In October of 2023, the Boxing world was treated to a truly historic moment when Featherweight world champion Amanda Serrano defended her unified crown against top contender Danila Ramos in Orlando, FL. What made this a truly historic event in Boxing history was it was the first world championship fight for women in the sport scheduled for twelve rounds and a three minute round length. The same distance and round length as men's world championship bouts.
As one who has long advocated for Women's Boxing through my various writings in almost three decades, this was an emotional moment for me, a man who has never competed in the ring, but one who has said for years that the sport for women needed to be held in the same regard and light as their male counterparts. While only in recent years has the United States seemingly caught up with the rest of the world in staging women's bouts as the main event on cards also featuring men's bouts, a major step towards equality that I had been yelling for, for years was to see women's bouts moved from a two minute round length to the standard of three minutes along with the adaptation of a twelve round distance for world championship fights.
Although the argument of a two minute round length has been used to push narratives regarding both the excitement of women's bouts, but more specifically to address safety concerns, it is an argument that is flawed on both subjects. Firstly, despite fights with two minute rounds having an obvious quicker pace, it does not necessarily equate to an exciting fight and the old adage of styles make fights still applies as it would for men's bouts. Secondly, even though the issue of safety should be taken with the utmost importance at all times, the argument for keeping two minute rounds loses credibility when one considers that women in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight in bouts scheduled for three five minute rounds for non-title fights and five, five minute rounds for world championship fights, the same standards as what men's bouts in the sport are held.
When one also considers that women boxers also now compete in various forms of Bareknuckle Boxing, the argument for not allowing female fighters to box under the same standards as men in traditional professional Boxing has less credibility. If one were to look for more evidence, they need look no further than the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan in 2021. All women's bouts held in the Boxing tournament in every weight class were held with a three minute round length. More importantly, there were no serious injuries and the fighters who competed in the tournament showed they can do so under the same structure as their male counterparts.
As for what Serrano and Ramos were able to show on October 27, 2023, they too proved they can box in three minute rounds and what was an exciting fight from the opening bell was loudly and proudly applauded by the crowd in attendance in Orlando, FL who spent the majority of the final four rounds giving both fighters a standing ovation. This observer is not ashamed to say that as I covered the bout remotely, the emotion of both the significance of what was taking place as well as the fight itself got the better of me and I had tears in my eyes because seeing it validated everything I ever believed could be possible for Women's Boxing and also vindicated my coverage of women's bouts going back to when I started my writing journey in the mid-1990’s where people would actually say among other things,“Why do you waste your time covering women's fights, no one takes it seriously.” It may have taken almost three decades for me to both see and cover a woman's world championship bout fought for twelve three minute rounds, but I do consider it one of the highlights of my career.
The then Undisputed Featherweight champion Amanda Serrano retained her crown with a twelve round unanimous decision. Unfortunately, as there always seems to be in Boxing, it turned out to be one significant step forward towards equality, but a few steps back in the process. This was due to Serrano indicating immediately after that fight her intention to box in three minute rounds for the remainder of her career, which the World Boxing Council (WBC) has refused to sanction Women's bouts fought with three minute rounds and a twelve round distance for world championship fights. In a true display of integrity, class, and also proving she was serious, Serrano relinquished the WBC World Featherweight championship due to the sanctioning organization’s refusal to allow equality. Along with relinquishing that championship, Serrano also willingly gave up her status as an undisputed champion, putting principle over whatever financial gain she might have received as an undisputed champion.
With all due respect to the WBC, I stand with Serrano and all the other female fighters that want to be equal to their male counterparts. Although Serrano is getting ready to defend the remainder of her titles in March in a fight that will again be scheduled for twelve three minute rounds, at some point in 2024, I would like to see all the respective state athletic commissions, international regulatory boards as well as the various sanctioning organizations adapt the same standards that are used for men's bouts for women. While for the moment, it appears outside of the WBC, that such a standard has to be requested by the fighters themselves, all of those who are tasked with regulating the sport need to realize that it is 2024 and there is no longer any legitimate argument that should prevent women from being able to compete under the same format as men.
To See Boxing Finally Realize The Time Has Come To Move Away From Pay-Per-View:
Perhaps the one subject that has been on this “Boxing Wishlist '' year after year and for a legitimate reason is to see the hold outs as I call them, who have relied on the pay-per-view model to admit it's time to change. The pay-per-view model unfortunately is something that gets a lot of coverage by yours truly, but as years have gone on, it is because it is a model that does more harm to Boxing than it benefits the sport. In addition to often asinine price points, which are no longer of value to consumers in an increasingly subscription-based streaming world, which predictably has led to an increase in declining buy returns for promoters and networks as consumers continue to reject pay-per-view, the latest casualty was the recent exit of United States premium cable network Showtime, who after thirty-seven years exited the sport after spending much of the last several years producing overpriced pay-per-view cards rather than producing consistent cards on their main network.
In responding to the criticism of the frequent use of the model in the years before Showtime's parent company Paramount Global pulled the plug not just on Showtime’s Boxing programming, but of the network’s sports division as well, then president of Showtime Sports Stephen Espinoza claimed proudly that “Pay-Per-View is a tool." While I do not intend to kick anyone who lost their jobs as a result of Paramount's decision to get out of Boxing and also sports altogether as far as Showtime was concerned, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that while there may have been other contributing factors, which led to that decision, the primary one was the use, overuse, and insistence on an outdated model, which subsequently led to significant losses financially.
With networks like Showtime and HBO before them having now exited Boxing due largely to the pay-per-view model, with the sport seemingly about to embark on a streaming-based future in 2024, it is imperative that the networks that remain including DAZN, ESPN/ESPN+, as well as recent newcomer Peacock, and soon to enter Amazon Prime Video realize that the time to get away from pay-per-view has arrived and the insistence of those who demand the use of such a model no longer has credibility as evidence continues to point in the direction that pay-per-view is not the answer nor is it a cure-all for the flaws in the sport, particularly on the business end of it, it is a cause of a lot of what holds Boxing back and that will not change though the distribution model seemingly has officially changed from cable/satellite to streaming.
Equally as imperative is the need for those who believe pay-per-view is the only way to make additional revenue including, but not limited to fighters purses for a given bout, to seek alternative ways to get that revenue without alienating consumers. While major sports leagues here in the United States and internationally have what can be called premium packages marketed to consumers through cable/satellite and now streaming, the athletes in those respective sports make additional revenue through advertising and endorsement deals. The various leagues also benefit from those sources of revenue beyond their licensing rights and live gate attendance figures.
An analogy this observer has used frequently to illustrate the point that pay-per-view does more harm than good for the sport is comparing access of Boxing's biggest events, or what is thought to be via pay-per-view to the playoffs of the National Football League (NFL). Although the NFL has two separate streaming packages for consumers to watch all the league’s games, NFL Sunday Ticket, through YouTube and the league's own NFL+ streaming platform, all playoff games remain free and both of the aforementioned streaming offerings are for games that one would not see in their local market and in the case of NFL+ on demand access of every game in addition to being able to live stream games in one's local market, as big as the NFL has become, imagine if the league came out and said we're going to a pay-per-view model where consumers will have to pay $70+ per game and $85+ for playoff games and the Super Bowl. It should not take a rocket scientist to see that such a model would take the NFL or any other sports league that would attempt it from extremely profitable, popular, and a guaranteed ratings winner for any network, traditional or streaming, and turn it into something that would resemble the stock market crash in the late 1920’s which led to the great depression.
While it is an extreme analogy, it nevertheless illustrates the need to appeal to consumers and what would happen if consumers were to be alienated by what would be asinine business decisions. Despite Boxing and by extension Combat Sports being considered by some to be niche sports or products, much like other organized sports, the need to appeal to a wide audience and make your events as accessible and consumer-friendly as possible exists and for Boxing and other combat sports to continue to rely on a model that has not been consumer-friendly in decades, even as more networks have left the sport and consumers continue to reject said model, is to put it in a word asinine.
To see more fights of significant interest not placed behind expensive paywalls:
To continue with the need for Boxing to move away from pay-per-view, part of the issue, which has led Boxing to what some may feel is a crossroads moment as 2024 begins is the need for Boxing promoters and networks involved in the sport to produce fights that will be of significant interest to draw eyes to the sport, but also do so without requiring a high price tag for consumers to access said events. Originally, this was the strategy of digital subscription-based streaming network DAZN, who upon its entry into the United States in 2018 proclaimed a greater value to consumers by producing pay-per-view quality Boxing events “Without The Pain Of Pay-Per-View!"
It was a successful strategy until the global COVID-19 epidemic hit in late 2019 and 2020, which caused a ripple effect throughout all of sports and for networks like DAZN, with no live sports taking place throughout much of the world through various stages of the epidemic, significant financial losses. While the implementation of pay-per-view, which began for DAZN in 2022 was understandable to a degree in that losses needed to be recouped and the explanation of needing a pay-per-view option, which they insist will be on a selective/occasional basis that will not devalue the network’s core subscription business, was also a way to get those who insisted on such a model to the negotiating table, the time has come to go back to the original strategy and strengthen their subscription-based model as much as possible.
With another network now out of the sport because of relying too much on pay-per-view and also not holding promoters and maybe even fighters who insisted on it's use to a standard of accountability for failing to reach profitable numbers and do so on a consistent basis, which likely would have kept Showtime involved in the sport beyond 2023, it's imperative that networks like DAZN do not follow that same path and use what was working for them prior to circumstances of a global epidemic that essentially shut down the world. Although COVID-19 still exists, we are now years removed from the point where there were shutdowns across the globe and as far as sports is concerned, things are pretty much back to where they were prior to 2020.
If the argument for the continued use is to get folks to the negotiating table and those folks attempt to point to what are perceived successes of the model by selecting certain events as a means of trying to justify their case, arguably Showtime had what was perceived by some to be one of their most successful years in the sport in 2023, even though the bulk of the content produced was produced not for the main Showtime network, but for pay-per-view, it is obvious that it was not a successful strategy as they are now on the outside, looking in. Furthermore, those perceived successes fail to address the issues of refunds having to be issued for Showtime’s events due to technical problems through the now defunct Showtime streaming app, as was the case for the Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia event last April, which was also streamed through DAZN and had widespread problems resulting in significant refunds having to be issued. While some may omit facts like that as a means of trying to push a narrative, it does make one question just how successful the model truly was for Showtime even though by appearances they appeared to have a successful 2023.
In any case, the argument for its continued use in spite of evidence that it is no longer a successful formula for the sport is diminished further when one also considers that pay-per-view in recent years has also been contractually obligated. Meaning that a network like Showtime was obligated to produce a certain number of pay-per-view cards over the duration of a contract with a promoter, which in their case was the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters. The obvious flaw with such a structure is it did not matter what specific fights would be reserved for pay-per-view, which ultimately meant that most of the resources went to pay-per-view and away from Showtime's main network. This also meant that fights and cards with limited appeal that might have otherwise have aired as part of the network’s main Boxing programming were moved to pay-per-view and predictably failed to deliver a profit for all involved.
Simply put, the original concept of pay-per-view as not only providing value for consumers, but also only being reserved for rare special events no longer exists and essentially putting fights on the model simply because it can be done rather than merit and also not at a price point that appeals to consumers is a recipe for failure. As 2024 begins, there is a significant opportunity for the aforementioned networks, which operate primarily under a subscription-based model to redefine the idea of offering value through their respective subscription plans.
What this observer means by that is not only providing value in terms of the quantity of Boxing content offered, but also in an effort to re-establish the sport in the eyes of consumers, producing fights and cards of significant interest, but without the expensive price tag. While some in the sport including perhaps some fighters might turn their nose up at such an idea, the reality is it needs to happen for the long-term health of the sport, otherwise circumstances like what has happened with Showtime leaving Boxing will continue happening if the networks that remain and potential new platforms are not making a profit to make their investments in the sport viable and that will not happen by continuing to rely on an outdated model even if said model was the status quo in a previous era. Simply put, times change and the business structure of Boxing needs to evolve.
As the calendar now turns to 2024, the aforementioned items on this observer’s “Boxing Wishlist” are just some of what would benefit the sport moving forward. While 2024 appears as though it will look different and perhaps feel different in terms of how the sport is presented, one should feel at least a little optimistic that there is at least the potential for Boxing to be in a better position at the conclusion of this year than was the case at the end of 2023. One item that has been on the “Wishlist” for many years that has seen progress made and thus has not been included as a highlighted item is the need for Boxing to establish one world champion per weight division. In recent years, there has been progress made towards this goal for both men and women competing in the sport, but I should not have to tell you dear reader, there is still much more that can be, and should be done.
Although I have decided at least for this year’s list to omit this topic as a highlighted item, it does nevertheless remain relevant because it is still a work in progress. Part of that progress needs to be a commitment not only by the fighters involved, but also by the various sanctioning organizations to keep world championships unified once they become undisputed championships. This is not an easy task given that there are five recognized world sanctioning organizations, each with their own rules and mandatory defense obligations that need to be met on an annual basis, but for true progress to be made where it is not viewed as temporary, there needs to be an effort by all involved to ensure that the process of making unification bouts, which is often a long, drawn out, and complicated one due in part to the aforementioned organizations’ respective policies, once that process has been done, it needs to be preserved to ensure that all the process that took place to unify a division, does not ultimately turn into a waste of time where the primary motivation will be to start said process all over again.
Some may view that, and all of what has been discussed on this “Boxing Wishlist For 2024” as truly “Wishful Thinking,” but the reality is evidence of the need to change could not be clearer and the need for significant progress and “Legitimate Progress” remains needed for the sport to grow and thrive. Let 2024 Begin!
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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