Boxing in 2018 is, somewhat surprisingly, in great shape. 2017 was a big year with plenty of great fights.
Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement. In fact, boxing has some glaring issues, some of which are actually pretty easy to solve.
In most ways, these issues are intertwined. One problem usually can’t be solved without fixing another, but I believe what is outlined below will make boxing better as a sport, a business and for fans.
A central governing body
Who controls boxing? What are the rules? Boxing leaves a lot of room for standardized practices.
Do you know how many sanctioning bodies there are in boxing? You might say ‘four,’ but the answer is 87. Worldwide, there are nearly 100 sanctioning bodies with their beaks in the water. That’s insane.
Perhaps just as bad is the ABC, or Association of Boxing Commissions. It’s a non-profit conglomerate of state, provincial and tribal athletic commissions that help serve as the guiding body for the sport.
Boxing is a self-governed sport, and that’s a problem. It’s why you have wonky scoring and unmade fights. I’m advocating for a central governing body to control it all.
So what would this unnamed international boxing committee do? It would serve as the judge and jury for the sanctioning bodies and commissions. With it, Adelaid Byrd would no longer be judging fights, and we could have fights which were otherwise errantly scored reviewed – and bad decisions reversed.
We’d see a singular voice regarding which matches were appropriate, and possibly a worldwide ranking system based on more than how pundits thought a boxer looked last time out.
Moreover, we’d see things like the ‘Money Belt’ be shot down entirely. Respectability is lacking in boxing, and a central organization could bring it back.
Stateside, the first time we were exposed to Chocolatito was when he was in decline. I never saw any of his first 43 bouts, and it seems boxing “experts” were similarly unaware of him. (I’d like to know how those who hold themselves on high as boxing experts for ESPN or The Ring have no idea who a guy like Roman Gonzales is.)
The PBC and Top Rank are onto something. In exposing boxing to a wider audience, it both grows the sport and provides an opportunity to lower weight divisions. As we’ve seen with the PBC, fights don’t always get made within the ranks. Bringing in more outside talent can’t hurt.
It would also serve to get matches made. In 2018, stars are waiting for pay-per-view or cable subscription channels to find a time slot for them. There’s no reason for that other than it’s where the money is, but TV has value as an advertising tool. Ad money can subsidize fights, and the exposure of commercials on ‘regular’ TV doesn’t hurt ticket sales.
As much as I love crazy ‘ol Harold Lederman on HBO, I’d much rather see live scoring.
It’s something that happens sporadically at the lower echelon of boxing, but I’d rather see it as a standard rule (set for by that still-not-a-thing-
How many times have you watched a fight, only to be let down by the scoring? You think (or scream, I dunno) ‘how is it possible the judges see it that way?’ I’m still annoyed by that 117-111 card from Canelo-Lara.
Scoring should be live, and a running score should be shared to the TV and live audience between rounds. Further, it should be shared after round 4, round eight, and round ten.
This works for ever level of professional boxing. Early career four-round bouts just get a score. Six round bouts get an update late. Eight round fights see a mid-fight update, then the final. Ten rounders have two updates before the final cards are read, and championship fights finally see the championship rounds treated as such.
I think this benefits everyone. Crowds aren’t blindsided, and fighters can switch up their game plan mid-fight, or choose to save us the annoyance of watching rounds they don’t feel they can win.
This scheme may also make scoring more honest. As-is, judged simply turn in a card and go home. There’s a sleezy undercurrent to that, but more on that next.
Hold Judges and Referees Accountable
Now that Canelo-GGG 2 is a thing, we’re immediately reminded of the scoring in the first fight. The draw had two sensationally bad cards: one was just terrible throughout, and one gave a round to Canelo he just didn’t win.
I say judges for championship fights should be made available to the press post-fight. In the post mortem for the first fight, all we got was Nevada State Athletic Commission saying Adalaide Byrd had “a bad night.” It hadn’t yet dawned on the world Max Deluca screwed up, too.
Referees are a bit more available. Some are interviewed in the ring after an odd stoppage, but they should also be made available.
Doing this provides the bare minimum of accountability for those charged with the integrity of a sport. Adalaide Byrd should have been made to answer for herself. With Max Deluca on a stage, boxing writers may have more quickly noticed his error.
We assume there’s no ‘funny business’ gong on in boxing, but then you get some scorecards that just don’t make sense, and the eyebrows are raised again. Making people accountable to the press and fans will help erase doubt.
Less ‘Pay for Play
Adonis Stevenson has paid ‘step aside’ money to his mandatory challenger for years. Most believe he’d beat Eleider Alvarez, yet he continues to sidestep him.
The reason is money. Stevenson has made eight defenses of his strap, but no mandatory defense. A fight with Alvarez won’t bring fans to a stadium, and there’s no TV market. Literally nobody cares.
His belt is provided by the WBC, which both mandates his challenges and accepts a fee for him to be their champion. A purse bid could be held, but Stevenson simply pays Alvarez to – well, step aside – before it ever gets to that point.
I say reverse the entire process. Rather than charge belt holders, charge everyone else. This encourages competition. Even if you’re charging the top ten of a division, charge them a smaller fee. They’ll pay because they want to be champion, so they want to be ranked.
And if a champion refuses his mandatory, strip him of his belt. A vacant title is better than one which has been held hostage.
Professional boxing in 2018 should be tournament-based. We should demand more than one-off events that are often pretty lame. Stateside, HBO passed on the World Boxing Super Series in favor of Matthysse-Kiram, which was terrible. Atleast Usyk-Briedis was competitive, with a result that held more interest than ‘well, wonder who he can fight next.’
Andre Ward made his professional mark in a tournament. He earned a lot of respect doing so, too. Boxers now are more a product of marketing than tested skill, mostly because we’ve become enamored with unbeaten records.
Tournaments expose talent, and they don’t disrupt any business model. It also serves to further bolster divisions. I’m a huge Lomachenko fan, but I can’t confidently say he ever ‘cleaned out’ a division. A tournament would have given him such distinction, though.
Some divisions are loaded with notable boxers, but a tournament would truly separate contenders from pretenders. Everyone fights in an encapsulated timeframe, so we don’t have to wonder what might have been after years of ‘ducking.’
It also supports weight-jumping. Does a 140-lb star think he could win the 135-lb tournament? Great, let him try. Why not; it’s either that, or he randomly comes down and snipes a belt, then holds it hostage because he’s fighting at 140 and has no interest in going back to 135.
It’s a Start
These are just a few ideas. It’s a start. Boxing is great, but has so far to go. There are just too many self-interests at stake. Boxing is almost not a sport anymore.
But with a touch of clarity in scoring, a chance to question judges, tournaments and governing body, boxing would leave no question as to what it is heading into 2019.
By Nate Swanner