IT’S almost four years since Conor McGregor invaded the world of boxing and was beaten by Floyd Mayweather in the 10th round. The excuse from the powerbrokers who supported that contest, either by sanctioning, promoting or broadcasting it, was ‘this will bring more eyes to the sport and that can only be a good thing.’
That line is still being regurgitated today. It’s understood to a degree. By combining celebrity with fighting, novelty boxing can attract a lot of people. Therefore, the theory goes, the sport will benefit by increased exposure, opportunities and revenue.
Yet I wonder how many new boxing fans, the kind that really care, were seduced by Mayweather-McGregor to the extent long-term relationships were formed. The undercard was poor and if the point of it was to generate new fans, it was an opportunity missed. Because if it’s really true – novelty boxing gets more eyes on real boxing – then those who supposedly have the sport’s interest at heart should make sure that real boxing is outshining its novelty counterpart at every turn.
Exactly the same thing happened when YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul went to Atlantic City and topped a professional boxing card. The supporting fights were awful. Another chance to make the most of the ‘extra exposure’ wasted. One must also wonder how much of the money from this new revenue stream is actually trickling down to the roots of the sport, which is exactly where it needs to go if we’re truly building for the future. The counter-argument will be that amateur gyms, catering for the so-called rise in wannabe boxers, will see an increase in new members. The jury is out on that one.
What can’t be debated is though superfights are still thin on the ground, there has been a huge upturn in YouTubers parading as boxers and ex-boxers re-entering a sport they departed many years ago. And therein lies the irony: the novelty acts are drawing in crowds that boxing, by virtue of its raw appeal, should be more than capable of generating all on its own.
Problem is the sport is so convoluted at the highest level it’s incapable of being the best it can be. Incapable of simply matching the best fighters with the best fighters on a regular basis. Because if it was capable, promoters like the Sauerlands, in conjunction with Wasserman Boxing, wouldn’t bother with this kind of nonsense. This week Wasserman announced a new venture with the aforementioned KSI, “to form a new ground-breaking boxing promotion company to stage the world’s biggest and best celebrity and crossover boxing events.” Kalle Sauerland added: “KSI is a mega-star with huge crossover appeal… He will bring a new audience to the sport of boxing.” Sound familiar? For the hardcore, such an announcement from the man who brought us the World Boxing Super Series, our holy grail, is frankly a little depressing. But keep in mind how hard the Sauerlands have worked on the WBSS in recent years. It was insanely difficult to produce and though it’s not dead – the recently-announced women’s tournament is a fine idea – it’s true that staging novelty boxing, which can distance itself from all the politics that pollute the real thing, provides far fewer headaches. (Apart from, of course, the life-altering headache that could one day be administered to one of the combatants of a bad exhibition.)
The only way that the WBSS can work, really work, is for the whole sport to embrace it as a system. A system so simple – the best fighters in the world fight each other to establish the best – that it’s simply unworkable.
All the time we see how impossible it is for boxing to function as a sport. At heavyweight, we are now into a sixth year where a fight between No.1 and No.2 in the division has not materialised. We can go back substantially further than that (to Lennox Lewis taking on Evander Holyfield in 1999) for the last time such a fight occurred but the failure of the Klitschko brothers to fight each other, as they ruled simultaneously after Lewis’ retirement, was forgivable for obvious reasons.
Every now and again we are teased with new superstars emerging. Just last year we were told a new lightweight golden era was upon us. Eight months later, each of those golden boys continue to go their separate ways for a variety of reasons. The biggest one, I’d argue, is it’s easier for their promotional teams to make money elsewhere than attempt to fight each other.
So get ready for the future. May-Mac, the supposed one-off novelty act, was only the start.