WELL, they did it again. The World Boxing Super Series revealed to every single person inside London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night, and every single person watching at home, the recipe for a successful sport. The secret has been out in nearly every other sport for quite a while now: Matching the best with the best to decide the best will always generate interest, excitement and skill levels of the highest calibre.
It all seems so simple. Take the top eight fighters from each division and, through a tournament-style series of knockout fights, whittle them down to two, before staging a final to crown the king of the division. It’s a concept so simple that it shouldn’t possibly fail. A concept that makes boxing infinitely more appealing, and less confusing, to the masses.
In fact, it’s bordering on the insane that everyone involved at the top of the sport, the promoters, the sanctioning and governing bodies, the broadcasters and the decision makers, haven’t sat down and worked out a way to make it work, division-by-division, year-in, year-out. But boxing has always bordered on the insane.
Everyone would prefer to do their own thing. Making ridiculous fights here and manufacturing pointless titles there. In the same week that Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis produced a fight of the ages, the best fighter of this age, Vasyl Lomachenko, was made Franchise featherweight champion by the WBC who in turn elevated Devin Haney to world champion. It’s the kind of needless confusion that makes boxing appear so ridiculous to the outside world.
But this is the money business. Sanctioning bodies and promoters need to retain control to generate income. I get that. But surely these people in power recognise the potential of uniting and doing things the right way. Surely, one would think, they want to see boxing thrive like it did on Saturday night when Taylor and Prograis delivered a contest of outrageous quality. It’s a long-term vision of success that should not be ignored simply because boxing is boxing and, so say too many, regular tournaments can’t possibly work in a sport like ours.
Without a doubt, when boxing is as good as it was at the weekend, there isn’t another sport on the planet that can touch it. But the advantage that every other sport has over boxing – at least the mainstream sports that boxing attempts to compete with – is that they realised long ago how important it is to have some structure and sense. They guarantee these kind of matches – the best vs the best – will happen like clockwork due to the structure of their competitions. Boxing had never been able to fulfil that promise with any regularity – and then the WBSS came along and showed us this vision of boxing utopia.
This is where the focus must be. This is how boxing, for so long a hotbed of chaos and confusion, can truly thrive and grow.
You won’t see the heads of other sports hatching mad plans to make them more appealing. Tennis bosses, for example, wouldn’t throw in a quick one-setter between two You Tube millionaires in the middle of Wimbledon to generate extra interest. You’re not going to see a rugby superstar rant and rave about how rubbish Manchester United are, and then magically be signed by one of their rivals just so he can play against them in a footballing debut that he is woefully equipped for.
Not every fight can be like Taylor-Prograis, we understand that. But pitching the top fighters against their closest rivals gives it every chance. And it might seem awfully negative to be grumbling in the aftermath of such a wonderful event. But it becomes glaringly apparent at such events that boxing has all the ingredients required to be the greatest sport on the planet, not just for one night, but in the long term.
Problem is, those ingredients lose all effectiveness if everyone is following different recipes.