As the Wallets Fly

By Juan C. Ayllon

Boxing, to me, is like some Chicago neighborhood gone awry. For a long time, people knew that mobsters lived there and corruption tainted the ranks of the local ward. However, one could almost always hail a cab, there were plenty of jobs and, bottom line, it was a safe, orderly and fairly respectable neighborhood. One could walk the streets at night and feel secure. It was a great place to take a date for dinner and a show. The food was great and the entertainment, first class. But, no longer: now, rival gangs fight for control of turf and illicit commerce, transportation is haphazard, jobs are few, robberies and prostitution occur openly in the streets, once glorious buildings sit vacantly in disrepair and-with exception of the odd, outstanding jazz or blues bar-there’s little to recommend it. Popular consensus is split on how to handle it: some would bulldoze the neighborhood completely, only to be replaced by highly profitable commercial properties; others would point to progressive, neighborhood revitalization and renewal programs.

Needless to say, it has long been a frustration of mine, as well as others, that boxing today suffers in comparison to eras past. No doubt that many of its problems can be traced to economics: the public demand for boxing is no longer what it once was. In the overall landscape of sports and entertainment, boxing has limited "curb appeal." In the context of modern times, boxing flounders for lack of a relevant role. Additionally, boxing suffers from internal problems that reinforce stereotypes, undermine the quality of sport and induces flight of not only the casual sports fan, but also the traditional fight connoisseur. A brief look at some of these factors bears this out.

The first factor is contextual in nature: Western Society prides itself in social progressiveness. We are evolving into increasingly sophisticated creatures, popular sentiment holds. Socially, the banner of equal rights flies high not only on issues of sex, race and religion, but for also for those of sexual orientation, animals ranging from whales to phytoplankton, criminal rights and self-expression. Dizzying technological strides, combined with social change, has helped create an intoxicating Western lifestyle which espouses the notion that change is progress and therefore good. In turn, this has created a windfall for fringe cults, revamped Eastern religions and "alternative" lifestyles of all kinds. And sports. Those institutions-be it business, religion or sports-perceived to be out of step with this modern age are discredited or fall by the wayside on their own accord. Boxing is one such institution.

Boxing is viewed by many as primitive and-worse yet-often associated with everything bad from yesteryear. This includes organized crime, fixed sports, a male dominated worldview, wife beating and exploitation of minorities and the poor. It does not help matters that some of boxing’s greatest athletes have serious, anti-social issues. I need not mention names.

Primitive connotations aside, some people consider boxing as being too conventional and, hence, "boring." Need we wonder why? The general public gorges itself on a daily diet of special effects, terse visual and sound bytes, pop up graphics, surgically, steroid or silicone enhanced principals and hyper bass saturated hypermedia. And that’s just prime time television. Add to that "extreme sports," major studio movies, electronic games and the Internet, and you have a highly desensitized viewing public addicted to instant gratification and heart-pounding excitement. In this sensory overload climate, pay-per-view mega-matches featuring boxing clinics between world-class reluctant warriors, mismatches between elite, cross-trained athletes pummeling pedestrian, part-time journeymen and sloppy-fat heavyweights hugging and mauling one another like dueling elephant seals simply cannot compete.

One might argue that boxing, if not exciting, is at least consistent. Rumor has it that you can set your clock’s calendar with the regular servings of bad decisions gracing favored fighters. Unfortunately, this also helps perpetuate the urban legend that boxing is a fixed sport. Arguably, this phenomenon has done more to drive fans away from the sport than anything else. In sports, there’s an inherent trust between fans and judges in scored events. It is assumed that judges will behave fairly and impartially in evaluating competitors. This trust borders on the sacred.

Imagine, for instance, if Olympic gymnastics and skating suffered similar indiscretions. There would be a scandal. Heads would roll! And, unless quick steps were taken, popularity of gymnastics and skating would plummet.

However, with professional boxing, officials regularly violate this trust. And, what’s more, the perpetrators of these bad decisions are not fired, but instead rewarded with more plush assignments. In marriage, this sort of regular betrayal generally leads to divorce. In sports, the fans just leave, plain and simple. Yet, in boxing, a remnant of dedicated fans and athletes remain, hoping against hope for the best. Amazing, isn’t it?

On the heels of everyday bad officiating, you have other issues, such as:

  • Repeatedly poor and inconsistent decisions by sanctioning bodies
  • A number of unqualified referee assignments to major events
  • Bogus ratings by sanctioning bodies
  • Mass proliferation of "world titles" and organizations
  • A general, overall underdevelopment of the fundamentals in boxing by top flight boxers
  • Uncompetitive, main events and "pick and choose" tactics by star boxers.
All these issues, great and small, point to the need for changes if boxing is to overcome its "fringe sports" status. Towards this end, there have been a number of suggestions, including introduction of a Federally-mandated institution to preside over professional boxing as a whole, establishing retirement benefits for boxers and sweeping reforms in existing boxing organizations. For all we know, after Afghanistan, the next military "hot spot" might not be North Korea or the Middle East, but WBC headquarters! Well, I seriously doubt THAT!

Be that as it may, while it is apparent that many of problems surrounding boxing are influenced or directed in part by money, it also appears that they can also be positively influenced through the judicious use of money…and influence.

For instance, if enough people write letters to sponsoring organizations stating that they will boycott events featuring certain judges-and they follow through with it-the governing bodies will most likely listen. If enough people make noise and shun terrible mismatches, as well as fighters who habitually show up out of shape, governing bodies and promoters will most likely take heed. Bottom line, hit them where it hurts: in the pocket book!

On the flip side, if enough people reward fighters and promoters who provide fair and competitive matches by shelling out money to buy tickets or pay-per-view fees, promoters and governing bodies will also listen. In addition, boxing fans can do things like making affirmative calls to support politicians pushing boxing reform. Caring fans can send contributions to organizations designed to help retired fighters or institute other reforms, such as institutionalized retirement planning, universal healthcare, pensions and so forth. The list goes on.

Granted, my comments may smack of a certain naïveté. After all, there’s the chance that the governing bodies will run their organizations into the ground, despite what hardships may or may not come their way from boycotts, governmental sanctions or a dwindling fan base. Reformist groups and movements may flounder for all their efforts and support. After all, it is a harsh world and, in boxing, the harshness is often magnified. However, if you care about something, you don’t just let it die; you try to help it along.

In closing, I am not ready to bulldoze boxing in favor of other, more profitable, trendy sports or entertainment. In all fairness, there are a lot of great athletes and good people in boxing. Some are, as the expression goes, "…the salt of the earth." Quite frankly, I would not be a boxing fan if it were not so. I say the best course of action is to reform and revitalize boxing. As a comedian parodying a televangelist once said, "Wallets, come out!".


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