Boxing: Coming To A Football Or Baseball Stadium Near You

I wrote this for Bloguin Outsider yesterday, to which I’ll be contributing from time to time. I repost it here for TQBR’s regular readers. –Tim

Who would’ve thunk it? It may just turn out that the best place to put a boxing match is square in the middle of a football field. And maybe the pitcher’s mound of a baseball diamond, too.

The reviews are in: Cowboys Stadium was a smash hit this past weekend for playing host to Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey. Given that the reliably entertaining Pacquiao was facing a welterweight (147 lbs.) opponent in Clottey who fought like he was afraid he’d get smacked with an “unsportsmanlike conduct” flag if he threw a punch, the stadium might very well have been the best part of the show.

I was skeptical about the idea, originally. Texas has become a boxing hot spot, with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans driving the boxing market so heavily over the past decade. But Texas also has taken all kinds ofrighteous fire for its boxing regulatory body, which has a slipshod record when it comes to competent officials and regard for the safety of fighters. For instance, Laurence Cole, the most prominent referee in Texas, is also perhaps the most prominently bad referee in the country; it’s surely a coincidence that his dad, Dickie, is the administrator of combat sports for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Fortunately, Little Cole and most of the other bad things associated with Texas boxing were kept far from the main event, which made it so the stadium could take center stage. The HBO cameras couldn’t get enough of the billion dollar spaceship and its world’s largest 1080p HD television, stretching 120 feet across and 72 feet high. Obviously, the Cowboys Stadium angle was unique, since it’s still such a new facility and this was the first boxing match hosted there. It generated headlines for the fight it might not have gotten otherwise.

But it’s also something of a return to boxing’s roots. Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton III was held in the home of the Yankees in 1976, and baseball fields once regularly hosted boxing. Although boxing’s almost-exclusive reliance on Las Vegas began to deteriorate last year when promoters got the bright idea that they could build fans by holding matches in more than one spot in the country, this was the most prominent such departure. Jerry Jones surely helped in that regard. Say what you will about the man, but he knows how to get attention for his endeavors, and he’s taken a shine to the sport, which despite the recent setback of Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather falling through, still is riding a pretty strong wave.

And the best part? It all worked. Nearly 51,000 people got to see Pacquiao-Clottey. Some of them got to see it for as little as $35. (By comparison, my not-very-close seat to Mayweather-Shane Mosley in May at MGM Grand runs $600.) It was the third-largest attendance figure for a boxing match in the United States — ever. Pacquiao-Clottey wasn’t thrilling, but that many people watching boxing live may still create new or more loyal boxing fans. Almost every sport is better live, but none are better-er live-r than boxing, in my experience.

Top Rank boss Bob Arum, the promoter who put on this weekend’s show, has done a lot of things wrong for the sport. For all his brilliance, he can be a spiteful and vengeful man, driven by base desires (in fact, a feud with a rival promoter may have largely been the reason Pacquiao-Clottey didn’t end up at MGM Grand). But he’s on to something here. In June, Yankee Stadium is set to host the junior middleweight (154 lbs.) fight between Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman.

There’s a chance the novelty will wear off after a while, of course — although long ago, boxing fans came to baseball fields to watch fights to be part of the experience. And not every boxing event is going to draw the kind of numbers that would warrant the big stadium treatment. Nor is Vegas going to dry up as a boxing locale — Jones doesn’t want to kill Vegas, figuring that more people being exposed to boxing in his impressively monstrous facility is good for Vegas too. But this old way of doing business, now with a modern twist, is off to a terrific start.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.