After the lackluster Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley main event on Saturday (man, who ever thought “lackluster” would ever be an adjective preceding Manny Pacquiao’s name), boxing has faced its latest round of widespread criticism. Which is a shame, since April was such an incredibly exciting month for the sport.
However, despite the fact that many of boxing’s woes are deep-seated (greedy promoters, corrupt sanctioning bodies, etc.), there are a number of relatively simple steps promoters and networks could take that would help improve the sport. Nothing earth-shattering like, say, Congress swooping in and declaring Bob Arum and Richard Schaefer in violation of myriad federal crimes and locking them up in secret prisons abroad, but reasonable ideas that could at least stir the pot in interesting ways.
So let’s take a break from the criticism and cynicism for a moment (which means I’m going to need a drink or five) and look at some ways to actually improve the sport without being completely unrealistic. Although that depends on your definition of “completely unrealistic.” But that’s what the comments section is for!
1. Shorten the length of undercard fights – We had a good debate in the comments to Tim’s Weekend Afterthoughts about this the other day and I stick by my story. I go to a good number of fight cards. I tend to go for pretty much the entire card. It usually takes up four to five hours of my night, not including travel. Five HOURS. You could watch The Hangover, then The Hangover 2, then The Hangover AGAIN and it still probably wouldn’t take five hours. And anyone wonders why empty seats abound when pay-per-view undercards open with three fights before the main event? How often do you feel like watching three movies in a row, back-to-back-to-back, without any breaks?
If people knew that a bunch of unknowns would be playing the first three quarters of a football game, and the starters and stars wouldn’t play until the fourth quarter, guess what? Nobody would show up until midway through the third quarter. And asking a generation with the shortest attention span in recorded history to devote four or five hours to anything, absolutely anything, is bordering on absurdity.
So shorten the undercards. Keep the 12-round main event, and if it’s a truly legitimate doubleheader, have two 12-round fights (say, for a scenario like the Super Six or other tournaments featuring multiple tournament fights in one night). If it’s a lesser co-feature, make that a 10-round fight. Everything else should be five rounds. That’s right, five rounds. Fifteen minutes of in-ring action, twenty minutes total with the time between rounds. No feeling out rounds, no biding time hoping your opponent gets tired. You get in there, you fight like hell to win, and you’ve got fifteen minutes to do it.
All non-title fights in UFC are three five-minute rounds. They don’t seem to have any trouble attracting fans to show up before their main events.
2. Less titles, more trophies – OK, so it’s unrealistic to think that the glut of sanctioning body titles is going anywhere anytime soon. Assuming Congress isn’t swooping in, of course. But that doesn’t mean that an ambitious promoter couldn’t entice better performances out of the fighters on his or her card while simultaneously providing the kinds of shiny objects fighters seem to adore. Just offer trophies for the best fight of the card and fighter of the night, along with bonuses for the fighters who win said trophies. The bonuses don’t have to be huge; say, $1,000 for fighter of the night and $500 each to the best fight of the card participants. To a lot of the fighters on the card, that would be a significant boost to their payday and significant motivation to perform. And motivation makes better fighters and better fights. Sure, it doesn’t mean much for the Pacquiaos and Floyd Mayweathers of the world, but it could help offset the costs of those pesky sanctioning body fees, at least. Not to mention more trinkets for the trophy case.
If the promoters don’t want to pay the scratch, just work something out with the corporate sponsors. It’s not hard to imagine the Tecate Fighter Con Caracter. The Quaker State High Octane Fight of the Night. The Coors Light Ice Cold Knockout. And have the fans decide on the winner, via text message or online voting or some other newfangled contrabulous fabtraption.
The three stars is a longstanding tradition in the NHL to recognize the best players in that particular match. Boxing could easily start a similar tradition and help itself along the way.
3. Establish an annual event – Football has the Super Bowl. Baseball has the World Series. Professional wrestling has WrestleMania. Boxing has… well, boxing has no way to finish that sentence.
Boxing relies on the magnitude of the fight to make the event. Yet every single popular sport (outside of MMA) in the United States has an annual event (or several) around which it revolves. I don’t watch golf, but I know the Masters are in April. Tennis revolves around its Grand Slams, particularly the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. And the model can work in fight sports, as the K-1 Grand Prix proves, as did the now-defunct Pride Fighting Championships annual New Year’s Eve show.
A similar event would have huge potential in boxing. Imagine an annual show at Madison Square Garden, headlined by meaningful title fights in at least two of the historically glamorous divisions (which I would define as heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, and lightweight). A card stacked with big names and big fights. Have the weekend revolve around it. Incorporate the boxing Hall of Fame into the event and invite every big name boxer you could think of and name the next Hall of Fame class. Autograph sessions with boxers. Have trainers and fighters give demonstrations to groups of fans and let them give some rudimentary lessons to kids. Set up a boxing movie marathon at a nearby movie theater.
Do it in the summer, near baseball’s All-Star weekend, traditionally the deadest sports weekend of the year. With little else going on in the mainstream sports landscape, the mainstream media would be more likely to pay attention. Call it Summer Slugfest, or anything you can follow with a bunch of Roman numerals.
Is this the most ambitious and unrealistic suggestion on the list? Absolutely. It would be a huge gamble, but so was WrestleMania. So was the Super Bowl. If somebody could somehow pull it off, such a bold move could be a big step in reinvigorating the sport.
4. Do a reality show right – Boxing’s previous forays into the reality show realm – The Contender and, um, The Next Great Champ (took me a few minutes to remember the name of that one) – ranged from passable to, well, the utter failure of The Next Great Champ. Yet the format remains very popular and both UFC (with The Ultimate Fighter) and the WWE (with the revival of Tough Enough) have shown that the format can work for fighting sports real and fake.
Boxing currently has two strong half-hour programs, HBO’s 24/7 and Showtime’s/CBS’s Fight Camp 360, but both are variations on the documentary. For a boxing reality show to work, it would likely have to be established by either Top Rank or Golden Boy and would need to feature quality fighters and strong personalities. But the possibilities are endless if the strategy is sound. Why not a season featuring Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters to play off that rivalry? Why not “borrow” the UFC model and have two well-known fighters (preferably with strong personalities) as team coaches, building to a bout between the coaches as well as the winners of the competition? Even a US version of the UK Prizefighter would be interesting.
While the Contender eventually fizzled out, the first two seasons had their merits, especially the action-packed second season, which culminated in a legitimate fight of the year candidate between Sako Bika and Jaidon Codrington. And alumni of the show, including Sergio Mora, Cornelius Bundrage, Bika, Peter Manfredo, Alfonso Gomez and Troy Ross have achieved some success in the aftermath of the show. If a promoter were truly inspired to provide intriguing talent for such a show, and a network were willing to take a chance (I’m looking at you, Epix – an uncensored boxing reality show could be very interesting…), the third stab at an American boxing reality show could be the charm.
5. Let’s put on a show – For all the things that went wrong with Pacquiao-Mosley, one aspect was universally acclaimed – the pomp and circumstance (ooooh yeah!) surrounding the show. From Jaime Foxx singing America the Beautiful to LL Cool J and Jimi “A million more people know my name now than did on Friday” Jamison serenading the fighters during their ring walks to what was reportedly an impressive ring setup from Top Rank, the ambiance of the show was top notch.
Boxing needs more of this. Tickets to fights are generally pretty expensive, and fans don’t always get their money’s worth from the presentation, let alone the ring action. Some of the international promoters seem to understand the importance of presentation more than American promoters, as big fights in Montreal and Germany tend to look amazing on television.
American promoters, meanwhile, too often seem content to hire a couple of strippers to let the fans know what round it is, a crappy DJ blaring music between rounds and fights, and call it a day. I’m not saying to lose the strippers (in fact, I implore promoters to include as many strippers as possible in every show), but the presentation of fight cards in the US could be greatly improved. Live music, pyrotechnics, innovative promotional videos, and just an all-around greater effort to make every televised card feel like an event would be a big step in the right direction.
As good as the entrances were Saturday, they can’t hold a candle to a live performance from Motorhead.