The Problem With Big Knockout Boxing

Boxing, like most combat sports, hardly qualifies for the second part of that descriptor. It’s violence with a thin veil of organisation. So it might sound funny that, as a boxing writer, I found the press release for “Big Knockout Boxing” disturbing.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the latest developments in futuristic bloodsports, Big Knockout Boxing is a slightly tweaked version of the original Queensberry Rules, developed and owned by US cable company DIRECTV. The aforementioned press release described it thusly:

“BKB is an aggressive new sport, matching up two fighters who face off in ‘The Pit,’ a smaller fighting surface that forces more pound-for-pound action than traditional boxing. Shorter, two-minute rounds encourage aggressive punching and reward offensive fighters. Those who prefer a more defensive style of fighting need not apply.”

My first though, brought on by the futuristic promotional imagery and the irrepressibly cheerful tone of the press release, is that we’re approaching the end of the world. Surely if the governor of a “great state” (even if it is only a state as great as Nevada) can roll out the red carpet for pit fighting, we’re not far away from another state welcoming “the intense and exciting new sport of Rollerball/The Hunger Games.”

My second though is that Big Knockout Boxing asks some tough questions of boxing fans: Is the knockout (essentially someone suffering a traumatic brain injury) the main attraction? Do we really admire the skills of fighters, or is that just a line some of us spin to justify our fascination with brutality? In an inherently violent contest, how much protection should athletes be provided with? Is Big Knockout Boxing awful, or is it merely another step along a continuum of awful things to which all combat sports belong?

I struggle all the time to reasonably justify boxing fandom — the sport is morally ambiguous at best. But what sticks in my craw about BKB is that its self-described appeal lies in its removal of the protections regular boxing offers its athletes. Without ropes, boxers will be forced to stand in the centre of the ring and trade punches until one of them falls over. Those punches will come from smaller gloves, ensuring more knockouts and potentially more hand injuries. Avoiding punsihment through foot movement will be virtually impossible. It will be Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, but with humans.

If BKB were to take off, it would result in more fighters getting hurt and shorter careers for those who remain: that is undeniable. The men who will reportedly clash in BKB’s first big event, middleweights Gabriel Rosado and Brian Vera, are a case in point. Vera has never met a punch he couldn’t block with his face. Rosado is marginally better on defence, but still gets hit plenty. If all of their combined 16 losses had come by knockout, neither man would still be a contender (or healthy, I’d wager).

Furthermore, skilled boxers, those who have put years of effort into honing their craft, would be discriminated against even more than they already are. The variety of styles, one of the things that makes boxing interesting, would shrink. Boxing would cease to be “the sweet science” and become more like human cockfighting.

So even if you’re not sold on whether boxing is safe, desirable or ethical; even if you already actively dislike it; I think we can agree that Big Knockout Boxing is an unwelcome development. Boxing might not be perfect (perhaps the understatement of the century), but it at least offers its participants a fair chance to “hit and not get hit.”