The Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio era is over. So they say. For now, we will all believe that is true. So, what happens next? Boxing moves on right? It’ll be ok? Maybe. But let me ask something here. Is the sport really ok? Was it even ok with them?
It seems that the fanbase for the sport has been deteriorating year after year ever since the early 2000’s. The biggest drop came after May 2nd of 2015, where Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao ended a five year circus to finally step inside of the ring to face each other. Since then the viewership for fights has dramatically fallen, with even the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao not being able to sell their fights to the public. The real question here is why?
We live in a new generation of fans. The future is more important than the present. It’s not just about what is happening now but about what is happening next. And what is happening next is always more important. When you go to look at the schedule of your favorite sports team you are already looking for the big match-ups. For the NBA, NHL, and MLB, it’s easy to skip the games you don’t care about. For the NFL, it’s likely you will watch every game especially if your favorite team is good. There’s anticipation for the entire season with a playoff bracket in the end that leads to a championship that means something. There is a structure there that every fan follows, and enjoys. Even in other sports that do not have the main stage, such as Tennis, Nascar, and College sports, there is some sort of structure that leads to an end.
Structure is something that Boxing doesn’t have, and part of not having structure is not having anything to look forward to after. There is no guarantee of who your favorite fighter is going to fight next. Boxing fans are suffering because of it. More importantly, the sport cannot gain fans because the upcoming generation sees no pleasure in watching it with no sort of end game. It’s like playing a video game that gives no reward of beating it.
There is also the issue of frequency when it comes to boxing. In other sports, if the game is bad you can accept it because you know a game on the schedule coming up is good. You are watching your team play every week, instead of having to wait six months to watch your favorite fighter fight. Nobody wants to wait six months in an age where waiting five seconds for your internet to load is enough to make you want to punch the screen.
Even the generation that has grown up watching Boxing has lost interest. They have become part of the norm. Let’s tell a quick story. I’m at the bar watching the Keith Thurman vs Robert Guerrero fight. The very first PBC fight. I’m sitting next to an older guy. He starts talking about Mike Tyson, Holyfield, Leonard, Duran, ect. He was an advocate of the sport growing up. He doesn’t watch it anymore but he’s intrigued by this fight that he can watch on NBC. We watch the fight, and he shows some interest in Keith Thurman. He wants to know what’s next, and I explain to him how the sport works. This was his response:
“So wait, I have to wait six months to see this Keith Thurman guy fight again, and you don’t even know who he is fighting? That’s stupid.”
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, he would have never said that. Technology was different, and boxing was looked at in a different way. But the game has changed, and boxing has yet to catch up. Imagine if this guy had asked about titles and belts. Good luck explaining that to someone that is interested in the sport. For die-hard boxing fans it’s acceptable because they are used to it. For people that have a mild interest in the sport, and for someone that is maybe interested, that couple minute interest in Keith Thurman just got wiped away.
In my head, I played this scenario different. What if Amir Khan was taking on Danny Garcia on the undercard, or a few weeks later? What if the PBC showed this guy an eight man bracket with eight fighters fighting towards a belt. What if I could have said to this man:
“Well, he is now going to fight the winner of this fight as you can see in the bracket. Then the winners of that are going to the championship fight to fight for the title.”
Sounds more interesting doesn’t it? It sounds more interesting to me already. Let’s take the Canelo Alvarez vs Amir Khan fight. This is a fight that everyone called garbage when it was signed. The same thing could be said for Manny-Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley. Now let’s show everyone a bracket showing that the Canelo-Khan winner will face the Pacquiao-Bradley winner in the tournament final? Let’s pretend both of these match-ups are the result of previous match-ups that started as an eight man bracket. Both fights just become a little more interesting didn’t they? Because now fans of fighters, or fans of the sport, are playing out cool scenario’s in their head for the next fight. Now, that new person that is thinking about watching boxing, or happens to catch the fight, says that he will watch the next one because he wants to see who’s in the championship. And then, this new person is going to watch the championship fight.
What I have created here is purpose, a future, and structure. Even if the crap mismatch of Golovkin-Wade is unbearable to think of, if Golovkin was poised to face the winner of Canelo-Khan three months down the road in a fight that would determine the champion of a tournament, that structure just gave the Wade fight a little more interest.
All of this is hypothetical of course. Boxing has hurt itself drastically by the differences in networks and promoters. HBO guys can’t fight on PBC, PBC won’t fight on HBO, Showtime won’t work with HBO, Top Rank won’t work with PBC, Golden Boy won’t work with PBC, and the list goes on to a never ending cycle of killing the sport one year at a time.
Al Haymon’s biggest mistake in creating the PBC was that he had no structure. He had the fighters, he had the audience, and he had money. Yet, he failed to deliver. The idea was great but looking back on it now it seems he just winged it. He overpaid fighters for crap fighters with no set of direction for any of them. He spent millions of dollars advertising but never created a public figure for the fans to latch onto as they had Mayweather or Pacquiao, or as they are currently with Canelo and Golovkin. He couldn’t create a star mainly because he had no structure.
What Haymon should have done was taken every single fighter he had and put them in mini NCAA type brackets for each division, pushing them towards a championship fight that the public could follow on all of his networks. He could have even created his own belts for each division. Maybe he could do this tournament every year? Would it have worked? I don’t know. It would have been better than whatever it is they tried to do. To take it even one step further, he could have got Top Rank, Golden Boy, and other small promoters on board to say “Listen, I have this money. Let’s do these tournaments. Let’s mix in HBO, Showtime, and let’s get everyone on the same page to make this sport interesting again.” Ok, I’m reaching with that. I know this is boxing and everyone hates each other therefore nobody wants to work with each other. But...that’s the exact problem isn’t it?
Can the sport be rescued in the future? I’m doubtful. We have a heavyweight champion that %90 of the United States couldn’t even tell you his name. The biggest problem is the sport is failing to entertain the upcoming generation of sports fans. So for the next 10-15 years maybe it’ll be ok, with one or two names becoming the face of the sport to sell it. Maybe that is all boxing will be from now on. One big name to carry the sport every five years. Eventually though, HBO and Showtime will see their ratings continue to fall to a point where it may not be worth to pay money for fights anymore. Then where will it go?