Specter Chronicle 002: Boxing’s Problem

My personal story with professional boxing started in the early 90s, when I happened upon a free boxing event on ABC where a world title was being defended (successfully, I might add). After that, I really started getting interested in the sport that lasted for quite a long time. I stopped being as interested in the sport when it stopped being about legitimate competition and became more about waistlines just under one’s nipples.

Let’s talk about what’s wrong with boxing.

Mixed Martial Arts

One of boxing’s biggest competitors is mixed martial arts. When the UFC really came on the scene as a weight class separated league, boxing really stopped being as interesting a sport. Not that the fighting was anything less but the fighters themselves started doing weird things in the ring.

This is the era when the “waist” or “belt” started creeping well up into the ribcage area, hugging your opponent became the go to move in the ring, and big fights stopped happening between the fighters fans really wanted to see fighting because the fighters started making demands that were unreasonable of their opponents.

What do those things have to do with MMA? Well, what MMA did was start morphing into what people wanted to see: action oriented fighting.

Forget the differences in the sports for the moment. MMA condensed rounds down to three five-minute rounds, five for championship fights. They didn’t have a “hug your opponent and break up” thing because there is a grappling factor in MMA, so no slowing down the action in the majority of the fighting. There was also the removal of one of the biggest problems: big fights happening between the fighters fans want to see more often.

MMA was doing things right where boxing was not.

Boxing Isn’t Mixed Martial Arts

This header is 100% correct. Boxing is NOT mixed martial arts and never will be but there are things that boxing continues to do that will continue to hamper it as a sport.

Boxing’s events are mostly pay per view at this point, with very little offered for free to the uninitiated viewer. As I stated in the very first paragraph, I came across boxing on ABC in the US on free TV and probably never would have given it a second look had I not seen it where I did with a world title on the line on free TV. Just like giving a movie a chance for $25 a ticket you’re not sure about, no one is going to put down $70 on a boxing PPV just to “see if they like it.” Discoverability is a big deal.

MMA has discoverability as there are several places you can watch it, for free, around the world.

There is some boxing available on YouTube or other Internet sources, sure, but nothing live. Sports really rely on the live component and without the live component, boxing is hurting. You need MAJOR networks or stations on TV to get those random viewers.

Boxing’s Problems And Their Solutions

Boxing’s single biggest issue has to do with their sheer number of governing bodies. Pre-1970, there was only one ranking for each weight class and that meant only one champion per division in each weight class. One undisputed champion of the world per weight class.

Currently, the recognized governing bodies considered the “Big Four” are the WBC (World Boxing Council), the WBA (World Boxing Association), the IBF (International Boxing Federation), and the WBO (World Boxing Organization). Each organization ranks their own boxers individually, meaning there is a potential for 10 completely different boxers to be ranked per division per organization… and that would mean 40 ranked fighters per division.

Each of the Big Four do not rank the other organization’s champions, so there are potentially four separate champions per division as well… and the WBA makes that even more complicated by having a “super champion” when their WBA champion wins a second belt, and gaining the super status… meaning someone new can get the “regular” WBA championship then. That makes a potential of five champions per division.

Another HUGE issue for boxing, in my opinion, is the over abundance of weight classes. There are currently 17 weight classes in boxing, with some being as little as three pounds in difference. That is just too many weight classes. So many weight classes removes the eliteness of the athletes and gives the opportunities for championships to too many individuals.

Four main governing bodies with potentially five championships per weight class is a total of 85 world champions. There is actually another organization that some consider “the fifth” of the Big Four, the IBO (International Boxing Organization), which would add another 17 world champions to that mix. With 102 possible world champions, who can give a damn anymore?

Another big problem that I haven’t concentrated on is the “hugging” issue. When two boxers get to punching each other and one doesn’t like getting hit so much, that guy tends to “hug” the other one to get him to stop. This forces the referee to break the two apart, giving the two fighters a small respite before they resume punching each other. As the fight goes on, this becomes more pronounced because the two fighters are more exhausted.

The final issue that I haven’t addressed is the fights themselves. Fighters are essentially responsible for setting up their own fights, though this is done through promoters, and therefore is left to benefit the fighter for whom the fight is being arranged. In the case of “big fights,” then the guaranteed money for the fighter is the primary concern. This is understandable, of course, but doesn’t result in very many “great fights” in the sport.

What about the solutions part?

This is where I get to those.

THE magazine that represents the sport of boxing is The Ring, which is basically the authority on the boxing industry. The magazine started in 1922 but has now become a website with more up to date information. They’ve devised a system to rank professional fighters separate from sanctioning bodies, having strict rules for who can be considered for a championship.

This is the solution to the “too many organizations” issue. Ignore the sanctioning bodies and just have a separate and widely agreed upon authority to rank fighters. No organization should be ranking fighters and certainly shouldn’t be handing out championships. Boxing is so diluted with belts right now they don’t even matter anymore.

Boxing’s next big issue to solve is a simple one: condense the weight classes. Seventeen is too many. If there is only three pounds between weight classes, that isn’t enough of a difference. I take bigger craps than that.

Here’s the divisions that currently exist, and I’ll just go ahead and strikethrough the ones we can get rid of right off the bat: Heavyweight (201 lbs and up), Cruiserweight (200 lb max), Light Heavyweight (175 lb max), Super Middleweight (168 lb max), Middleweight (160 lb max), Light Middleweight (154 lb max), Welterweight (147 lb max), Light Welterweight (140 lb max), Lightweight (135 lb max), Super Featherweight (130 lb max), Featherweight (126 lb max), Super Bantamweight (122 lb max), Bantamweight (118 lb max), Super Flyweight (115 lb max), Flyweight (112 lb max), Light Flyweight (108 lb max), and Mini Flyweight (105 lb max). I’ve eliminated 7 weight classes, 28 world championships (or 35 if you include the IBO). Most of the ones I removed were created in the 1980s or later, right around when three of the Big Four were running rampant over their heyday. There is a Bridgerweight division (224 lb max) recognized by the WBC only, and I haven’t mentioned anything about that.

Moving on to the “hugging” problem. Boxing should focus on the action and that means avoiding the hugging. An obvious solution is to remove a point every time one of the fighters initiates a hug. Yes, a full point for each instant they hug. If you have an older champion that is hugging a lot, then they could end a round with 0 points. That’s on their head. I assume this isn’t going to be a popular solution, so I’m going to suggestion another one, which isn’t going to be popular either but at least I’ll have suggested two instead of one. The second suggestion is to lengthen the rounds from three minutes to five minutes, and shorten the number of rounds from twelve maximum to seven… and forcing the clock to stop when a hug is engaged. Yes, stop the clock when the hug is engaged, which means whoever thinks they’re getting out of the fight easy is losing the advantage.

Solving the final issue is the trickiest one but also an easy one to fix. Reading this, you might be inclined to believe that I’m going to suggest that The Ring take over as the indicator of who should fight who, but that isn’t what I think at all. Once a fighter is ranked in, say, the top 25 of the world (allowing The Ring to be the arbiter of the official rankings), if the fans vote that they want to see a fighter face someone in particular, then that is the fight that is made. They’re the ones paying for the fight, let them determine who the fighters fight. This eliminates top 10 ranked fighters from continuing to fight scrubs while the champion of a division only battles top 10 ranked fighters. The negotiations should be simple, too… the winner gets 75% of the purse, the other 25% goes to the loser… a draw is 50-50 split. That encourages everyone to try and win.

Thoughts and Responses

I already know my ideas aren’t going to be popular with boxers. They really aren’t going to be popular with sanctioning bodies or promoters. Even these suggested improvements aren’t going to be taken because I’m one voice in a sea of millions and I’m the only one making these suggestions… and I don’t even care if I get credit, just make the changes.

Boxing is called “the sweet science.” That hasn’t been true for a long time. It hasn’t even been true during my life time. The sport deserves better than what is currently being done to it by the very people claiming to be its stewards.

The sport needs to get rid of the Big Four and the rest who hand out belts like participation ribbons. Boxing needs to condense their 17 weight classes into something more manageable… if not 10, or the “prestige eight,” then figure it out, but is must be less. Hugging needs to be eliminated or at least severely limited in the future… it is out of control. And the big fights need to happen without months or years of delay because of selfish fighters or ridiculous demands… because fans deserve to see two fighters in their primes fight, not argue about terms.