By Tom Terzulli
Ali vs. Frazier, Leonard vs. Duran, Holyfield vs. Tyson. These are just a few examples of what the sport of boxing used to be in its golden years: legitimate super fights that transcended the sport itself in popularity and intrigue. There was a time when a big time prize fight was on television, the entire sports world stopped and took notice.
After years of declining interest and the failure of the Pacquiao-Mayweather “Fight of The Century,” boxing is in a pretty dark place. No, it’s not because of a lack of talent. In the first major fight of 2017, Badou Jack and James Degale put on a great bout in their 12 round majority draw to unify the Super Middleweight Titles. Aside from that, there are plenty of exciting, talented fighters to watch in 2017.
No, boxing does not have a talent problem: it has a star problem. All those great fighters lack the most important factor in being a legitimate box office hit: marketability. It’s incredibly difficult to build a brand without superstars. Imagine the NFL witha bunch of talented players but no real mega-star. The league would unequivocally be less popular than it is now. That’s the problem that’s facing boxing: the casual public and the media simply don’t care anymore.
The epidemic has become so bad that a potential Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor bout is the only story related to boxing that draws any coverage by the ESPN’s of the world.
A near 40-year old and twice-retired boxer taking on an MMA fighter who has never stepped inside a boxing ring in his life. That is the fight that people care about. The years of failing to create new stars has finally caught up to the sport in a big way.
Unbelievably, last year’s Segrey Kovalev-Andre Ward bout, which was legitimately the sport’s biggest event of the year, failed to break 200,000 buys on pay-per-view. Yet the meeting of the two loudmouth champions is expected to break the record for the most watched pay-per-view event ever. This not a super fight. This is not the best fighting the best.
But maybe that’s just the negative view. Maybe all this interest is good for the sport. People are at least talking about the sweet science again. The matchup could bring the most pay-per-view eyes on boxing than ever before. Those are both facts, but at what cost?
This is a side show, a novelty act that is using boxing as a back drop. Mayweather, for better or for worse, is one of the better defensive fighters the sport has ever seen. If he has made some of the greats look silly inside the squared circle, what chance does Conor McGregor have? Sure, the majority of the media knows this and claims they’ll watch any way. But, now that you have this huge audience, what do you treat them too?
Apparently not only a huge mismatch, but a mismatch where the dominant fighter doesn’t possess an entertaining style. Mayweather is a defensive master but that’s not exactly easy on the eyes.
We’ve seen this before with the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. The public response was almost overwhelmingly negative. They brought a huge audience in and turned off almost every single one.
With Mayweather-McGregor, we’re going through the exact same process again, but this time on an even grander scale. The fans will turn up for one night, find nothing that would make them want to stay, and boxing will take its place right back in the shadows of the sports world.