American sporting journalists (who do not cover boxing) shared their ideas and suggestions on how to make boxing popular again in America, as it was once upon a time. This should be required reading for boxing’s current power-brokers such as Ross Greenburg, Richard Schaefer, Oscar De La Hoya, Al Haymon, Gary Shaw, Lou DiBella, Bob Arum, Don King, and Ken Hershman…
* More balls-out promotional efforts. The contributions of people like Don King cannot be praised enough.
* Boxing needs to learn from the things UFC gets right. Boxing gives fans who shell out money for pay-per-view a big-name main event and 2-3 hours of crap on the undercard. UFC PPVs usually run 4-5 fights deep with name fighters the fans care about. If a boxing main event sucks, the fans feel ripped off. If a UFC main event sucks, as often as not the undercard saves the show. UFC makes matches the fans want to see when they want to see them. Boxing builds up fighters artificially. This isn’t the 1970s anymore, no one is impressed by a soft unbeaten record (Floyd Mayweather). If a UFC fighter loses a tough fight to a name opponent, they don’t lose face with the fans and as often as not come out of it a bigger star for their efforts. And so on.
* Stop putting good fights on pay-per-view. Start televising fights again on CBS and ESPN. Be honest with the fighters’ records. Get rid of Don King and his ilk. Consolidate to one group. No more WBC, WBA, IBF, BFF, IJAG, BYH, YGBFKM and WBO.
* Bob Arum, Don King etc. need to retire or die. The sport needs to get off pay-per-view. One global boxing organization. Weekend and late night fights shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all. Fight on weekdays on cable. Exploit Internet technology, stream away for free or minimal cost and load up the broadcasts with ads featuring global brands. Hold championship bouts in non-traditional places.
* You need to have good fights. Like it has been said about the UFC, every single card has at least one great fight and most have three or four. After that you need to have a great American fighter. Talk all you want about Mayweather ducking Pacquiao, but even when he does fight its only once a year. You need a fighter that will fight at least twice a year and ideally three to four guys that can create an interesting card every time. Most of all you need to get rid of promoters that insist on only matching fighters they promote.
* Would the NFL remain as popular as it is if everyone had to go to a bar or pay $50 to see the Super Bowl? How about baseball and the World Series or NBA and the Finals? The answer is no. When all your best stuff can’t be seen by a large amount of people your popularity is going to suffer. It’s not the only reason but it is the biggest reason.
* For the short term – launch a reality show/tournament. Every week features a five-round fight. Four judges and a “fan vote.” The winner gets a title shot. Of course, you would have to get good boxers, not have their management muck things up. Maybe even adopt a “season” for the sport at large so the end of each year has a “champion.” Cut the boxing federations and the weight classes to no more than eight or nine.
* More fights on broadcast TV. Before NASCAR, college football and hoops, X Games-type events and beach volleyball took over, boxing was a staple of weekend programming on ABC, CBS and NBC.There were also those great shows Howard Cossell used to do before and after big heavyweight fights. Get rid of the alphabet soup, and do something like the Super Six (great in concept, but plagued by injuries) to determine the new champ. If you get a champ with some personality, promote the hell out of him. I’m thinking of someone like Andre Ward currently. Of course, Ali is and will always be the gold standard.
* A great heavyweight rivalry or great matchups. With the exception of Holyfield-Bowe, I can’t really think of a great rivalry in my lifetime, and I’m almost 35. Tyson-Spinks, Holmes-Spinks, Tyson-Holyfield, Tyson-Lewis, Lewis-Klitschko, all put asses in seats when the rest of the sport struggled. There are only two matchups now I’d consider paying for, and neither of them will ever happen. Mayweather-Pacquaio and the Klitschkos fighting each other.
* They need to quit breaking for TV commercials right when the only interesting thing happens. (The bikini girls with carrying the round cards.)
* Invent a time machine and prevent basketball, baseball, football and hockey from becoming major sports, thus ensuring more elite athletes flow back into boxing? Throw themselves on the mercy of Congress to create a regulating body?
* I never missed a Tyson fight. I liked Spinks a lot. Holyfield was OK. Lennox Lewis bored me. I liked Riddick Bowe. Now, almost as a whole, other than the Paquiao vs. Mayweather or Klitschko vs. Klitschko fights, everything else is in boxing is a snoozer.
* Definitely mix in some free TV. Doesn’t have to replace PPV, but you need a mix. And show it primetime, (Friday Night Fights, perhaps) not Saturday night at 11:30 when you run a good chance at whiffing on the news cycle with the general public. You get no buzz/no PR with anyone who didn’t see the fight. An example, and a bit of an aside–I can recall catching a routine boxing card on something like USA network on a weeknight in the late 70s. Ran across a bald, mean-as-hell-looking dude named Marvin Hagler who was beginning to rise up the charts. Hardly missed a Hagler fight from then on. A big-time American heavyweight. No matter how good the personalities and characters are at the lower weights, the sport has always been driven by a prominent American heavy. Used to think you had to consolidate all the organizations into one. Now, not so sure you have to, though. it wouldn’t hurt to reduce down some, but I don’t think it’s imperative there be only one sanctioning body. Bring in Vince McMahon as a consultant. I say that half jokingly, but similar to MMA recently, wrestling has found a way to be a consistently successful product for what, two plus decades? And for a completely scripted sport. Maybe boxing could learn something from them.
* A great American heavyweight is the Holy Grail obviously but boxing thrived in the 80′s, in that dead-ball period between Holmes’s prime and the ascension of Tyson, with great lighter-weight guys like Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran, Pryor, Arguello and others. Those guys fought a lot and fought each other. As others have said, boxing needs to return to network TV where it was a weekend staple and helped build up the careers of the guys I mentioned and others like Ray Mancini. Boxing got way off track putting fights that would have been naturals for network TV back in the day on PPV. Even die-hard fight fans like me wouldn’t shell out for the shit they were flogging. Same goes for live cards everywhere which match up the local hero against some hopeless dive artist and charge Vegas prices. I’m no fan of UFC/MMA but they give people their money’s worth and out on a good show.
*I looked it up, and the last marquee fight I can recall being on broadcast TV, was Mike Tyson vs. Buster Mathis during Tyson’s 1990′s comeback, which drew 26.5 million viewers on FOX. Then again, Tyson may be the anomaly in gauging public interest in boxing.