In the Golden Age of Sports (the 1920’s) boxing legend, Jack Dempsey was the world’s greatest sports personality. The 30s brought Joe Louis, the first true African American national hero who reined champion for 12 years until 1949. His successor Rocky Marciano, made a legendary feat with an undefeated 49-0 record as he tore through opposition in the early 50s. The 60s & 70s saw Muhammad Ali, who is widely regarded as the greatest sportsman of all time. Mike Tyson, the Baddest Man on the Planet, was the biggest sports star during his prime in the mid-late 80s. In more recent years however, boxing has become self-nemetic – so what are the things that are holding it back?

All sports entered the 21st century with the same agenda society did, to expand and progress upon what they already had. Communities became more virtual while sport became more commercial. The powers that be in boxing wanted to build on the golden, modern decades the sport was experiencing as they entered the new millennium, but their extension onto this already-fine palace was constructed poorly and now turns newcomers away whenever they come to view it.

I identified what has been amplified in post-modern boxing that has negatively impacted the sport that once would incite intrigue across the globe on a monthly basis.

Governing Bodies and Titles

Four governing bodies oversee the sport, and each has its own world title. This would instantly look complicated to the casual eye as many share the perception that boxers should just fight for one belt that would consider them the best.

Most fight fans decipher who is the best out of any division’s four champions through the Ring Magazine champion. This belt is rewarded by the most established magazine in boxing and historically trumps the four Governing Bodies as it’s first champion was heavyweight icon Jack Dempsey in 1922.

Another method that fans use to understand who is the greatest of the four champions, is through the integrity of these Governing Bodies.

For example, the WBA has shaken hands with corruption multiple times, dismissing it from the race to supremacy against the three other Bodies.

The WBC is recognized as one of if not the most prestigious belt, as it is one of the oldest and has had all-time greats from each weight division, hold it, such as Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Floyd Mayweather.

Unifying all titles to birth an undisputed champion was the most legitimate route of being considered the current greatest of the weight division.

This requires all Governing Bodies to be on board which was common in the 20th century, but through politics and personalities of the new age, it has now become a rarity.

So much so that there hasn’t been an undisputed champion in the heavyweight division since 1999, a class that is largely responsible for bringing entertainment and popularity to the sport.

All this information regarding the belts must be dreary for a budding boxing fan to sift through, and the fact that it is no longer routine for undisputed champions to emerge from weight classes worsens the matter.

This is merely scratching the surface with professional boxing titles as regional belts have not yet been introduced which is likely the reason many do not bother keeping up with the sport or invest the same interest of fans in the 1900s do as there is a new-found commitment the audience has to have.

Promotions and TV Networks

More and more promotions are entering the fray. Attempting to build a roster of world-class boxers that can bring them titles, and with that, money.

But just like governing bodies, their working relationships are not the healthiest as they can be greedy for the best fights or fighters so at times refuse to cooperate. This damages the possibility of the best fighting the best in the sport and as Freddie Roach puts it, the best thing about boxing is “the best fighting the best.”

The financial opportunities are fully taken advantage of by promotions, but it seems that these money-driven businessmen follow the profit more than the best possible fight.

One would assume that both go hand in hand as watching the best in the business go toe to toe with each other would turn the heads of everyone who understands the sport.

But this new age proves that this is far from the case. YouTube sensations KSI and Logan Paul’s professional debut against each other doing better in PPV sales than unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s fight earlier that year is a clear example of how promotions can make high revenue without displaying boxing quality on a headliner in this age.

It shows that boxing mega-fights are not even the top priority for those who possess the power to make them happen anymore. Sports illustrated only including three 21st century bouts out of their ‘The 25 Greatest Super Fights’ is a testament to the decline of competition in boxing which promotions are somewhat responsible for.

This has urged some fighters to step away from the usual process of being signed under somebody else’s company altogether and decided to take matters into their own hands. Mayweather Promotions and Golden Boy are fine examples of this.

The ever-growing MMA promotion, The UFC, is still in its infancy having yet to be 30 years old. But it’s the format of being the one dominant promotion that contains all the world-class talent makes it much easier for supporters of the sport to follow.

This method could reignite the competitive edge that has been lost over time. This is nothing but fantasy as no promotor would want to lose their fighters and are more comfortable with the current fragmentation of the sport as long as they are making money.

Weight divisions

Once upon a time, boxing had eight weight divisions. Thanks to the chronic damage fighters sustain from cutting and adding weight in their attempts to maneuver through these divisions, we now have more than double this number.

Although the UFC should be commended for its dominance of the MMA world as a promotion, their fighters suffer dramatically when keeping their weight or changing divisions as they only have the original eight.

Boxing is now at the complete opposite end of the spectrum with 17 weight divisions where some are only separated by 3 lbs. This defeats the purpose of why more classes were brought in to start with as fighters just need to lose or gain just over a kilogram to alternate within the lighter divisions which is literally light work for a professional boxer.

It was once a legendary feat when Bob Fitzimmons won a world title in three divisions in the early 1900s, but since the addition of more classes later on in that century, we have witnessed greats like Manny Pacquiao double that record and some. The Filipino has become champion of eight different weight divisions in his 20+ year career.

This is detrimental to the popularity of the sport as, when one considers there are four belts in each of these 17 divisions, there can potentially be a staggering 68 world champions in boxing if none unified.

When these titles get put on the line between 1-3 times per year, it is extremely hard for casual and hardcore fans to keep up with the current champions.

It also gives the impression to the audience that becoming a world titlist is more possible than it used to be as more divisions mean the competition is more distributed rather than confined.

Access and PPV

Devoid of their opinion of themselves, not every champion of the sport is a Pay Per View fighter. To be successful through PPV, a boxer must have the exciting fighting style that fans will pay to watch, as well as a largely cultivated fanbase that ensures a high number of buys.

It is more common nowadays for boxers to headline a PPV card without having even ticked these boxes. Putting a paywall between fans and a boxer who is yet to establish themselves as a household name has impacted the sport negatively.

The reason for this occurring is usually the lust for the big check by the end of the night. But that will never come if the fighter isn’t built as a character on more accessible television first.

Forging a boxer into a superstar before demanding people pay to watch them work would be the more chronological process.

Yet the eagerness to make money in the sport has meant promotors and fighters jump this gun which leads to disastrous cards that stain the sports reputation as well as severing interest from people that would’ve wanted to watch them without dishing out hard-earned cash.

Some of the all-time greats boxed on cable network for free including Muhammed Ali and the 80’s ‘fabulous four’ of the welterweight/middleweight division.

American network NBC realized how televising boxing built the biggest stars thus scheduled to air 20 cards in 2015 after a 25-year hiatus of not broadcasting a title fight.

Despite this, the damage has been done over the years and turned away probable hundreds of thousands who would’ve been a part of the fanbase yet weren’t courtesy of this restricted access whose end looks to be drawing near.

Boxing is still far from down and out. It has seen decades in the past that have suffered an absence of interest.

Names like Anthony Joshua and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez still draw mainstream attention exempt of the fact it is harder to do so in this post-modern era.

PPV seems to be on the decline as stream subscriptions like DAZN are emerging as prime broadcasters which hurdles the obstacles that block the path to popularity.

It seems like promotions in other sports like the aforementioned UFC are making plays that generate an incredible amount of interest.

If our beloved sport were to take a page out of the books of the newest kids on the block, there is a chance it might be the hottest property on the estate of combat sports once again.

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Max Taylor articles

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