Boxing: truly an international sport

By Charles Presnell


Boxing: truly an international sport

Much has been said of the “American birthright” to the heavyweight championship and let’s face it, the national pride that the United States showed for boxing in the past produced amateur stars and world champions.  As it would come to pass, these days American boxers are not getting the support and recognition they did before; logically, there has been a shift in the dominance in the sport of boxing.  This past weekend’s loss of the last remaining American-born heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman, has left a void in the American boxing fan and has them asking themselves, “How did this ever happen?”

In the past nine months the United States went from having all four heavyweight champions to having none.  First off Jawny Ruiz lost to the Russian Nikolay Valuev by disputed majority decision (no one really seemed to mind).  Then Serguei Lyahovich stunned the boxing community by defeating Lamon Brewster in a fight many thought would be a tune-up for Brewster.  A few weeks later Lamon would watch his cousin Chris Byrd employ a horrible strategy in a rematch with Wladimir Klitschko and leave Germany empty handed (except for finally making a well deserved multi-million dollar purse).  Finally we had Hasim Rahman.  The Rock was fighting an old, faded heavyweight he should have easily beaten on his way to cleaning up the division.  But Oleg Maskaev had other plans and knocked out Rahman in another tough fight.  [Editor’s note: Though foreign born, Maskaev is a naturalized American citizen]. These facts we know, so what’s the point?

Taking a look down the respected boxing divisions the United States only holds claims to four of the seventeen different weight classes (five if you count the retired Bernard Hopkins at light heavyweight).  More and more boxing has become an international sport.  Fighters like Manny Pacquiao can come here to the United States, fight a few Mexican fighters and return home a legend that is followed around like Tom Cruise when his latest movie is released.  Comparing that to Floyd Mayweather, who is considered the best fighter on the planet, walks through airports with only some people noticing who he is, others may think he is merely a rapper or comedian, not realizing they are in the presence of boxing greatness.  Here lies the biggest problem with American boxing…Exposure.

Back in 1984 the United States Boxing Team had the attention of the nation as they brought home eleven medals, nine of them gold medals.  Following those Olympic Games, the American public cheered on their Olympic heroes as they won several world champions while some of them placed their names among boxing immortals.  The nation cared about these fighters not only because of their Olympic accomplishments, but their previous amateur accomplishments as well.  Back then amateur events such as the golden gloves championships were televised which gave strong lead-ins to the Olympic Trials and the Games themselves.  In the years following, the United States Olympic team has folded in the games having only brought home two medals in the previous 2004 games.  Andre Ward, who went six years undefeated as an amateur, was little known going into the games and is still in obscurity to the average sports fan despite being the only American to win a gold medal in 2004.

The demise of exposure to amateur boxing is not the only cause for the fall of American boxing.  Jim Lampley pointed out several times that the fighters that would be the size of a heavyweight champion these days are normally playing football or basketball.  When an average professional football, basketball or baseball player can make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to ride the pine, the decision on which sport to participate in is simple.  Penny Hardaway can still command an eight figure a year contract while having shot knees compared to Floyd Mayweather receiving the option to make $8 million for the first time in his career shows the disparity as well.

Then the question becomes, “Why are other sports players in the United States making so much more than boxers?”  Is it the sanctioning bodies, promoters or managers?  No, they are not the real place to blame.  One cannot believe that MLB is the cleanest pastime on the land with the widespread steroid scandal of recent times.  Face it; most of the other sports we enjoy have just as much corruption as boxing.  The biggest reason for the decline in American boxing is television exposure.  No one has to turn to PPV or a premium cable channel to witness the World Series, Super Bowl or NBA Finals.  They don’t even have to turn to cable to watch these championship games, but if one desired to watch America’s Last Line of Defense, Rahman, attempt to defend his portion of the heavyweight title they would have to shovel out $49.95 as well as be a cable subscriber.  This is also the case in order to watch the majority of the top boxers in the world.  Can you imagine having to shovel out that kind of dough to see Kobe Bryant, Shaq, Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds?  Given the buy-rates for recent PPV’s to see Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Bernard Hopkins, there is clearly an audience for the sport that will only grow if these fights were on a broadcast network like ABC.  Commercials between fights or on a ticker between rounds could bring in the same revenue that American Idol or possibly the Super Bowl if the right fighters are fighting. 

Perhaps the media is to partially blame for the decline of American boxing as well.  When Wladimir Klitschko wins a fight it is blasted all over the news in Germany compared to when Lamon Brewster beat that same Klitschko having barely made the last page in the sports section.  We do not celebrate our champions anymore.  There is also more exposure for a returning Evander Holyfield, who most think should retire, fighting Jeremy Bates than there is for two young fighters like Michael Marrone fighting Eric Boose fighting each other.  For some strange reason we like our named fighters rather than supporting our up and coming stars.  If you mention the names Calvin Brock, Jermain Taylor and Cori Spinks to the average sports fan you’ll probably get a response of, “Yeah I’ve heard of them,” however, there is little more response following.  They would probably ask when Mike Tyson is fighting again in their next sentence.  While there are several people in the media who look down on internet journalism, one would have to give internet websites their due when it comes to boxing.  Let’s face it, the only good boxing coverage is found on the World Wide Web.

So is there a real solution to loss of legacy to the American boxer?  Sadly the answer is no.  One thing we all must accept is the fact that boxing is an International sport.  Fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Carlos Baldomir, Oleg Maskaev and Sam Peter, athletes who do not live in countries with rich sports programs turn to the sport of boxing and sacrifice to become world champions.  The United States will always have standouts in the sport, much like they will always have elite athletes in several other sports.  As patriotic as we are to our sport and our fighters, let us usher in a new era in the sport where we can chant “USA…USA…USA!” as a fighter such as Monte Barrett takes on the Russian Giant Nicolay Valuev or Floyd Mayweather takes on Carlos Baldomir.  Let us sing in the crowd like the English do for Ricky Hatton and celebrate our champions like the Mexicans have Chavez, Castillo and Barrera.  Finally, how great would it be if an American fighter could gain the type of popularity Manny Pacquiao has in the Philippines of a pop icon?  It’s time we give American boxers their just due and cheer them on as they prepare to face the world.



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