The League of Extraordinary Boxing By Gabriel Montoya, MaxBoxing (July 21, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
“Its not a memo. It’s a mission statement.”
-Jerry Maguire, 1996
I was hanging out watching the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. John Duddy card with Steve Kim and friends a few weeks back when the subject of “What ruins boxing” came up. I brought up the “too many belts” argument (I blame the Maker’s Mark). Steve countered that, as much as anything, it is the networks who program according to their best interests, overpay fighters who are not as established or the draws that their paychecks suggest, bow to secret alliances, and shoot down fights the public wants to see. As much as a silver belt drives us crazy, Kim explained, it’s not as bad as seeing a fighter turn down a fight against the likes of say, Sugar Shane Mosley, because he’d be taking a pay cut from what he’d get against a lesser opponent.
By the time Kim was done explaining, I felt like John David Jackson after he failed to see Jorge Castro coming back with a hook. A little dazed and confused by this unforeseen revelation. Not to say I bought it all hook, line and sinker but it definitely opened my eyes to a new perspective. I’m big fan of moments like that.
I watched a few weeks later as HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg publicly passed on a fight I’m excited about, Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin. While I understand they’re in the business of entertainment and not so much boxing, per se, I was still perplexed that a network who had poured so much money into some god-awful Klitschko mismatches over the years were passing on a fight that had a high potential to be exciting as Povetkin is a relentless young fighter who throws a lot of shots per round and boasts one of the most impressive amateur careers in the history of the sport. An ingredient missing in many heavyweight contenders that I feel will make some (not enough) difference in the fight. Maybe Ross knows something I don’t.
Somewhere around this time, it was leaked that Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander, the two best 140-pound fighters in the world, had agreed to do a proposed 140-pound tournament on HBO. All that was needed was the participation of Golden Boy Promotions, who have Marcos Maidana, Amir Khan, Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz an essential piece of that kind of puzzle. Rumors swirled it that was dashed because Golden Boy said no.
Then I stayed up all night this past Friday after listening to Bob Arum tell me Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather will not happen in all likelihood but no hard feelings. It was the second time in a year that I got to hear “No Super Bowl, folks. Maybe next year. But we do have some lovely parting gifts on pay-per-view coming up.”
This past Saturday following the post-fight presser for the Tim Bradley and Alfredo Angulo fights, promoter Gary Shaw called out Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank as a league of their own, citing that they were only fighting their own fighters and not giving his guys a shot at the big names like Pacquiao and Mayweather. Forgiving that, on this night, Shaw had Tim Bradley fight Carlos Abregu, who he promotes as well, he is right. Too often promoters are working against each other instead of with each other (think Sergio Mora vs. Shane Mosley in L.A. and Rafael Marquez vs. “JuanMa” Lopez in Vegas. Both on September 18).
Right now we live in a world where, even with a belt, Celestino Caballero can’t get a fight with anyone and Sergio Martinez not only has to offer Alfredo Angulo a catch weight of 155 pounds to fight for his middleweight but gets told no. A boxing world where the “Super Six World Classic: The Super Middleweights,” a tourney where the best fighters in a division actually fight each other is the exception rather than the rule. Where a 2010 pay-per-view undercard featuring Joel Casamayor and Rocky Juarez is considered one of the best in years. A world where Paul Williams, Floyd Mayweather, Andre Berto, Danny Jacobs, and Fernando Guerrero, all excellent fighters with attributes that would go well together in a fight, will never step into the ring because they are “advised” by the same man. And still, all will receive handsome HBO paydays while boxing misses out on that history because of that association.
How the mighty have fallen.
That in mind, I’m of the opinion that we need a league with a commissioner like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. It would legitimize boxing in a way that these events cannot. It would regulate it, make it flow easier, make the non-cable networks possibly believe in us again (not saying we need to go back strictly to free TV but it would help to expand the platforms we are currently on), and bring boxing back to its rightful place alongside the top sports in the world. But looking at Kim’s argument and its supporting facts, along with the events and climate I described, boxing will forever remain in the backroom though its front office may get a facelift now and again. It likes it that way. It makes boxing cozy to know it’s fractured and fighting with itself at nearly every turn. It revels in being “The Red Light District of Sports.”
So for today only, I appoint me the czar of boxing. I get to remake the whole thing. At the very least, I’ll give us the fights we all want.
1) We keep the regional belt system. Fighters need to get used to the championship rounds and this is a great way to do it while positioning in the rankings. Fighters starting their careers, say up to fight 15 or 20, would have more leeway to take developmental or easier fights. As you moved up in the rankings, say closer to the top 20, you would have less time in between tough fights. This would help keep fighters from hoarding a ranking or a belt. Fighters would have to mix in tough bouts with fighters ranked above them if they wanted to not only get anywhere but stay where they are.
2) We go to a two-belt system for every division. Kind of the American and National leagues, only this is world boxing so we split the world in a conversation longer than this article. When boxing is at its best, each division has a plethora of good fighters. It will be mandatory that a champion fight three times a year (with injury exceptions). With two belts, things will move along to a Super Bowl between the two beltholders in each division at the end of a three-fight cycle nicely. You can apply this model to the regional belts as well.
3) Victor Conte will be our Health Czar. He will be in charge of our drug-testing program as well as programs to educate fighters on nutrition and legal and healthy performance enhancement, which includes the evils and particulars of juicing. Together, we will tailor make a system to fit boxing schedules and make random year-round testing a must. Instead of playing catch-up, our system would set the standard.
4) I’d help create a collective bargaining agreement so that the lower-level promoters and the big boys can all work together in a way that is fiscally beneficial to all. Fighters need post and current career health care as much if not more than any other sport. You’d never again hear Bob Arum say he won’t let his fighters fight Fighter X because that guy isn’t a draw. Fighters would be encouraged to build a fan base near home as they’d make a little more as the hometown favorite based on their drawing power. Fighters would also get bonuses based on difficulty of schedule which would promote competition and better fights in the long run. Fighters would get a base salary when they turned pro to cover travel, training, etc. Over time and strength of schedule, accumulation of titles, etc, a fighter’s salary would increase. That salary would be an X amount that the healthcare and retirement fund would be drawn from. Bonuses would be a Y amount that would be free and clear of any withholding beyond normal taxation. Wins guarantee you a certain percentage increase in your annual base for next year while losses decrease that annual base next year unless they are losses in tough challenges. In that case, there should be no decrease in base salary.
This of course would also band the promoters together as something like team owners. They’d be forced to use their considerable skills for the greater good instead of always pushing for their own agenda.
5) Cross promotional cards. If fighters are asked to fight at home more often to increase a fan base there and we have a two-belt system, it would be next to impossible for one fighter to develop on his own. Promoters would need to work together to build stars. This can only be good for boxing fans as cards would get stacked, the gate would increase, and TV or cable would have to cover it somehow.
6) Return us to the days of yore with an extra round. 15-round fights are considered too dangerous anymore but that said, why go to an even number? I’m not a superstitious man so I say go to 13, get rid of some draws, and let’s see who did their roadwork.
7) The Boxing Network. OK, if the other major sports can do year-round coverage, a year-round sport like boxing- full of recorded history and a great cast of characters- can certainly muster up a channel of its own. Hey, maybe we can do some fights on there too. Think of the shows and the hosts. How great would be to have breakdown shows with old-time fighters and trainers? Trainers, managers, matchmakers, fighters young and old would be out in the open for all to see and learn from. Glorious.
So there you have it. Seven things I’d do to make our boxing world a better place. Maybe there are more answers. Maybe these only lead to more questions. But in my world, I wouldn’t have to wait to know if Pacquiao would fight Mayweather. They’d either position to meet in the Super Bowl, meet on their way there or they wouldn’t.
I wouldn’t be staying up until Buddha knows what hour to find out, that’s for sure.
Tonight, I can dream. Tomorrow, it’s back to reality.
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.