The passion of the fans
By Rob Scott (November 4, 2004) 
Ali
From the moment I first fell in love with the sport of boxing the opinion lines were drawn. As a kid I would listen to various people have their say as to what attracts them to this art. Their different take on fighters and the game as a whole were interesting to say the least. Debates took place that made the barbershop skit in Eddie Murphy’s ‘Coming to America’ look tame. Whether they were educated opinions or the rantings of overzealous fans, all were passionate in their perceptions.

Everyone had their favorites and some were sensitive of their heroes. A debate could start from something simple as someone saying, ‘Ali is great’. From that statement alone, someone was sure to express how Joe Louis would have caught up with Ali and knocked him out.

From the hypothetical back and forthing of who would have won between Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; to the post fight two-way verbal jabs of why Ken Norton actually beat Ali in their last fight, everyone had their opinion. I can mentally see someone at this very moment reading this article and saying, “He’s crazy; Ali won that last fight hands down”. I never said he did or didn’t, but just as I did as a kid…I’ll just stay neutral on that one.

The passion that was expressed with words in the past is still expressed today, yet it has also given way to new views on added fighters. The name Roy Jones Jr. didn’t exist in boxing circles when Michael Spinks was becoming undisputed light heavyweight champion in February of 1984. In circles since Spinks’ time, Jones has been rated past a Michael Spinks and even compared with the great ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson. Jones’ horrible '04 has shed some light on some of those circles, which have since cleared their blurred vision and have disbanded.

While views on some fighters have been put in their proper perspective, others have loyal fans who feel their fighter can do no wrong. The impenetrable circle of a Mike Tyson is an example of a strong fan base. Others may feel that a fighter such as Tyson is washed up and will never be able to conjure up the ‘Kid Dynamite’ of old, but there remains that loyal, if not naive fan that is still going to pay to see Mike Tyson vs. Whomever. Fight night with a Tyson bout remains an event even more than the young fighters of today.

This is the fan that many fighters wish they had. Expressing their passion for a fighter is one thing, but expressing their passion by digging in their pocket is another. The two forms of praises are what I call ‘verbal praise’ and ‘pocket praise’. When Shane Mosley defeated Oscar De La Hoya the first time they met in 2000, he was showered with the verbal praise. He skyrocketed to the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound list. In his next fight though, Mosley didn’t even sell out the small theater of Madison Square Garden. De La Hoya on the other hand sold thousands and made millions in his next fight at the MGM Grand. Sure De La Hoya had a good supporting cast in Arturo Gatti, but Gatti’s presence was just icing on the cake. This was evident in the earning and selling numbers of Oscar’s subsequent bouts.

Even the negative fan can be a benefit. Let’s be realistic, not everyone that buys a Tyson or De La Hoya pay-per-view is tuning in to see them win. They have their fare share of detractors that would love to see them fall. These same, I guess you can call them anti-fans, will pay and have paid millions to see these events live.

Fan bases have always been the ones that have kept a fighter's name and cash flowing, but a win doesn’t always equate to extra zeros on a fighters paycheck. One has to get a following. This is a reality that some haven’t taken in yet. Undefeated two division world champion ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather is one. Here’s a fighter that called a 12.5 million dollar offer from HBO a “slave xontract”. While many fighters wouldn’t mind being under 12.5 million dollar bondage, the talented Mayweather feels that he should be paid on a De La Hoya scale. The difference again lies with the fans.

Undisputed middleweight champion Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins is another that tends to price himself out of fights. After his 2001 victory over Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad, Hopkins has ascended to the top of boxing, but the zeros have also had a hard time materializing on his paychecks. He did receive $15 million in his last defense against De La Hoya this past September, but that even paled in comparison to De La Hoya’s challenger’s fee of $25 million.

Some fighters, no matter how good they are, need that supporting cast. Fighters like De La Hoya, Gatti, Tyson, Trinidad and a certain few on the other hand have that fan following that puts butts in the seats which equates to money in their pockets. The reality is when the fans love you – they love you. This is a truth that will be interesting to see when Mayweather negotiates with Arturo Gatti for a future bout; or if Hopkins and Trinidad finally sit down at the negotiation table. Hopkins says that Trinidad needs him more than he needs Trinidad. From a revenge stand point, that is true; but from a monetary standpoint, one has to wonder whether Hopkins is trying to convince us or just himself. Some 17,000 plus fans that filled Madison Square Garden last month may just disagree with the champ though.

Anyone should get the gist; the fans speak volumes, verbally and monetarily.

The saying goes, “If the people are hungry – they will eat” and the fans have been given their fill of boxing’s top-flight cuisine as well as their share of junk food. Everyone has their own tastes, but the bottom line is, when the fans love you – they love you.
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