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Reality Bites
By Joe Trabucco (May 12, 2004) 
Sylvester Stallone
I despise reality television. I hate it for not actually portraying anything close to reality. What we see tends to be a watered down, edited, for our entertainment, version of reality. When it is live, like American Idol, we have it drilled into our brains that we are watching something exciting and special. In fact, we are just being served marginally talented people (sometimes) who have no problem singing 1 minute songs so that Fox can help Coca-Cola and the Ford Motor Company increase their sales. I also hate it, because when it’s on, I can’t stop watching it.

That brings us to the newest casualty of reality television, boxing. Both Sylvester Stallone and Oscar De La Hoya will be throwing their hats into the reality ring with shows that are supposed to showcase the next “big star.” Sure, just like American Idol always gives us the next big star.

When I heard about this, I have to admit that I was, initially, very excited. The thought of getting to see boxing on a regular basis was just what this weary heart needed. But that moment did not last very long. I began to make an assessment of what this could mean to the sport. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure what to think. This is what happens when you watch too much television.

There are positives to having a boxing reality show. Probably the biggest is it will be a tremendous amount of exposure for an otherwise dying sport. Boxing, for years, has been something that we could only enjoy sporadically. ESPN and the other networks have made a go at giving us a weekly boxing program. However, they all lacked the ability to bring in the casual fan. The recognizable names in boxing were all on HBO or Showtime, so most people didn’t see the need to watch two no-names slugging it out. That’s unfortunate. In my experience, fighters with nothing to lose, put on the best shows. If you don’t believe me, watch replays of Pemberton/Sheika I and II.

This could definitely be the shot in the arm the sport has needed. People will see a fighter, from their meager beginnings. There will be many fighters in the competition, which will give fans the chance to pick their favorites, and ride the wave of success and failure with them. This will build a loyal, and, most importantly, broad fan base that every sport needs to survive.

Let’s not just think of the fans, though. The people who could reap the greatest rewards are the fighters, themselves. ESPN just rated boxing the most difficult sport, and for good reason. There is a high physical price to pay with very little reward. Mickey Ward fought his heart out for years. It wasn’t until his wars with Arturo Gatti, that Mickey received his payday. Now there is an opportunity for young athletes to know that if they give boxing a try, their efforts want be in vain. This is huge. Athletes all try out for football, baseball, and basketball, because they know that even if they don’t become stars, there is still money to be made. If these shows take off, so will the fighters in them.

There is a dark side to the reality coin, though. The true reality of reality television is that it is the easiest way to make a mockery out of something. Whether it is marriage, music, or just business in general, reality television makes it money from the stories behind the competitions. They are basically sociological experiments beaming directly into our house. Competitors are put in situations in hopes of creating comedy, drama, or, in some cases, horror. The viewer is manipulated into believing they are witnessing reality, which is the furthest thing from the truth.

When I said that the fighters could benefit the most from this show, that isn’t exactly true. They will benefit, but the people who will benefit the most are going to be the producers and networks. Ever since boxing became a competitive sport there has been men in suits profiting from the blood and sweat of the fighters. This will not change. Except now, they won’t be visible a la Don King and Bob Arum.

But that’s nothing new, just different. My biggest concern is how they will choose the fighters that will participate. From what I’ve read so far, the boxers will be judged on skill and personality. Sounds like a damn beauty contest. What about the fighter who has out of this world skill, but the personality of a hamster? I watch boxing for boxing. I could care less what a fighter’s favorite food is or what music puts him in the mood. I don’t care. But for a television show to work, they have to make you care about these guys, so we are going to get hours and hours of useless information.

That brings me to my next problem. Nothing perplexes a fan more than the hype machine for a fighter that hasn’t proven himself. This is something that needs to be done away with, not encouraged. That’s what we are danger of getting with this show. Do we really want the next Clay Aiken of boxing? I weep at the possibility.

But it is much too soon to judge. I hate it when people make their minds up about something before actually seeing it. I will watch these shows, but with a critical eye. And we all should. Let’s face it, television producers have proven they know nothing about boxing. I am extremely skeptical of this experiment. Personally, I don’t think it will give us the next big star. All it will give us is a face for people to recognize. But then again, maybe it won’t. I’d prefer to let nature takes it’s course, and wait for a star to step up. Boxing might not have enough time to wait, though. I’ll keep an open mind, however, if this reeks of shit, we should flush it.
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