Three fights and boxing’s future

By Tom Donelson
Updated: May 10, 2009

IOWA CITY — Over the past three weekends, there have been three fights that show both the state and weakness of boxing today. The first fight was the Taylor-Froch Super Middleweight championship bout.

Jermaine Taylor was just 10 second from claiming a second championship in a different weight division. More importantly, he was just 10 seconds from coming back as a major gate attraction for American promoters.

It just a few years ago that Taylor appeared to be next best thing for American boxing with an engaging smile and a victory over the all time great Bernard Hopkins. HBO in particular was hoping to promote Taylor big time but two losses to Kelly Pavlik put the Taylor’s career on hold.

If Taylor won this match, he would have been able to be back on top as one of Americans big gate attraction and a victory over the undefeated Froch would have fans forgetting his two losses to Pavlik.

Instead the loss put Taylor back in the line and hurt his status as a potential star. He is now a good fighter with three losses. In boxing economics, fights take on more importance as elite fighters do not fight as often.

In boxing’s golden era in the 40’s, and 50’s, elite fighters would fight anywhere between eight or ten times a year. A loss was not a disaster and fighters still had plenty of opportunities to get back on the boxing gravy train.

Today, with maybe just one or two fights per year, each loss is magnified. Kelly Pavlik own luster lost it shine when Bernard Hopkins gave him a boxing lesson and so far, there have been no rush to have Pavlik fight Abraham, the other elite Middleweights.

As many Europeans fighter become dominant within many of the glamorous division from the Middleweight division through the Heavyweights, many big fights are being made overseas.

Most big fights in the Heavyweight divisions are held in Germany and the interest in the heavyweight division has waned as a result. This brings us to last week’s Pacquiao-Hatton fight.

Both of these fighters have big international following and are big heroes in their own countries. Pacquiao not only have a big following in Asia, he also has a big following in the United States as many American fans have seen the Pac-Man defeated some of the Mexican best fighters just as Morales and Marquez.

Hatton have also invaded the American shore and shown that he could fill seats in American arenas as well. The Pacquiao-Hatton fight became subject around boxing fans water cooler and this showed that American fans will shell out big bucks to see good non-American fighters fight.

But the key here is that both fighters were introduced to American fight fans either through television coverage or live fights in the States. Hatton was a feature stable on Showtime and when he came across the Atlantic, he added many American fans.

Pacquiao developed his own cult stateside as American fans saw him fight some of the best Mexican fighters and added Oscar De La Hoya plus he has Freddie Roach as his trainer.

What counts is that both fighters were already know commodities to American fans and proved to be fan friendly. The biggest fight in the Middleweight division would be Arthur Abraham and Kelly Pavilk but this is a fight far from happening.

When Abraham came over to fight to Edison Miranda in a rematch, it looked like he was following Ricky Hatton own strategy by coming stateside to add to his appeal. Since that fight, he has stayed in Europe and his ability to promote his economic viability has gone by the wayside.

The Abraham camp would easily answer that why come to the states when the fighter can earn as much if not more fighting in front of friendlier fans. The Indonesia featherweight champ Chris John took a pay cut to fight Rocky Juarez in Houston just a while back but he is back in LA for the rematch with Juarez and this will only add to his appeal here.

Having defeated Mexican star Juan Manuel Marquez once, a victory over Juarez and continued exposure could set up a big money fight with Marquez in a higher weight division.

Both Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao are American stars with big international following. This is good for boxing and shows that globalization can be made to work as many boxing stars reside outside the United States.

The recent Chad Dawson-Antonio Tarver fight shows the challenge of American promoters. There was a time that Tarver was an upcoming star. He was the self promoter who often backed up his boast.

Who could forget his famous question to Roy Jones when he asked Jones, “What excuse will you have now?” before knocking Jones out cold. Tarver is now 40 years old and the new heir apparent as American light heavyweight champion is now Chad Dawson but Dawson has yet to set a fire under American boxing fans.

Dawson is a solid fighter but he is not a spectacular fighter who will knock an opponent with one shot. Not even Boxing pundits are impressed with Dawson as one HBO announcer noted, “Dawson is a B+ fighter in a C division.”

The problem with this observation is that most of the better light heavyweights fight in Europe and there is no real knowing how good this division if the best fighters don’t fight each other.

Dawson may be just a B plus fighter or he may be even better than what we think. Only time will tell but if one of your country best fighter is not a major crowd pleaser, it hurts the economics of the sport.

Right now, there are very few American stars that can excite fans enough to make them drop everything on Saturday night to watch them fight on HBO or Showtime.

Boxing economics is being challenged by globalization as many great fighters are fighting overseas. Boxing has to find a way to promote these fighters to build a following stateside.

In the 90’s and early part of this decade, Showtime use to feature fighters like Joe Calzaghe on their telecast. This helped to give American fans familiarity with European fighters. With great fighters like Mikkel Kessler or Arthur Abraham fighting overseas, American fans do not get to watch some of the best fighters and many of them are essentially invisible.

Boxing needs to find a way to popularize these European stars and try to set up fights with American stars with their European counterpart not just in Europe but stateside.

Pacquiao showed that foreign stars can become American stars and one suspect that in a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, there would be more cheering for Pacquiao. Finding an American star will help.

But the bottom line is that before American stars can be promoted, they need to be stars. If Chris Arreola became an Heavyweight champion and take a portion of the title; then the heavyweight division will matter to Americans fans again.

Dawson needs to just keep winning to build his reputation.

Winning goes a long way to building a career.