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What Next For Boxing?
Boxing is one of those sports that seem forever on its death bed only to rise again and certainly 2012 was a good year and so far 2013 have seen some classic bouts with a whole new generation of fighters making their marks. The question is can Boxing capitalize on its increase popularity?
Let begin with what has happen on the positive side. The improvement of Showtime and the addition of NBC Sports network have added to the televised coverage. Let’s begin with emergence of Showtime as the major player in the Sport today. Showtime for years have adopted a strategy of concentrating on specific weight divisions and their SHOBOX series allowed the network to build up new stars. Now with coordination with CBS, Showtime has a network television outlet to promote fights to go with the Showtime family. Showtime has added a new twist they borrowed from their MMA competitors when they broadcast a big event. They have preliminary bouts on Showtime Extreme where many of their young fighters can be exposed to a wider population. ShoBox, the Next Generation has served as promoting stars of the future and Showtime Extreme allows some of those young fighters to be on undercard of bigger events. Fans have an entire evening of boxing to enjoy and Showtime is able to promote stars of the future while putting on great main events with the stars of today.
NBC Sport network has allowed the expansion of coverage as promoters and managers can expand their fighter’s exposure plus NBC Sport network can add fights on NBC network itself. ESPN and HBO are still providing excellent coverage and now Boxing has more attention than ever before. HBO has been a pioneer and still produce great coverage of the sport with their BAD (boxing after dark series and Jim Lampley new program on boxing.
So what can boxing do to reform itself? The number one problem for boxing is that through the all various weight divisions, sanctioning bodies and promoters, no one can tell you who the champion of each division. Not even the most inform of boxing writers or pundits have a clue and if those of us who actually cover the sport can’t tell you who the champions are; why expect the average fan to know. And many former fans decided that they simply don’t care to figure it out.
Any reforms must work within the present system and the number one item is to identify the true champion of each division. I will begin to build on what I propose in the past. Each sanctioning body can continue to sanction their own champion but as one sanctioning body has already doing, why not have a Super Champion in each division? Right now, there has been an attempt to have Ring magazine to name a champion and that is a beginning.
The College Football at the highest level has adopted a system that boxing can copy. Many forgot how champions were crowned before the present system came into place. In 1994, Penn State and Nebraska ended the season undefeated and there was no final showdown and a similar thing happened in 1997 when both Michigan and Nebraska ended the season undefeated. College football has created new excitement with the present system and soon there will be an additional game to crown a champion. The biggest challenge that colleges had in making changes to a de facto playoff system was how entrenched the bowl system was. Many bowl sponsors opposed any playoff systems since it could eliminate them as player. So College simply merged the bowl system into a new system.
For the most part, the new system has crowned the correct recognized champion and a similar system could work in boxing. A combination of computers, boxing writers using the eye test and add bonus points for being a sanctioning body champ can create a Super Champ in each division. From there, the system would be design to pick top ten challengers on a three month basis, thus giving allowing promoters and sanctioning bodies a chance to set up super fights or major PPV event.
This reform uses the present system and allows those who profits from it to still profit from it. Fans can figure out who is the best and sanctioning bodies still can sponsor their own championships, and promoters know that fighters can get higher point totals for being sanctioning body champions and earn higher ratings! And higher ratings may mean more big fights and more big pay day. Call it a win-win as boxing simply build on the present system.
Another reform is to find a way to improve scoring. How many times have we seen big fights to tainted by poor scoring? More than enough and this too has an effect on fans interests. Nothing like watching a big match and then wonder how three judges missed what the rest of us saw. Ted Atlas once noted that maybe a judge who gets it wrong explain, round by round, how or why he or she scored the bout to the state sanctioning body.
One suggestion is for judges to attend schools on an regular basis to refresh their skills. Those judges who attend these schools will be allowed to score major fights. Schools can be located on a floating regional basis and manned by some of the recognized best judges. Retired judges like Joe Cortez or Harold Lederman can be instrumental in designing the curriculum. Another aspect is to try to more objectively in the scoring. While Compubox is not always accurate since the power of the punch can’t be truly measured, Compubox does give a good sense of how a fight is going. Most of the time, the winner of the bout tends to be the fighter who dominates Compubox data.
Should Compubox number be given to judges in between rounds? That is one reform that should be considered. Judges are placed at different angles and sometimes they don’t have the best view. The numbers may add to the accuracy of the score. Al Bernstein once told me that a judge should try to count the punches they see. This will add more objectivity to the bout. I realize the objections to this plan, especially in lieu that Compubox can’t truly measure the power of the punches but Compubox does separate power punches from jabs. The key is to add objectivity to the scoring and Compubox is one way. This still will not replace the eye test of which boxer has the more pop in his punch but it does aid the judges.
In most boxing match, the one objective aspect that does work is a knockdown giving a boxer who deliver a knockdown, a 10-8. For me, this should be strengthen. I realize that there are those moments in which one fighter dominate a round so much that some judges will grant a 10-8 even without a knockdown but the goal is to make judging more objective and the rule should be a 10-8 round be rewarded only in the case of a knock down. Each knockdown gives the boxer an extra point. Two knockdowns is a 10-7 and if the referee dosesn’t stop a fight after a third knockdown, it is 10-6. If a fighter is losing a round but scores a knock down, it is still a 10-8. Under no circumstance can fighter who scores a knockdown fail to receive a 10-8. In boxing, it is about power and power means knockouts and knock downs. This gives objectivity and strengthens the scoring system.
Another reform is to strengthen medical care for fighters and one way to fund this is to use a portion of big fights including PPV for a health care fund for fighters. Boxing is high risk and there long term damage. Boxing can certainly begin protecting its biggest assets, its fighters. If athletes know that there will be some form of health care fund, it might even attract more athletes.
Final reform is to strengthen amateur boxing. Just look at recent Olympics to know that our amateur program has collapse but future stars come from the amateur ranks where boxers learn the basic of the sports. If you want to see the benefit of amateurs, simply look at Guillermo Rigondeaux recent victory over Donaire. Rigondeaux came into the professional ranks with 400 amateur bouts and much of it at the highest levels. It is in the interest of boxing to promote amateur boxing.
The key to boxing is to restore a sense of certainty. Certainty in knowing who is a champion, certainty in scoring, certainty in protecting boxers and finally a certainty in developing the stars of the future.