04/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
There was a time when professional boxing was one of the top sports in the world. Dominated by big name heavyweights and big time fights, boxing filled stadiums, brought in the who's who from Hollywood and had pay per view buy rates off the charts. But in the last decade, the popularity of boxing seems to be gone. So is boxing down for the count? Or is the "sweet science" making a comeback?
Part of the problem for boxing in recent years has been the lack of a strong heavyweight division. From Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, to Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, it was the heavyweight championship fights that brought boxing to the forefront. But following Lennox Lewis' run as heavyweight champion, the pool of big name heavyweight fighters seems to have dried up.
Another issue for boxing has been the rise of MMA. Most casual boxing fans have been drawn into a new breed of combat sport. The UFC's popularity has drawn away from boxing's potential audience, for a couple of reasons. One, adding in kicking, submissions, choke holds and a cage around an octagon seems to quench the sporting society's want for violence more than two guys with 16 ounce gloves on in a boxing ring do. Secondly, the name recognition that boxing once had has transferred to the UFC. Most casual sports fans could probably name you at 3 of the UFC's top fighters. Could you name 3 of the top guys in boxing not named Mayweather or Pacquiao?
Another thing that has hindered boxing is something that helped it in the 1980's into the '90's....Don King. Don King Promotions brought boxing back to the big stage and kept it in the spotlight for the better part of 2 decades. Don King was a big part of the rise of Mike Tyson. But he was also a big part of the fall of Tyson, and of boxing as well. Don King's crooked dealings took away from the greatness of the fighters he promoted. Rampant rumors of the matches being fixed hurt the sport as well. Not to mention too many titles and too few name fighters to hold those titles. What draws fans to the UFC besides the fights? The personalities and name recognition. Boxing needs to find that again.
But...it seems boxing is trying to make a comeback. The first thing is having that marquee matchup that brings fans back. That will happen on May 2nd when finally Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will meet in the ring. Sure, maybe it should've happened years ago, and maybe it would've sparked boxing back into the spotlight back then. But it's happening now. And it has the attention of the main stream sports world again.
Second, boxing manager and advisor Al Haymon is investing $20 million dollars over the next three years to bring boxing back to the mainstream on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. With the mainstream exposure, boxing can start to target it's audience again. And with it being on network television, anybody can watch it. Boxing is a sport that has always been a sport that has allowed guys from rough backgrounds and tough upbringings to become superstars. That's the audience boxing needs. The youth that are in the lower middle class to the lower class who watch boxing as something to believe in. Bringing the fighters stories and backgrounds to the forefront and featuring them as part of the program can help draw in that audience and bring name recognition back.
Third, Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports. A card promoted by RNS earlier this year filled the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Throne Boxing, as it's called, had the event televised on Fox Sports. But it also had the pop culture appeal. Having someone with the pull Jay Z has promoting boxing is huge for the sport. But that also brought out some of entertainments heavyweights as well. Rihanna was there. Jake Gyllenhaal was there as well. It was more than just a night of boxing. It was hip. It was happening. It was that big time feeling that boxing used to have.
Is boxing dead or is it making a come back? I guess time will tell, but it seems like the sweet science is on the comeback trail.
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