By Tyson Bruce
The vast majority of 2014 has been a massive disappointment for professional boxing, and a failed opportunity to capitalize on a stellar 2013.
While 2013 featured the highest grossing PPV card of all time and the emergence of Showtime as a network rival to HBO, 2014 has been plagued by grotesque mismatches, petty business conflicts and major fighters who seem more interested in griping from the sidelines than taking advantage of the prime years of their boxing careers.
Showtime’s fight cards have dramatically receeded in quality, and HBO is doing the best with what they have. The most disturbing fact of all may be that two of the sport’s finest fighters, Andre Ward and Mikey Garcia, have fought a combined total of once in 2013.
Andre Ward, who just a year ago looked primed to take over as boxing’s most talented fighter, is now its most tragic example of wasted talent.
Although he has just twenty-seven professional bouts, Ward has arguably the most complete resume in super-middleweight history, defeating the likes Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Chad Dawson, Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham. In fact, one could probably count on one hand the number of rounds he lost to all of those men combined. In a fair and honest world, Ward would be one of boxing’s brightest stars; however, the world—especially the boxing world—is not a fair place.
For the vast majority of fans, Ward’s style is agonizing to watch, because many of his fights feature a great deal of clinching and mauling or are so one-sided that they produce virtually no drama. This looked poised to change when Ward gave then light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson an utter thrashing and stopped him in the tenth round in 2012. The correct path likely would have been to continue to build his brand on HBO against the best available contenders until a super-fight with either light-heavyweight star Sergey Kovalev or middleweight sensation Gennady Golovkin could materialize.
Instead, Ward has senselessly tried to break out of his contract with his promoter, the late Dan Goossen.
One of the major reasons many experts believe Ward has developed so well as a professional is because of the savvy way he was brought up the ranks. Ward’s level of competition rose steadily and strategically before Goossen managed to finagle Showtime into putting a twenty pro fight novice into the Super Six tournament. The gamble paid off when Ward dominated the field and came out of the tournament recognized as one of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet. Ward owes Goossen a lot for getting him in position he’s in today.
Sounds like the start of great story right? Not Quite.
A guy with the ego and ability of a guy like Ward must rue the fact that Al Haymon fighters like Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson get equal or better pay days to fight guys like Rod Salka, or that Canelo Alvarez gets millions to fight a punching bag like Alfredo Angulo.
Pride in one’s accomplishments just isn’t valued as much as business savvy in today’s boxing culture. Why else would Ward think he has a legitimate reason to break out of his contract with Goossen? If he thinks it’s because he’s not getting six million dollars to fight a guy like Edwin Rodriguez, he’s dreaming. The courts, which have shut Ward down at every turn, obviously agree.
Regardless, Ward has virtually destroyed his reputation amongst the hardcore fans that once viewed him as one of boxing’s genuinely good guys.
Mikey Garcia is a similar but slightly different case.
Like Andre Ward, Garcia is an ultra-skilled ring technician who has profited from excellent talent development. Unfortunately, his massive skill is also not supported by an equally enthusiastic fan base. The major difference between the two men seems to be the zest for combat. Ward went into the Carl Froch fight in the Super Six tourney with a broken left hand, yet he continued to use the broken hand and complete the twelve rounds to secure victory. There is simply no quit or lack of courage on his part in the ring—it’s the reason Ward hasn’t lost since he was a twelve year old.
Garcia, on the other hand, hasn’t showed the same “do or die” spirit in the ring.
In a fight where he was utterly dominating against Orland Salido (he had scored four knockdowns), Garcia quit when he suffered a broken nose as the result of an accidental head butt.
A broken nose ending a fight … in boxing? It made you wonder what would happen if Garcia was truly pushed in a grueling fight.
Perhaps that’s the reason Garcia is sitting on the sidelines and beefing with his manager and promoter? It certainly isn’t because they haven’t treated him fairly. Garcia is a regular on HBO, where he has received high six-figure paychecks to fight a reasonable class of opponents. What more could he possibly expect, given the fact that he is not a mainstream star and competes in the lighter weight divisions?
Top Rank was even talking about Garcia fighting Manny Pacquiao in the next couple years: a clear indication that they have bigger plans for him. Yet, he’s fought just once in 2013 in a lackluster performance against the veteran Juan Carlos Burgos. Garcia, like so many fighters recently, apparently thinks he should be paid more to do less.
It’s never pleasant when the top fighters in boxing fight mediocre opposition. It’s an insult to the fans and a waste of valuable and scarce airtime. But you know it’s a truly precarious state of affairs when the top fighters in the sport just don’t want to fight: that they’d rather not get paid at all than to not get exactly what they want.
In a system with virtually no safeguards like boxing, these kinds of trends can be a slippery slope. Hopefully after a year of low ratings and rancid PPV numbers, some of these guys will clue in that it’s quality that creates coin and not crap.