Oscar’s Right: Boxing This Year Sucked
Oscar De La Hoya recently came under fire for stating that 2016 has been awful for boxing, with boxing’s top dogs sitting idly on the sidelines. It certainly is a controversial opinion, especially for someone from boxing’s upper echelons like Oscar.
But here’s the thing: He’s absolutely right.
Boxing’s suffered an abysmal lack of momentum this year. Take the last two big cards of the year, for example, which featured Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin in back-to-back weeks. While all these televised matches were entertaining scraps, they weren’t followed by any substantial cards in the weeks following. And boxing’s ratings are suffering as a result. Average viewership numbers are dropping, a byproduct of boxing’s erratic scheduling. If the fans enjoy fights, in on other promoters to capitalize off that positivity and continue to deliver a great product.
While I believe that every case varies, it stands that most fighters haven’t taken too many positive steps forward this year. Canelo fought a fighter much smaller than himself and another who was a contender at best. Golovkin, for all the accolades he deserves, fought Kell Brook, who was talented but undersized, and Dominick Wade, a largely unknown Al Haymon project. Even Manny Pacquiao has been hurt by a lack of innovative matchmaking, facing huge underdog Jessie Vargas next week and beating Timothy Bradley for the second (arguably third) time.
Speaking of Haymon, his fighters have been the worst perpetrators of this trend. A lengthy list of his boxers have less than two fights for the entire year. Without much exposure, fighters can’t earn fans because the fans won’t remember them, gravitating towards more active fighters instead. Even Keith Thurman, who defeated Shawn Porter in one of this year’s signature matchups, fell out of public adulation despite winning the biggest fight of his career. Why? Because he hasn’t fought since then, and isn’t scheduled for another match until next year.
Which brings us to the promoters, who Oscar chides for failing to provide enough marketing muscle behind their fighters. And he’s right. Take the PBC, for example. Because of Haymon’s superfluous stable, each fighter doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves or needs to grow a true brand. Also, consistently putting on shows of low quality curbs the value of the PBC in general. In other words, to a casual fan, it might be hard to distinguish between a club fighter competing on a Tuesday night and a top fighter because of a lack of distinct promotion.
Because boxing is a niche sport, it constantly runs into scheduling lapses, and that issue was much more outstanding this year. In the summer, boxing often takes a reprieve. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the lack of promotional-friendly holidays during that span. But not having boxing on consistently from June until September hurts the sport’s popularity immensely. In addition, Showtime doesn’t do many fights in the fall because it directly competes with college football games. But there’s a difference between being strategic and starving the appetite of the fans. There will always be conflicting events on fight night – that’s life. You have to be bold in matchmaking and scheduling if you want to broaden your fanbase.
While we can rag on boxing’s inept model all day long, there have been a few bright spots hidden in the shambles. Orlando Salido and Francisco Vargas engaged in an all-out war a few months ago, while Jesus Soto Karass and Yoshihiro Kamegai battled twice in two entertaining bouts. And last month, Roman Gonzalez and Carlos Cuadras combined high-level execution with offensive frivolity to make a classic. In the coming months, Kovalev-Ward promises to be the most pivotal, legacy-defining fight of the year. And that’s really all the sport needs: great fights at the right time. Hopefully, boxing can learn from its perilous path in 2016, ushering back in the action-packed paradigm that has defined every great era in the sport’s history.