By Charles Jay
This past weekend, a couple of very worthy sports that are perceived by most of the public to have been dying a slow death over the past 30 or so years had a chance to receive a proverbial shot in the arm.
Horse racing, which has been surviving by the good graces of slot machines for the most part in the last decade, was deprived by circumstances beyond its control, as I’ll Have Another, who was looking to become the first horse in 34 years to win the Triple Crown, had to scratch out of the race with tendonitis.
Photo: Chris Farina/ Top Rank
Boxing once again deprived itself. Period.
No more than fifteen minutes after the horrific, God-awful decision in the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight, i was on the phone with a rather prominent promoter, who wasn’t used to apocalyptic talk, but in this conversation spoke as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to do next in life.
“This could kill boxing, once and for all,” he said. “It could be the end. I really mean it. There are some things you can explain to people. You know, why a fight got stopped by the referee, or on a cut, something like that. But there’s no way the public would ever understand something like this. That’s because there’s no possible explanation for it.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people around this industry were feeling the same way, though they might be scared to death to acknowledge it.
They BETTER acknowledge it, at least among themselves, or they’re all going to be selling timeshares before long.
From a regulatory standpoint, athletic commissions, which are government entities, run the show, and that is perfectly understandable, since it is the police power they possess that theoretically keeps order.
But as much as armchair quarterbacks, couch potatoes and politicians like to take shots at them, there is no sport without the promoters. That applies across the spectrum, from good promoters, who know how to sell tickets and realize what it is like to take a risk, to mediocre promoters, who look to have everything pre-paid and fit more of the description of “packagers,” to bad promoters, who sometimes come up short when it is time to pay, to non-promoters; that is, guys who hold promotional paper but never seem to put on a show, preferring to function more like glorified agents.
Promoters are like people who run the “franchises” in this sport, or perhaps more accurately, the “teams” as might be found in NASCAR or Formula One auto racing. That is to say, some are much bigger and more prominent than others, but they are times when they are fighting over the same turf. The principles are the same, regardless of the business model, in that they have to be able to figure out a way for the numbers to balance on the positive side of the ledger for them at the end of a show, or over the long run.
Interest from the public is invariably going to be an essential part of the process. And interest is going to dwindle after decisions like the one that was handed down on Saturday night. It may have been the worst decision, in fact, since the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers drafted a guy named Sam Bowie ahead of someone named Michael Jordan back in 1984.
On a couple of occasions, promoters and those associated with them have gotten together for a summit meeting that was closed to the press. I jokingly labeled it “Little Apalachin,” an obvious reference to the 1957 gathering of organized crime figures in upstate New York that was busted up and led to some enlightenment on the part of federal authorities as to just how “organized” it was.
Well, let’s see how “organized” the promotional community can be. Previously they had talked about the threat of mixed martial arts and its impact on the boxing audience, both now and possibly into the future. Now they have that and a lot more to talk about. It’s difficult in a way because when it comes to bad decisions they are considered by many to be a big part of the problem. But if they feel a stake in the matter at all; if they are concerned about the way the “black eyes” that continue to be gathered in boxing have an effect on the overall product they are trying to sell, somebody had better get them together and speak very seriously to them.
Or was it serious enough that while they can’t seem to get a fight on network broadcast television, the UFC is signing an eye-popping, record-breaking deal with Fox?
Someone needs to pound into their heads that because they have a real interest in this, they need to forget about their own solipsistic concerns for just a second and start to map out some plans that will benefit the sport, even if it is the selfless insistence to athletic commissions that the officials are very much a part of the overall product, and that the very best need to be on display when the biggest audience is watching, because it drives public opinion all the way down the line. And that it has to be carried out, no matter what it costs and even if it requires an independent panel to make those selections.
They also need to let the public see what they are doing.
This is no time for feelings to get hurt, or for politics to get in the way. I could go on and on, and I just might, as time progresses.
Meanwhile, my promoter friend, who has hardly ever mentioned a word about MMA, was wondering out loud about the possibilities, well into the night.
If things don’t change, dramatically and soon, fans will move in the same direction he is – right out the door.