Why Boxing Will Never Work As Counterprogramming


By Sean Crose

Is contemporary boxing being marketed as a form of counterprogramming? Unlike athletes in most major sports, many of today’s most well-known boxers seem to be placed in situations where the risk of losing is very slim. The mighty New England Patriots, for instance, have stood more of a chance of losing lately than light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson has.

And that’s rather telling.

Is boxing, then, being sold as the sport where you never have to see your side lose? Tellingly enough, even many of today’s most anticipated matchups fall apart a bit under scrutiny. Miguel Cotto, for instance, has been on a roll facing major opposition lately…but he’s deftly avoided the terror that is Gennady Golovkin.

And what of Leo Santa Cruz? Sure, his match with Abner Mares was good, but he stood a lot more chance losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux…and fighter he’s talked about, but has never actually signed to fight.

Might it be that boxing’s power players feel good matchups will be adequate substitutes for great ones? And that good matchups only need to come about when a portion of the public actually starts rumbling loudly over a fighter’s blatant choice of sub-par opposition, as was the case with Santa Cruz?

It might indeed, and with good reason. Boxing fans, after all, are an insanely loyal bunch. Furthermore, boxing has a long and shady history, so much so that no one will ever be surprised by much that emerges from its shadows anymore. Now that boxing is back on “free” television in a big way, however, it’s clear that an expansion of the fan base is being attempted. And that’s where the trouble comes in.

For the greater public – made up of those who have turned away from boxing or have never bothered with it – is all too familiar with the sport’s reputation, and is being given more and more reason to keep away, seemingly on a daily basis. Here’s a quick refresher on some recent, eyebrow raising matters of note:

Floyd Mayweather received at least one unknown substance through an IV the day before his much hyped bout against Manny Pacquiao. The public didn’t find out until after the fight had ended.

While preparing for that same fight, Manny Pacquiao suffered an injury that turned out to be quite significant during the bout itself. Once again, the public didn’t find out until after the fight had ended.

Cotto, the current lineal middleweight champion of the world, refuses to fight at the middleweight limit.

Canelo Alvarez doesn’t want to fight Gennady Golovkin at the middleweight limit – even if Canelo wins the lineal middleweight title off of Cotto when they fight in November.

Adonis Stevenson still hasn’t faced Sergey Kovalev.

Leo Santa Cruz still hasn’t faced Guillermo Rigondeaux.

Fans are still waiting on that Thurman-Porter match.

Adrien Broner has curiously just won himself yet another world title.

Boxing is still marginalized, you say? Small wonder. For the sweet science remains, well, less than reputable. And while it’s true that boxing has always been pretty much the shadiest sport around, fans – American ones at least – have clearly tired of it. That’s why, even after the May 2nd fireworks, boxing is not even close to returning to the American mainstream.

For that to happen, the sport will have to clean up its act. And, let’s face it, it’s doubtful many of the power players involved are interested in that. Hence, the potential desire for counterprogramming. In lieu of treating it like, you know, the real and legitimate sport it’s supposed to be, boxing’s manipulators will have to engage in a bit of sleight of hand in order to bring in eyeballs.

Does the counterprogramming scenario really hold water, though? No one has seen a commercial which promises fans the sight of seeing Danny Garcia send an opponent out of consciousness, after all. Boxing is still being portrayed as a series of legitimate contests, even if that’s often not what it is.

Perhaps, then, the public is simply being promised genuine contests in order for it to believe the “A-side” really is as good as promised. Perhaps. It’s not like that strategy hasn’t worked in the past, after all. If that’s the case, however, then it’s even worse than the promise of one sided destruction. For the public is being snowed.

Still, it’s not often these days that top fighters are even being presented as being in serious contests. Was Tommy Karpency billed as a genuine threat? Was Michael Zerafa? Was Andre Berto? What was the selling point in all of these men’s most notable bouts, then? You guessed it – it was the guys who easily beat them. Hence, the weight of the counterprogramming argument.

In the end, none of this will work out for boxing. The public isn’t as dumb as it seems. It knows when it’s being snowed. Look at it this way, the insanely popular NFL is under constant scrutiny. Whatever its flaws, the NFL is nowhere near as underhanded as boxing can be. What makes anyone think an infinite display of mismatches will prove to be successful, no matter how well disguised and advertised?

Those cashing in on all the counterprogramming, provided that’s what it is, should enjoy the ride while it lasts. It ain’t going to go on forever, despite the best efforts of some less than sportsmanlike characters.

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