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Exhibition Bouts Aren’t Hurting Boxing, Inflated Egos Are (1 of 2)

By: Sean Crose

“The sport of boxing could be in serious trouble,” Jeff Tracy wrote in an article at Axios, “but the business is booming.”

He makes an interesting point.

The general public is now clearly more interested in novelty bouts than it is in the prospect of top young fighters facing off against one another. Perhaps that’s because top young fighters don’t fight each other very often these days. There was a time when a sarcastic person could quip that Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield would have a third fight before current welterweight stars Errol Spence and Terence Crawford would meet in the ring. Now that assertion might actually be true. As in literal fact. Something is wrong with boxing. Even the most casual of observers know it. The question, however, is why? Why do today’s top fighters, who are at least as talented and brave as past top fighters, not want to face each other?

The problem, frankly, may well be inflated self-esteem. Sure, promotional wars have something to do with it, as does the fact today’s fighters rightfully want to earn as much as they can throughout their careers. Yet we’re now at the point where accomplished boxers don’t want to prove they’re the best because they already believe they ARE the best. Their circles of friends tell them they’re the best all the time. Podcasters, broadcasters and journalists shout to the world of their greatness at every opportunity. A top young fighter might get around – at some point – to facing a legitimate challenge…but why rush things when you feel it’s already perfectly obvious who the better fighter is?

While making blanket condemnations against an entire generation is often a ridiculous thing to do, there seems to be evidence the “you’re just awesome” mantra that’s been making the societal rounds has had a negative impact on contemporary boxing. When you’re told you don’t have to prove anything to anyone all your life, you naturally feel you don’t have to. So, if you’re a successful fighter, boxing becomes all about the money. You’ll need more money than anyone else because, hey, you’re a big deal. You tell yourself that every day, so there’s no way in the world you’re going to take less money than your potential opponent – even if that opponent is as professionally accomplished as you are. And on and on it goes. The worst thing about the “you’re just awesome” philosophy is that it’s pretty much bulletproof. You’re taught to ignore the naysayers as “haters” and encouraged to just keep on doing your thing.

Of course, it’s perfectly healthy for a contemporary fighter to not box as much as fighters of old did while earning untold amounts more money than the old timers used to. Boxing is a dangerous sport. Yet it is still a sport, and a sport involving more than one individual most often requires competition. Real competition. A young athlete who makes millions fighting in two pay per view matches a year against opponents far from the best the game has to offer isn’t doing right by himself. And many, if not most, of contemporary boxing’s big names aren’t doing right by themselves these days.

Fortunately, there’s exceptions. Check in for Part 2 of this article later this week.

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