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Why Aren’t Big Fights Being Made? Partly Because Fans Now Root For Promoters And Managers

By: Sean Crose

Jack Dempsey, the legendary heavywieght champion of the 1920s, went three years without defending his title. Needless to say, he lost that title to Gene Tunney upon his belated ring return. Likewise, John L Sullivan, the first modern heavyweight champion, went three years without defending his title. When Sullivan finally did return, in 1892, he was bested by slick up and comer “Gentleman” Jim Corbett. The point here? That popular fighters who infrequently engage in their chosen profession are nothing new – but there are also huge risks attached to sitting out large portions of one’s career, like losing a world championship.

The truth is that we are in a stage where big fights simply aren’t being made in boxing. Spence-Crawford? Negotiations fell through. Fury-Usyk? Negotiations dragging on. David-Garcia? Again, negotiations dragging on (while the doomsayers begin to weigh in). The end of boxing? No. A sign of a dysfunctional sport? Absolutely. People can reasonably argue that “these things are just part of the business” all they want. The entire bureaucracy that is the boxing industry is now looking terrible. And it’s impacting the fans.

Of course, we can go on forever talking about boxing losing popularity. But we’ve discussed it so much it’s hardly worth going on about at this point. We know that most Americans have no idea who Canelo Alvarez, Tyson Fury, Ryan Garcia and Errol Spence are. We don’t need another hand wringing think piece focused on such a grim reality. The focus now needs to be on boxing ‘s remaining fan base, a fan base that is being neglected.

More importantly, however, it’s being divided. While no one would argue Western society isn’t currently in a highly fragmented state (When was the last time there was a television program beyond the Super Bowl that simply EVERYONE watched or was at least aware of?), boxing fandom itself seems to find a strange degree of comfort in the boxing’s divided state. There’s a sense of belonging, it seems, to being part of a fan base loyal to Team Haymon, or Team Arum, or Team De La Hoya, or Team Hearn, or…

The reality is that the strange phenomenon of promotional loyalty is keeping promoters, managers and networks from making the biggest fights happen. Sizable fan bases on social media offer boxing’s power players a cushion to fall back upon when the bouts people want don’t come to fruition. What’s more, it offers those very cheerleaders a sense of purpose. Free time can be spent going back and forth with members of the “other side” on social media instead of actually watching high end matchups.

If last year’s Spence-Crawford negotiation fiasco taught us anything it’s that boxing’s current fragmented state isn’t doing the boxers themselves any favors. While it’s true Spence and Crawford will most likely become Hall of Fame inductees after they retire, the chances of either fighter being a legend of the sport are now far less than they would have been if the two men had actually squared off against one another in the ring. And that’s too bad, for the fighters, for the fans, and especially for the sport of boxing.

Even cheerleaders eventually move on from cheerleading, after all.

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