Only days before Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton square off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas this Saturday for the junior welterweight championship, there are many boxing lifers and longtime fans who are dismayed by the state of the sport.
They are convinced that despite Pacquiao-Hatton being a prominent fight that could exceed one million pay per view buys, the boxing game is dead and cannot be resuscitated.
Although this assertion is highly debatable, there is no arguing that boxing’s popularity has rapidly dwindled since Mike Tyson cease being relevant.
There was a time not long ago when even a lukewarm follower of boxing could name with certainty the heavyweight champion and at least two or three other title holders in their respective divisions.
I’ll give you a minute to answer this: Who are the heavyweight, middleweight and welterweight champions, historically boxing’s most well known divisions?
Are you stuck? Of course you are.
That’s because there’s a total of 13 recognized title holders representing four sanctioning bodies: the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO. Factor in the thinning out of divisions, with designations such as super middleweight and junior lightweight part of the mix, and other than hardcore loyalists few have the patience to keep up with this mess.
It is one of the reasons why boxing has lost many devotees and generates far less enthusiasm than it did when the answer to the aforementioned question could be rattled off without hesitation.
Sure, every now and then a true blockbuster fight takes place that grabs the interest of a wide segment of the public, such as last December’s welterweight match between Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya. But De La Hoya, who announced his retirement on April 14, was boxing’s last true megastar.
The boxing industry is fortunate if it has three fights a year that attracts noteworthy attention from mainstream media and casual fans.
De La Hoya-Pacquiao generated 1.25 million pay per view buys. It boosted De La Hoya’s all-time record for PPV boxing purchases to over 14 million and his benchmark for revenue to over $696 million.
The fight was the third highest selling PPV non-heavyweight bout ever. The other two being De La Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather in 2007 (2.4 million buys) and De La Hoya versus Felix Trinidad in 1999 (1.4 million). A significant amount of those sales were women who are as familiar with De La Hoya, the handsome People Magazine regular, as they are with the skilled ring master.
You realize where I am going with this, don’t you? De La Hoya is crazy popular because he transcends the sport. He is an authentic celebrity. But the cash cow has gone out to pasture with no one to fill the huge void.
In his role as the head of Golden Boy Promotions, the odds of De La Hoya being blessed anytime soon with an up and coming boxer who will approach his success is zero. Stars cannot be manufactured, although De La Hoya has tried through his association with the show “The Contender” and his close relationship with last summer’s US Olympic boxing team.
Unfortunately for De La Hoya, whose rise began by earning a gold medal at the 1992 Summer Games, no Marvin Hagler has emerged from “The Contender” and Team USA disastrously produced only a bronze in Beijing – won by heavyweight Deontay Wilder – and not a single potential great fighter.
The most pressing dilemma for boxing is the absence of a compelling American heavyweight in the division that unequivocally has always carried the industry. Of the four heavyweight champions, none are from the United States.
Vitali Klitschko, the WBC champ, and brother Wladimir Klitschko, the WBA and IBF titlist, have been on the scene for a while and are solid fighters. But neither has any drawing power outside of Europe, Russia and former Soviet territories. Without an American heavyweight to captivate the masses, boxing will continue to gasp for air.
Boxing also has a serious problem appealing to sports fans born in the late 1970s and after. Fight fans 30 and under have turned away from boxing and gravitated to mixed martial arts. Without this young demographic to grow with it, money will continue to dry up and the sweet science will sink deeper into relative obscurity.