Sunday, April 15, 2007

'Fixing' the Fight Game

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The only sport I follow closely is boxing. I do watch the UFC and, on occasion, I will also check out some of the international martial arts competitions when available. Even though the skill level and pain tolerance of some of the fighters in other martial arts venues is nothing short of amazing, classic boxing still has my heart and soul. I truly enjoy watching the sport, analyzing the game and the fighters, and I train, when possible, as would a middleweight boxer. I had a few amateurish fights and have sparred many rounds, but that was long ago before getting older made recovery time a much longer process. Being hit hard by another fighter teaches you to respect the effort and skill of the game.

This is my short list things professional boxing can do to improve itself and widen its quickly eroding fan base. (No, it doesn’t include naked women.)

** Do away with the alphabet soup of belts and titles. A boxer’s ranking can be more easily determined by a universal numbering system that places them a single hierarchy based upon fight experience, opponent experience, and fight record. As it stands now, a promoter decides to create a fictitious boxing league and then anoints a ‘champion’ from among his own fighters. It’s just nonsense.

** Boxing should have set standards for glove and ring size that varies only with the size of the fighter. Heavyweights would all fight in the same size ring and wear gloves of the same weight, for example. The legal and managerial wrangling over such matters takes away from the sport. As it is now, many fights are won or lost for a fighter even before he steps into the ring. The fighter with the bigger ‘money draw’ basically decides what will happen.

** Make champions face better challengers and not fight a slew of lesser fighters in between just so they can cruise around taking easy paydays. In a numbered ranking system, a level one fighter must face at least a level two, a two at least the three, the three the four, and so on. This way the best will be fighting the best all the time and those at a slightly lower level will get the chance to move up. Allowing managers to pick and choose who their fighter will face makes for very boring boxing. It means that good fighters won’t be tested by better fighters and better fighters, although fearing the potential loss at the hands of a really good one, would have to take the challenges.

** Boxing is a business, but it is often a very crooked one. Fighters who have earned millions of dollars for their promoters and managers are often left with nothing but a tax bill at the end of the day. There is no regulatory commission or union looking out for the fighter’s best interests. Boxing needs a union to protect the fighters from those who claim to be their best friends. Boxers as a rule are not financially savvy characters.

** The payout for fights should be determined by the numerical ranking and not the backroom games of lawyers and casino owners. It would be easy enough to work out a system where we can do this. Say a level ten boxer fights a level twelve. Since he is higher in ranking, we automatically give him a certain percentage of the overall purse, as he is taking the bigger risk by possibly losing his ranking to the lesser fighter.

Implementing these few suggestions will not be easy, but they would, I believe, go a long way to improving the sport. That is, if we can ever get them past the promoters. Chances of that happening, however, are slim to none. The greedy don’t let go easily.

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