Boxing the Sport and Boxing the Business

I’ve been a critic of boxing’s methods for a long time. Having first followed mixed martial arts, I’ve always been partial to it over boxing. But as time has gone by and I’ve put in rounds in front of the boxing screen, I’ve learned to appreciate and like boxing even more. I’ve discovered it’s not the sport of boxing I dislike. It’s the business of boxing that turns me off.

Boxing is unique to MMA in the sport with the politics of it all. As a sport, they vary very differently. In MMA, the five minute and three or five rounds is meant to be explosive and provide action. In boxing, specifically 10 and 12 round fights, present more of an art form, where the name “sweet science” comes from. In boxing you can watch a fighter implement several game plans over several rounds, weaving them together being the perfect form of cause and effect.

Boxing Needs To Be Looked At As It’s Own Sport

Boxing, MMA, kickboxing, and any other standup sport get compared frequently. While MMA uses kickboxing and boxing, the other sports all have their unique attributes. Boxing is perhaps the most specialized of all combat sports with the exception of possibly wrestling. You see it in MMA vs. boxers all the time. John Moraga, a 26 fight MMA vet, has boxed recently and fought 1-0 Duke Ragan. Ragan was never in any trouble at all.

It’s the specialization of boxing that makes them so far ahead of any other striking sport. Think about it: in boxing you train to be great with two limbs. Sure, footwork is important but when it all comes down to it, you have a left and a right arm to train. In Muay Thai, kickboxing and everything else, you have kicks, takedowns, sweeps, wall walking, Jiu Jitsu, and so much more to worry about.

It’s why boxing is called the “sweet science.”

Watching someone like Canelo or Bud Crawford is incredible. You see the years put in to get the boxers to that point in their skills. They’re so fine tuned with the footwork, head movement, reaction time, and more. Spending all that time, all of those hours working on the skills a boxer posses makes even the most minute of technique or positioning of monumental importance in a boxing match. Boxing is the perfect embodiment of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, one of my favorite books. Putting the 10,000 hours in really separates the good boxers from the great. And putting the 100,000 hours in separates the great boxers from the best boxers.

General Ringcraft in Boxing

There will never be a Muhammad Ali in MMA or any other combat sport aside from boxing. Ali was a master at ring craft. He was the general and led fights for the most part of his career. The fight IQ was through the roof. Over the course of a 12 or 15 round fight, we would see four to five different approaches to fighting. From bouncing to taunting to brawling, Ali was a master.

MMA is 5×5 minute rounds. Thai Boxing is 3×5. Wrestling is two or three three minute periods. Boxing is 12 three minute rounds. In the course of a fight, you can watch Canelo keep his hands high and finally, after several rounds of, “Why isn’t Canelo engaging” with Sergey Kovalev, he blitzes the bigger guy and knocks him out cold.

Boxing established

Now that I’ve established the ways boxing is different as a sport, we have to dive into the business logistics behind boxing.

In the UFC, there are 6-700 total fighters signed to the promotions roster. Once signed to the UFC, a fighter is locked in and cannot fight in Bellator, PFL or ONE. Even outside of the UFC, it’s very rare we see someone cross promotion events. We’ve seen the most successful event with RIZIN and Bellator sharing a couple fighters. PFL recently blessed Kyla Harrison to fight in Invicta for the time being while they were shut down with the pandemic. But 99% of the time, there is no cross promoting.

In comparison, boxing’s lightweight division alone has 2,290 active boxers alone. That is worldwide. Across all weight classes, boxing dwarfs the size of the UFC. This is mainly due to the Ali Act where promoters cannot hold belts. This allows the cross promotion of fighters across Top Rank, Queensbury, Matchroom and more.

This is why boxing is good with the belt counts. With so many boxers, great ones at that, these boxers deserve their opportunity to hold a belt. There are many, like Bud Crawford, who has a hard time boxing quality opponents due to failed negotiations.

While the WBC and company are absolutely in it for the money, and they also do some shady matchmaking and padding of records, the model is becoming more and more correct to me.

While I question the idea of adding more weight classes, like bridgerweight, the current idea of multiple World Champions is the right idea.

It’s not the belts, it’s the politics

While I am for all the belts in boxing, it’s still got issues surrounding the belts. The politics corrupt the value of a World Championship.

As I sit here listening to the lead up minutes before Anthony Joshua and Kubrat Pulev I can’t help but roll my eyes at the analysts talking up the fight like Kubrat Pulev has slightly more than a punchers chance. This is little more than pretending and a step away from “professional” wrestling.

I am not against tune up fights, however. But looking back at Anthony Joshua’s record, you look at him claiming the title against Wladimir Klitschko and his fights have been underwhelming. There was Joseph Parker, which I’m okay with, but then look at his other fights: Carlos Takam, a washed Alexander Povetkin who is still half dangerous, the Andy Ruiz fights, which should have never happened, and now Pulev.

I just want to see Joshua fight Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. I want to see the best boxers fight the best boxers. None of this mandatory crap. Just top level boxing. But that is too much to ask for at this point. I don’t want Wilder-Fury 3.

It’s about the sport, after all

I have to think to why I love combat sports. I’ve been a fan of sports all my life. I’ve been to countless LSU football games with a stadium of north of 100,000 fans packed. Basketball, baseball, all of the traditional sports I watch. But why combat sports?

Boxing and any other combat sport is unique. It’s Mano-a-Mano. But unlike any other combat sport, boxing is more fine tuned and more measured than any other. Sure, there may not be many dog fights like in mixed martial arts or Muay Thai, but the drama behind boxing is what is intriguing.

For example, look at the recent fight between Teofimo Lopez and Vasyl Lomachenko. As a Loma fan, I didn’t know just how good of a boxer Lopez truly was; but I was about to find out. Lopez took the early rounds, having many (myself included) thinking Lomachenko was losing this fight. Lopez won the first half of the fight stifling the speed and footwork of Lomachenko with his own.

Then Vasyl Lomachenko comes roaring back. He begins teeing off on Lopez, not hurting the bigger fighter, but scoring none the less. It seemed that the tide had turned in favor of Loma.

It was the 12th round and even the commentators said this round won the fight. Teofimo Lopez came to play, bringing the fight to Vasyl Lomachenko winning him the belt, dethroning the number one pound for pound fighter.

It’s these wars you get in boxing that aren’t as dramatic in other combat sports. The ebb and flow is more dramatic in a 12 round boxing match more so than a 5 round Thai boxing fight. The structure of the fight incubates these types of wars.

Again, boxing is it’s own sport

It’s time to stop comparing boxing to other combat sports. We never compare wrestling or Muay Thai to MMA. They’re recognized as their own sport, as boxing should be. There’s no fence wrestling in boxing. The sports are completely different.

While there are comparisons to MMA for boxing, the centuries old sport deserves a fair trial. It’s ancient history predates most sports. In the Ancient Greek Olympic Games, it was boxing that was recognized as the most brutal sport, not pankration (ancient MMA) or wrestling.

The fundamentals honed are different. Competition is different. There are just some very convenient similarities that people like to harp on.

Before someone says “boxing is dying,” I beg of you to think about it deeply. Is it boxing that is dying or is it the business of boxing that is dying? In my opinion, it’s the business because as long as people have arms, they will want to punch each other. And as long as people will want to punch each other, they will box.

Blaine Henry

Just your friendly neighborhood fight fan!

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