Saturday, July 2, 2011

There's a Heavyweight Championship Fight Tonight : bet You Didn't Know

One of the things I am fond of in life is boxing. I have been an ardent fan of the sport since I was a child. (Read about it in my essay "Born to Edit Boxing Stories" written for The Cimmerian,Volume 2 Number ) Watching boxing on network TV in the early 80s provided me more than mere entertainment - it gave me something to experience and aspire to. It has also provided me with one of me deepest regrets but I'll get into that another day. For now, I want to breakdown the Klitschko/Haye clash and the wayward heavyweight division.

In just a few hours the most anticipated and important heavyweight boxing match in almost 7 years will take place in the cavernous Imtech Arena, in Hamburg Germany - and most Americans have no clue it is taking place. How can this be? We're talking about the most anticipated heavyweight match up in years! That's right - the HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD!!! It's still one of the most recognizable titles in the world, right up there with the Queen of England and Mr. President. So, why won't America be tuning in to HBO PPV at 9 PM tonight? That's easy - no one watches boxing anymore. Well, at least not the heavyweights. Ask your average mug on the street who Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, or the recently retired Oscar De La Hoya is (small men all) and just watch their face light up with recognition.

The heavyweight division has fallen on hard times - just ask most fight fans. One could give any number of reasons why what was once the world's most coveted title, the Heavyweight Champion of the World, has lost most of its luster. Most significantly, there are more sports for promising athletes to choose from that aren't as physically punishing or dangerous and pay much, much better. Think of it this way, you can be the 12th man on an NBA roster and your compensation places you at the top 1% of the world's paying professions. True, an elite heavyweight boxer can rake in some serious cash but anyone outside the top 5 in this division is left out of the serious money. The payout for a decent pro heavyweight who is good but not great, someone akin in skill to the 12th man on an NBA team I just mentioned, will be absurdly low. You'd make more money learning to program in C++. In the NBA, you might tweak an ankle, dislocate a finger, but it is a rare day in most sports where you can spend 36 minutes being punched in the face. The point being - boxing is a tough sport, for tough, desperate people and it has been that way since its inception. With so many other potential avenues to success we are seeing fewer people willing to endure the spartan training conditions necessary of even the most average participants.

Historically, the heavyweight division lured some of the most athletic and determined large men on the planet to take up the sport of boxing in the hopes of earning huge sums of money as well as global fame that would endure long after the man had passed from this life. It's true that a heavy can still make money but fame, global fame, is a bit harder to come by these days as public perception of boxing has waned. The new global sports icons like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods are products of an efficient marketing strategy employed by a united group of interested parties - something that the sport of boxing does not have. The phrases "united governing body" and "professional boxing" do not go hand and hand and appear to be mutually exclusive. Ah well, and yet I love the sport and respect all its children, professional or otherwise.

So, here I am, writing about a boxing match held in Germany and featuring a Ukrainian giant and loud mouthed, athletically gifted Englishman. I suppose the question of the day is, 'why?' Because there are still enough fans of the sport out there to keep the sport relevant. A far cry from the Golden Age of Boxing, the late 1800s to the early 1900s, but better than dead.

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