I love boxing, what more can I say?” – Oscar De La Hoya, September 2004
The above remark was given to Larry Merchant just moments after Oscar De La Hoya had been stopped for the first time by Bernard Hopkins. Merchant's question had been whether or not Oscar was considering retiring from the sport. De La Hoya would go on to fight four more times before hanging up his gloves in 2008. While the latter part of De La Hoya's ring campaign was punctuated with long spells of inactivity we see common from most fighters today, the early to mid-section of his years as a professional were heavy on boxing and light on time off.
A fine amateur campaign culminated in the 19-year-old De La Hoya capturing the gold medal in the 60kg weight class at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. A star was born, and the “Golden Boy” nickname bestowed upon him by the American media still sticks to him to this day.
Similar to many of today's newly turned professionals, De La Hoya fought often in the first two years of his career. He captured his first world title in 1994 in his twelfth outing and kept his foot on the gas. Four more bouts were lined up and fought by Oscar that year, and for the remainder of the 90s, he averaged close to four fights a year.
As well as being active, De La Hoya didn't shy away from a challenge. History provides excellent context, and Oscar's bouts with Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Manny Pacquiao show us that he touched gloves with the greats of the era just before his, fought the cream of the crop among his own generation and took on the best of the future generation.
Let's fast forward to the present day. Are there any current fighters who, having just captured a world title, would fight that frequently? Would they be given the opportunity to? The mid-1990s weren't that long ago, but it seems like much has changed across the boxing landscape at the elite level since then. Many questions. Are modern fighters too comfortable – can one or two purses a year cover them financially? Is the promotional landscape in the USA and UK too fragmented? Are there too many broadcasters and not enough dates? Does everything have to be on pay-per-view to cover costs?
These are just some of the issues I have been pondering when wondering why most top boxers only glove up a maximum of twice in the current era. Instead of naming fighters and/or promoters, I am just taking today's scene as a whole. I think everyone involved must accept some of the culpability for not seeing our favorite fighters in action more often. I believe the fighters want to fight, and the matchmakers want to make the matches, but something is missing.
Boxing fans are incredibly loyal. They put up with it when other sports fans look on and scratch their heads. Your favorite football and rugby team plays weekly – you form a relationship with them as the season progresses. The tennis players and golfers show their skills weekly on their respective tours. Being in a more physically demanding sport, Boxers can't do this, but they shouldn't be off the radar for nine months at a time either when they are in their peak years. The boxing fans stick with it, but others remain, casual observers – potentially depriving boxing of much-needed revenue flowing into venues on fight nights.
More regular outings of all championship class boxers would benefit the sport immeasurably, but that ship has probably sailed. What happens currently is what we are left with – is modern boxing really defined by a couple of big heavyweight events per year and what Canelo does? Another question I can't answer, but if any discussion points arise from this, then that would be a small positive.
I don't want to badger promoters, but they have to work together more often. It starts at the top – if the greats can have cross-promotional matchups, then it stands to reason that fighters on the way up could do likewise, keeping busier in the process. The slow pace of progress towards so-called super fights is maddening. We may get the fights eventually, but not when the fighters are in their prime. Mayweather Jr vs. Pacquiao happened, but the consensus is it was several years too late. Crawford vs. Spence, if it happens, may be remembered in the same way.
There are seven days in the week – use them. I have heard fans and writers of a certain vintage mentioning ‘Tuesday Night Fights' – a decent-sounding promotion that ran in America for six years in the 1980s. Friday nights are criminally underused by boxing. From a fan's perspective, Friday is a great evening to go to the fights – a nice way to wind down after the working week before leaving the remainder of the weekend free for family commitments.
Sundays also. I get American promoters not wanting to go head-to-head with the NFL during that season, but a few Sunday evening shows from April to August could work. I'm just brainstorming onto the page here.
Broadcasting is another hurdle to clear. Now there are more significant players in the USA and UK at the top level. The broadcasters are required from a financial standpoint, but sometimes they prevent the bigger picture from unspooling smoothly. In America, Showtime (PBC), ESPN (Top Rank), and DAZN (Matchroom and Golden Boy) have exclusive deals with the major promoters mentioned. It feels like too much exclusivity and not enough willingness to share or collaborate.
In the UK, a much smaller market, we have Sky (Boxxer), BT Sport (Queensberry), and DAZN (Matchroom), all keeping their specific corner of the market to themselves. The result is infrequent domestic boxing shows across the three platforms.
Ironically, the aforementioned Oscar De La Hoya now sits in one of those major promotional chairs as the founder of Golden Boy Promotions. He's only one of four big players on the promotional scene in America though. I wonder if fighter activity today frustrates him as it does me. I wonder if he ever thinks back to those days of the 1990s when he built upon his established popularity and cemented himself as a genuine star who transcended his sport.
I am happy to see a modern-era fighter showing a willingness to fight regularly is, Ryan “King Ry” Garcia. Promoted by Golden Boy, the talented Californian has fought twice already in 2022 after taking some time off to deal with mental health issues. Garcia has been on social media recently, expressing his desire for more work this year. I hope it comes his way.
Back in his fighting days, Oscar De La Hoya loved boxing. If you've read this far, I suspect you love boxing. Yes, there are more obstacles to overcome than there were when De La Hoya was lacing up gloves and throwing menacing left hooks, and modern boxing is what it is. Perhaps those controlling things are happy with the current situation, and this is as good as it will be in the 2020s and forward. As I stated earlier, I firmly believe the fighters want to fight, but how many of them can truly say they love boxing as much as the Golden Boy did back in the day?
Maybe the 1990s were a long time ago after all.