Fighters are no longer fighting their opponents anymore. They are now fighting Father Time, or as I call it, inactivity. Let’s begin with Jermell Charlo, who could make a strong case for Fighter of the Year in 2022 with his win over Brian Castano becoming an undisputed world champion at 154 pounds.. yet it seems he will return in January of next year. One and done isn't a Fighter of the Year schedule, typically.
Huh? The guy with all four belts will fight once in one calendar year.
This could have been his moment to stake his claim as one of the best 154 lbs fighters ever, of which he truly has a case, but he's kicking the can down the road, to next year. Maybe it is so people from Australia can budget to travel to see his fight, but this is far too long for one of the best and most exciting fighters to be out of the ring.
The problem isn’t just with one fighter, or one promoter, though. We can look at each promotion and find a fighter who is inactive. With Top Rank, we have Artur Beterbiev, with Premier Boxing Champions we have the Charlo Brothers, Leo Santa Cruz, and Keith Thurman. With Golden Boy Promotions until recently Ryan Garcia, as well as until his release, Rashidi Ellis. With Matchroom until his probable release we had Demetrius Andrade. Oh, despite being a free agent of sorts, Regis Prograis is another guy who has a thin schedule of late.
With COVID-19, we saw some fighters careers get put on hold, and now more than ever you have to stay active to keep momentum. Great football, baseball, and basketball players appear weekly, and we know fighters can't maintain that activity, but please. Actors in movies give us a good movie once or twice a year, and that's now often more active than our favorite fighters. We simply don't see the very best fighters in the world in the ring enough anymore.
A great example would be Dmitry Bivol, who is riding high based on his win over Canelo, but he was a forgotten fighter during the COVID-19 shutdown. Fighting his bout prior to the Canelo outing in Russia at a weird time on DAZN few watched that live. Prior to that, Bivol fought Craig Richards. So Bivol fought only three times in three years with two of his three fights coming in the past six months.
It is cruel to ask fighters to fight more often if they don’t want to, but the one-and-down plan isn’t growing the sport. In fact, it is dividing it more and more. We have been indoctrinated upon the belief that promoters “can’t work together,” fighters signed to certain networks can only fight a select group of fights, and that we need to side with fighters who are inactive because they’re getting money or something of that nature. We have been taught over the past 15 years to go against our best interests as a fan, for the betterment of certain promoters.
The simple truth is money talks in boxing. If the fight can make money, magically everybody can work together, so if a fight is compelling we need to show interest to force the networks to find a way for it to happen.
The obsession with wealth, loyalty to promoters, and need to see the promoters or networks we most align with do well has now created an era in which we have lost sight of the sport itself. Sure, some fights need to be made for a budget reasons, or logistics, but the big goal should always be legacy and historical import. So why are we obsessed now more with gate ticket sales, PPV buys, and how fights are consumed more than the fight itself? These things are now easier to consume or find content about rather than how many world titles a fighter has or even how many defenses of their world title they're making.
It is now more important to “be right” than to gain new perspectives, not unlike in the political realm in America and Britain. Boxing is now a yelling match of who is smarter, that is with the fans and the fighters, too, something which is unsettling. Millions of Americans or people across the world turn to boxing to get away from, or at least seek some inspiration from the ills of life, not be beaten down more so.
Boxing as a sport is asking a lot of the fans, and lately has been delivering, but not like other sports which constantly provide a pathway for the very best, boxing offers a Rubik's Cube pathway to the top. Sometimes the pieces fit together, sometimes they don't.
In short, boxing is the most real version of free market capitalism I have ever seen and until someone has no leverage or absurd money is paid, people prolong the making of fights, meaning we simply don’t get the good ones as soon as we should, which has another cause and effect, people who like watching the sport leave, because they’re not compelled week-in, and week-out.
The online community and blogs have pivoted to fictional match-ups or fake business deals to counteract that a lot of weeks, we're not getting the topics that we find most interesting. If this becomes the language of the sport, then that overshadows things when we're getting it right. How do we counter-act that? The problem is, we can't, and even worse the consumer now wants that type of dialogue, because it is now normal and provides comfort to them.
We are getting the best matches we have seen in years, yet the sport seems to be in the most unhealthy place ever. My interest has been very low in this great sport since most of the topics people want to discuss aren’t interesting to me.
To quote my good friend, coach Derek Collinsworth, the coach of Quinton Randall, a niche group of boxing fans have gone from being arm-chair boxing coaches to arm-chair boxing managers.
It isn't that fans don't respect the fighters, coaches, or managers, it is not to steal Coach Collinsworth's words again, it is more of an “athletic foot race”, void of the complexity of human sacrifice that is evidenced on fight night.
Rather than why Seniesa Estrada is no longer with Golden Boy Promotions anymore, I am more interested in when one of the greatest fighters of our generation, Seniesa Estrada, will fight again.
The business decisions she made are her decision, I know it fills a void, but I am consumed with legacy and greatness. Seeing her so inactive is a shame as she could be a true star for all the pioneering she did in this decade. We have been indoctrinated to not talk about the sport of boxing, but rather the business of boxing. The fighters make me love the sport, but the focus on the business matters make me lose passion for the game. The more we move to talking about the business of boxing the closer I am to leaving the sport.
Another ugly truth is fighters just aren’t as good as they used to be. Some of them are and the politics hold them back. But some I feel truly don’t fully believe in themselves, and beyond that, I don’t think they love the sport. It is a job, and more so a way to accumulate riches.
This means things like Instagram are vital for following a fighters' career, as they don’t bring enough in-ring action to make them a star, now they have to be an entertainer, along with a boxing star. The fixation on purse size is so prevalent, yet what irks me is outside of Andre Ward, Tim Bradley, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Canelo Alvarez and a few other fighters, I haven’t seen any fighters truly looking to be the man of the era.
Rather I see a lot of people who could be, but more so want to become rich and do a lot of cool stuff. I relate to that, but does that merit me setting aside a Saturday evening to watch boxing? It simply comes down to the relationship I have had with the fighter, and it becomes harder and harder to stay invested if a legacy of greatness isn’t on the line.
We’re still looking for the next guy, we have Tyson Fury, we have Canelo Alvarez, we sort of still have Anthony Joshua, but who else? We need Errol Spence Jr. vs Terence Crawford to create a true legend of this era, but we haven’t heard anything beyond gossip. Oleksandr Usyk has created one of the most impressive resumes in boxing history yet, hasn’t fought at home in forever, and given the current state of war in the Ukraine, probably will never fight at home.
We have an era in which a slew of fighters didn’t fight enough, and fans somewhat checked out on them. Shakur Stevenson is racing through the division to accumulate success as fast as possible. Stevenson is probably the most gifted modern fighter, but will he catch fire like the legends? Devin Haney is accepting any-and-all challenges, how can you not love that?
Jaron “Boots” Ennis screams of being a superstar, Vergil Ortiz is clearly special, Jared Anderson, Troy Isley, all of these guys could be that guy, and don’t forget Mikaela Mayer is close to becoming a cultural icon if she beats Alycia Baumgardner as Mayer has the chance to parlay her boxing success into a new career.
We have the fighters, we have the undisputed fights, we just need the fighters we see as preservers of the sport, as the very best, fight each other. We can keep hoping the sanctioning bodies will help push things in the right direction. If a belt becomes vacant, direct Vergil Ortiz to fight Jaron “Boots” Ennis for the strap. If you tell me it's too soon, why?
Oh, a business decision, it could be bigger?
That is unhealthy – look a Chris Colbert, who suffered a major loss, and now his fight with Shakur Stevenson may never happen. We have been indoctrinated with the belief that if a fighter loses they’re worthless, and not worth-watching…which is mightily untrue. Even worse, we have now been told you have to pick a promotional side when having a boxing conversation on the internet with people who love the sport as much as you do. We have moved away from loving the sport, and now we simply love stating party lines back to irk the rival faction. It is disheartening and I fear it will only get worse. The issue is the fight game takes so much out of fighters they have to be selfish and preserve their career as much as they can, but a lack of education in most instances along with role models who are going through this experience for the first time creates patterns that happen over and over again.
If we put on the biggest fights in boxing, the money will be bigger than it is now, because everyone would want to watch the sport. We’re only a niche sport as of now, because of the pervasive divisiveness and furthermore, when looking at the generational greats of the past, it is hard to compare this modern era to others, because of the frequent inactivity.
It could be just the times that have changed, but as someone who I feel speaks as an ambassador of the sport, I truly hope we see fighters more frequently moving forward. See them IN THE RING, fighting, that is, not sparring on Twitter or showing off their purchases on Instagram.