Boxing has long been the pinnacle of combat sports. An elderly grandmother living out in the Midwest will know who 'Iron' Mike Tyson is. A child growing up in a remote African village with no access to cable television will have a Muhammad Ali poster pinned to his bedroom wall. Hell, you can't even watch a YouTube video anymore without listening to the backdrop of Rocky's inspirational monologue - you know the one that goes "it's not about how hard you can hit...".
Boxing is perhaps the only combat sport that has managed to ingrain itself successfully into mainstream society across the globe. A special thanks goes to it's vast array of characters and Hollywood's helping hand. It's also no secret that MMA has largely used Boxing as the blue print for it's own success. From the 10 point scoring system, to using Boxing judges for fights and even the same sanctioning bodies.
If Boxing is the pinnacle of combat sports, then Heavyweight Boxing is it's crown jewel. The coined term, "baddest man on the planet" is handed out to the special athletes who can climb atop the jagged mountain of the hardest hitting division. Last weekend, Boxing suffered a promotional disaster in the biggest case of 'don't judge a book by it's cover' since Mr Miyagi stormed Cobra Kai Gym. Golden Boy Anthony Joshua was picked apart by a relative unknown: Andy Ruiz. So, this got me thinking, what exactly can Boxing learn from MMA when it comes to promotion?
1. Promoters must stop over protecting their fighters
Okay - I understand if your fighter is 1-0 you don't want him fighting world champions just yet (unless of course your name is Vasyl Lomachenko). But when your fighter is an Olympic champion and the current undisputed heavyweight champion of the world (holding 4 championship belts), your fighter has to be fighting the best opposition out there. How Anthony Joshua has not fought either Deontay Wilder or Tyson Fury is really quite bewildering. Promoters must believe in their fighter and not be afraid of taking a loss.
The negotiation in Boxing works differently to MMA (I get it), but if you want to rake in the payday and keep Boxing relevant, the fans want the most intriguing match ups. It was successfully done in the 80s with what is now known in Boxing's 'Golden Era' with the 4 Kings (Hearns, Leonard, Hagler and Duran). MMA largely manages to keep fighters honest and the best fight the best. Perhaps this is a benefit of MMA still being in it's relative infancy when compared to Boxing. Of course there are some exceptions to this rule and managers can occasionally still play the role of money grabbing promoter by getting the most lucrative match ups possible.
2. Placing too much emphasis on a loss
I have never managed to comprehend the importance of a loss in boxing. You may have won 100 fights in a row all by devastating knockout but lose a hotly contested split decision and you will have fans, commentators and pundits come out of the woodwork calling you a "has-been" and placing you into the congested Journeyman category. This is perhaps the reason why Boxing promoters want to keep aggressively milking their cash cows and only fight the best possible opposition as a final pay grab. Case in point: Mayweather vs Pacquiao. A fight that took place 12 years too late and was followed by a further 12 rounds of both fighters continuing to duck each other.
Boxing promoters need to understand that everyone will lose (fighters are only human). Promoters must be tasked with the responsibility of educating the fans. The nature of Combat Sports means an outcome can be turned on it's head in a split second. MMA on the other hand has shown that any given fighter can lose and it doesn't necessarily reduce their stock. Take Conor McGregor, he lost 2 out of his last 4 fights (if you include the Mayweather loss) before he fought Khabib Nurmagomedov. However UFC 229 was still the biggest PPV draw in UFC history. Anderson Silva, is another example, having lost 6 of his last 8 fights but still managing to draw in the hardcore fans. Repeat after me: A loss is not the end of the world!
3. Get rid of the damned three letter alphabet titles
IBO, WBO, IBF... XYZ, ABC. Just stop! It boggles the mind trying to decipher what organisation is what, what belt is meaningful and what belt could you win from a McDonald's Happy Meal. Fight fans don't care what the three-letter acronym stands for, they just want to see the best fighters fight. This is why when these dubious organisations introduce re-match clauses and mandatory challengers it derails potentially amazing match-ups from taking place.
In this regards we are lucky to have the best fighters fighting under one banner. There is nowhere to hide!
I am by no means saying that MMA promotion is the perfect road map with no flaws, but Boxing could definitely learn a thing or two about how it's done in a different world. If not, it risks becoming a fractured sport that will not be able to garner interest from the mainstream fan.