As I sit here in Las Vegas covering this weekend’s Saul Canelo Alvarez versus Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Cinco de Mayo showdown at T-Mobile Arena I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. It was just two years ago this week two of the biggest names in the sport of boxing faced each other in what was supposed to be a fight to bring boxing back to the golden ages of the sport. Instead, it turned into a fight that helped the sport financially but hurt the sport in terms of credibility.
That fight, of course, was the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao super fight. I remember the night after that fight I had a lot of people who knew I’ve covered the sport of boxing – since I was fresh out of college and a fan even longer – tell me the sport was dead. Obituaries were written for the sport I’d loved since a kid, it seemed, on a daily basis following that fight. UFC fans were celebrating their sport as the pound-for-pound best combat sport on the planet. Boxing was on life support and detractors were ready to pull the plug.
The more I thought about it, though, I realized boxing had been in that same point before. In 1981, the late, great Muhammad Ali fought his last fight and people thought the sport wouldn’t recover in his absence. In 1996 Sugar Ray Leonard left the sport and people said the same thing. Then it was 2004 when Mike Tyson was quitting on his stool against a journeyman named Kevin McBride, and people said boxing might as well do the same.
In all those examples one thing become clear shortly after those boxing icons left the sport. The sport didn’t die. In some ways it thrived and was even stronger than it was when those legends dominated inside the ring.
So where is boxing now, two years after Mayweather-Pacquiao? Is it closer to being the corpse many had predicted it would be, or alive and thriving? It’s definitely the latter. Boxing is far from dead right now and here are five reasons why.
5. Survival of the Fittest – One of the biggest knocks on boxing post Mayweather-Pacquiao has been the best not fighting the best. Well, in the past year that has been far from the case. From recent mega fights in the past few months like Danny Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin, Andre Ward and Sergei Kovalev, Terrence Crawford and Victor Postol to future fights between Kewl Brook and Errol Spence as well as the rematch between Ward and Kovalev. All those fights feature some of the best in in their respective weight classes fighting each other. Isn’t that what makes any sport great; the best competing against the best? Boxing has been delivering on that recently for sure.
4. Everyone is doing it – I love when my friends who live and die with the UFC want to argue with me about how much better their sport is than boxing. They tell me the UFC has passed boxing and everyone now prefers the octagon. Apparently the UFC’s biggest star didn’t get that memo. Conor McGregor is trying to step into the squared circle to fight the retired and former No. 1 boxer Floyd Mayweather. Why? Because he knows that’s where the money is. Boxing could pay McGregor $70 million more than he’s ever made in the Octagon. It’s hard to say a sport’s dying when it still so lucrative. Sidenote: McGregor would get destroyed – against Mayweather or any top-50 fighter – but that’s a different article for a different time.
3. The Cinnamon Kid Can – With Mayweather retired and Pacquiao more concerned with becoming the next president of the Philippines, boxing needed its next person to take the mantle as the top guy of the sport. Enter Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who has staked his claim to it. The redheaded Mexican with freckles in the last year and a half has fought in a fight against Miguel Cotto that grossed close to a million pay-per-view buys. Last year Alvarez had 52,000 people pack in a stadium in Dallas to see him fight someone named Liam Smith. Honestly, he could have fought Liam Neeson and people would have filled that stadium to see him. That’s how big a star he’s become. Women love him. His home country of Mexico idolizes him. American fans have come to enjoy his fights. All this success and he’s only 26 years old. The sky’s the limit.
2. Size Does Matter – The average American weighs 170 pounds. We aren’t a salad eating country. We are about size; the bigger the better. And the biggest in boxing are the heavyweights. From Joe Louis to Ali to Tyson to Georgia’s own Evander Holyfield. People have loved the boxing heavyweights over the years. In recent years though, the heavyweight division has been dominated by non-Americans and been more of a punchline than legitimate when it came to being seen by most casual boing fans. Just last week though we were reminded that we may be seeing a resurrection of the heavyweight division. You have an American heavyweight in Deontay Wilder; a talented fighter who possess one hitter quitter kind of power. You have Tyson Fury, who beat the previous king of the heavyweight division Wladimir Klitschko last year and is a walking sound bite. And you have Anthony Joshua the British big-hitting heavyweight champ who’s built like a Greek God and just beat Klitschko himself in an instant classic heavyweight title fight last week. In the next year all three of these guys could be fighting each other to see who the king of the heavyweight division is. All three have personalities that would make WWE wrestlers and Vince McMahon proud. They are must see bigger than life fighters that the casual fan will appreciate.
1. Men Lie, Women Lie… Numbers Don’t – I mentioned people love heavyweights. Don’t believe me? Well 90,000 people packed Wembley Stadium in England last week to see Joshua and Klitschko fight. Cable network Showtime averaged 659,000 viewers on a Saturday afternoon for their live broadcast of the fight. Later that night HBO averaged 890,000 in its replay of the fight at 11 p.m. That means that close to a million people tuned into a fight at 11 p.m. on a Saturday to see a fight that unless they were under a rock all day already knew the result of. Word of mouth on social media clearly spread fast and made that fight a must watch for people that night. Further proof like with anything else in sports, if you have compelling content people will tune in to watch it.
Boxing has had its shaky moments and disappointing moments in the sports history. Two years ago Mayweather and Pacquiao fell into both of those categories. However, as history has proved, the sport has always found a way to stay relevant and avoid a flat line. Talks of boxing’s demise, once again, have clearly been exaggerated.