Boxing Isn’t Dead, But Don’t Rush To Kill Its Messengers

Who knew a writer’s frustration with boxing’s sordid politics in a short L.A. Times article would garner so much anger towards the boxing… writer?

I’ll get to the way boxing social media lost it over Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernandez’ ill-advised premature eulogy for boxing. The reaction was somewhat akin to the responses of legions of hip hop fans (and fellow rappers too) following veteran Queensbridge rapper Nas’ 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead.

Neither Hernandez nor Nas were totally right in their bold pronouncements about their respective games. Neither were entirely wrong.

I’ll get back to the Hernandez piece in a second.

I’m always interested in when, or how, a non-boxing fan approaches me about boxing. Hopefully a conversation about a fighter, knockout or punch ensues and not PED testing.

A guy I regularly rap with about sports, “Chad”, who oversees the security detail at my job nearly met me at the door, to express his pent up excitement, the Monday morning after seeing WBC champion Deontay Wilder’s highlight-reel footage knockout of contender Luis Ortiz from March 2018. Chad was familiar with Wilder’s handiwork following the November 2017 first round devastation of Bermane Stiverne.

Chad is a white male in his late-20s, he hits the local sports bar and grill to check out most UFC events, he is an avid football fan (NFL and college) who belongs to a couple of fantasy leagues, and he follows the NBA pretty closely.

Chad checked back in on Wilder once the promotion for the Tyson Fury fight built to its apex – Fury’s fight to resume his career appealed to him a lot. Fury’s trash-talking and brash persona resonated with him as well. He sought out the press conference videos on YouTube, and rooted for Fury to win based on his well-documented mental health and substance abuse struggles, but only saw highlights of the fight.

Surely Chad violated an unwritten rule but from the widely circulated footage and some YouTube follow-up he thought Fury did enough to win. Recently Chad shared some comments that hinted that boxing’s inability to get the Wilder-Fury rematch done in a timely manner precluded his interest in the sport from moving beyond watching it through highlights.

I’d already seen his eyes roll into the back of head during my failed attempts to explain the functions of boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies, the issues which led to Canelo-GGG 3 not being made, why Top Rank and Premier Boxing Champions can’t move forward with Spence-Crawford, why Vasiliy Lomachenko looks mesmerizing but has so many detractors, or why Vasiliy Lomachenko has one loss but has so many supporters as the Pound-For-Pound number… Oh, I lost him on the Pound-For-Pound concept altogether.

Mandatory opponents, purse bids, A-side vs B-side arguments, stalled out Wilder vs Joshua negotiations, the emergence of DAZN and ESPN+, the sketchy working relationships between boxing’s most powerful promoters, boxing’s 18 weight divisions, the never-ending problem with questionable judging decisions, the fact that boxing’s Pay-Per-Views are apparently too costly to be shown at Chad’s favorite sports bar and grill etc etc all killed any chances of Chad’s blossoming interest in boxing.

I guess since all of the above go on in the sport on a daily basis, boxing couldn’t possibly be dead, right? These are all indicative of a healthy thriving sport.

Quick update. Chad and I just limit our frustrating sports topics to Michigan and Notre Dame needing to play each other every season in football. I’ve distinctly read the, “Just keep all that boxing s— to yourself bruh!” look in Chad’s facial expressions.

Now back to Dylan Hernandez… Did anybody think to stop Hernandez only once he started lying? Nobody? Ok.

Were people in more of an outrage over Hernandez’ title, and what inferences may result, more than they were upset at the major issues that he called out in the body of his article? Now wonder we all carry on with the sport as-is because everybody’s seemingly in denial over some of the glaring shortcomings that aren’t likely to ever be addressed.

In contrast, mainstream sports work continually to either foster competition or ensure that each season concludes with the most compelling matchups being made. The NBA came out with its Larry Bird exception which allows a team to exceed the salary cap to retain its own superstar free agents. MLB added a second Wild Card team plus a one-game playoff in 2012, and finally instituted replay reviews. As a result of some unique scenarios that impacted the postseason, the NFL quickly implemented “surviving the ground” as a requirement in completing a reception, as well as added a passing interference challenge for the 2019-2020 season. Big time college football finally moved past the BCS system and is a few years into a 4-team playoff system that’s likely to expand to six or eight within a few years. College basketball expanded its field of 64 teams to 68 for its March Madness tournament. Okay, the NCAA can be about as corrupt or feckless as the IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO when it comes to devising a plan to compensate its student athletes who generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year and receive nothing beyond their scholarships.

How does a sport like boxing, which improves very little year after year, retain and grow its fan base amid a group of sports that succumb to the outcry of its fans, in some way, almost every season? Nothing because, if only for a select few, boxing always manages to have strong vital signs.

Let’s review a couple of Hernandez’ key points and see just how wrong he was.

Hernandez did say his major intention was to provide readers with a big picture view of the current state of boxing. And, while he did publicly air our dirty laundry, he led with boxing’s best accomplishments. He screwed up the managerial practice of “praise publicly, correct privately”, but his job title for the L.A. Times is columnist. We’d run into all kinds of problems, in today’s climate, if I accidentally made a slight error in my choice of words to suggest Hernandez do the verb of his profession, but unlike a reporter he is expected to provide his opinion on boxing matters. People opine boxing has major issues everyday, and Hernandez sounds like expects to have some good things to write about Spence-Porter come September 28.

 

 

According to most of the reporting that surrounded Canelo Alvarez’ decision to flout DAZN’s expectations for the third fight with Middleweight rival Gennadiy Golovkin, Hernandez succinctly summed up a 3-year timeline without adding much, if any, sauce concerning how we arrived at the matter’s current impasse.

 

Again, Hernandez provided the CliffsNotes version of the polarizing Wilder vs Fury saga and the looming rematch. Hernandez didn’t add his scorecard. There was no mention of the referee Jack Reiss’ 10-count. One may have thought the columnist might have curried some favor by insinuating that Fury’s choice of opponent is not commensurate with his billing as the Heavyweight lineal champion. Well over a year will have transpired, and possibly 4-5 total opponents will have been faced, by the time Wilder and Fury potentially meet up in a bout Fury’s save-the-dated as February 22. Wilder’s late-2019 rematch with Luis Ortiz still isn’t finalized. When did we start casually scheduling multiple fights in boxing?

Nobody’s seen the Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz Jr. contract, to have a position on anything concerning the rematch. Hernandez did not opine which fighter would prevail in the negotiations of the highly-anticipated rematch. He did not root for Ruiz and his advisor Al Haymon to teach Eddie Hearn a lesson, nor did he contend that the newly unified champion should receive a certain amount of money for the rematch. He reiterated what we all know – or accept at this point. Wisely, he also seemingly understands that over time it becomes sensible to really only focus on fights that are actually on the sport’s calendar with a signed contract, a venue and a location. There very likely might not be another bigger – or equally as big – bout finalized between two champions from North America for the rest of 2019.

 

And lastly, Hernandez finishes both strongly and factually. Golden Boy insists Canelo will fight in December, unified Super Welterweight champion Julian Williams and trainer-less Jarrett Hurd (any word on that VADA enrollment) is slated for mid-December as PBC on FOX headliner, and then who knows! Does David Benavidez dethrone 168-pound champion Anthony Dirrell as the co-main event on the Spence-Porter card, and then look to unify with IBF champion Caleb Plant before 2020?

 

Surely I’ve missed some potential matchup for December, but then again, I never aimed to be solely responsible for creating boxing’s schedule. I just want to write about it as it unfolds. And come late-December, my sports interest will primarily shift to getting updates on Chad’s chances in the post-season of his fantasy league.

Header photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing UK

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RL Woodson

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