We live in a smaller world they keep telling us, I’m not sure who ‘they’ are but the arrival of the Internet has certainly drawn all four corners of the world much closer to my, and everyone else’s, finger tips. Results from around the globe instantly accessible and no story is more than a click or two away. Imagine how hard it must have been to wait days and weeks to hear the results of fights a century ago? I digress, despite this shrinking world my residence on an Island, a relatively small one at that, always left me thinking that as a boxing fan I didn’t benefit from the economies of scale of the American fan. So many fights were unavailable to me because I was a fan of a niche sport in a different timezone.
“If only we had HBO, everything would be ok then” I used to muse. An article appearing on the erraticly edited eastsideboxing.com relaying the news Larry Merchant’s tenure as the face of HBO was coming to an end dispelled such notions of Yankee utopia. The truth is American boxing fans are as disillusioned with boxing, and the networks that claim to showcase the best the sport can muster, as us isolated Brits.
And it seems, classy anchor man – steady, I did say anchor – Larry Merchant’s previous objectivity has made way to a veiled criticism of the methods of the network and the amount of PPV it is now demanding of boxing’s hardcore fans. The old-timers may have fading eyesight and a tendency to romanticise about bygone era’s but the terminal decline boxing is presently in is evident to everyone beyond the short-termist, short-sighted promoters, parasitic sanctioning bodies and greedy networks that dictate the sport’s path. Either Merchant’s increasingly overt criticism or his greying hair has cost him his job. It’s probably a combination of the two.
I’m not saying I feel better than the American’s are suffering too, in truth I feel worse than ever about the future prospects of the noble art but HBO’s decision to drop the veteran broadcaster could be the last throw of the dice to attract a younger demographic. With two of its leading fighters promising retirement on May 6th, in victory or defeat, HBO and boxing in general needs to swiftly align to the younger audience currently entranced by men rolling around on the canvas and the exaggerated brutality provided by their scantily padded mitts.
Despite my personal indifference to the Mixed Martial Arts sport, the threat from UFC is very real. For reference, Max Kellerman will replace the silver mongoose and will doubtless have to work hard not to be perceived as a “yes” man to the omnipresent network.
The eastsideboxing article is available here