Glory days. Can boxing reclaim the flagship American market?

By Hector T. Morgan

Dedicated boxing fans who have stayed attentive to the sport may resent the notion that it needs restoring to its former glory, and where do we pitch these romaticised glory days in the landscape of our memories anyway? Perhaps, The Four Kings of the 1980s, Ali and his great rivals in the 1970s or perhaps the era when Boxing was America’s premier sport along side Horse Racing and Baseball? All, in truth, with flaws of their own.

Mass popularity ebbs and flows after all, but there’s still something pure about boxing that loyalists remain appreciative of regardless of ebbing TV ratings, which led HBO, for so long the ‘King’ of boxing in America to abdicate its throne. Despite the passion of it’s most ardent followers, the complexities of the sport; multiple sanctioning bodies with their myriad champions has disenfranchised the casual fan. Boxing in America lost it’s way.

Paradoxically, it remains capable of creating huge piques from the valleys of apathy inhabited by most general sports fans. The right narrative, the right mix of characters and skills and boxing still appeals more widely than almost all of its contemporaries.

Mayweather-McGregor, as much as it was an orgy of opportunism over competition, it demonstrated that the right matchups still have mainstream appeal. There are some up-and-comers in America, who could yet transcend the sport in the way their illustrious predecessors did. Given the momentum provided by the Canelo and Golovkin rematch recently, which was a lucrative and highly viewed event, it’s worth thinking about what factors could lead to a more prolonged resurgence in boxing popularity.

Less Talk, More Fight

This has been covered on this site before but it should be reiterated that modern boxing requires a greater focus on fighting and a little bit less faux-drama between fighters, at least in some instances. The assumption, from a standpoint of wanting to grow the sport, should be that those tuning in to boxing want to see punches thrown. The best need to fight the best, and more often. Currently, the present Welterweight division, a weight class the Americans hold great affinity for, hosts a rich seem of talent and charisma with the concurrent presence of Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia.

A UFC Slide

Boxing fell from the ranks of major U.S. sports before the UFC rose to popularity, so it could well be that the two sports have less to do with each other’s fortunes than might otherwise be assumed. That said, it doesn’t seem as if it could do anything but help boxing for the UFC to continue its perceived slide from its peak. It’s been suggested that the UFC is becoming more like the WWE, with more of a focus on drama and seemingly disingenuous rivalries, and at least so far, this doesn’t seem to boost the sport back to the lucrative highs it experienced a couple years ago. If anything, it might actually be cheapening the UFC brand, which could encourage fans to turn to boxing in search of something more authentic. And as Kathy Duva, the long standing boxing promoter often comments; “UFC fans are really just boxing fans, they just haven’t seen boxing yet.”

Sports Betting

Boxing is heavily bet on internationally, but the U.S. market could hold the key to a boost in popularity. Sports betting is being legalised in many states, which could allow whole new markets and a new generation to explore boxing from a fresh angle – with a stake in the game. What remains to be seen is how the betting industry will attract new crowds, though there are models to follow. As one casino site points out bluntly, everyone likes getting stuff for free, and this is how both casinos and betting platforms often incentivise new bettors. A matched deposit, a few free bets, and all of a sudden there are new, loyal ‘investors’ exploring offerings across a range of sports. And there’s no reason this couldn’t include boxing.

Deontay Wilder

To a dedicated boxing fan it may seem lazy or even inaccurate to say that Deontay Wilder holds the key to the sport’s popularity.  People who are more casual fans, or who might best know boxing through the Hollywood lens, want to see big, powerful athletes throwing haymakers. And from a physical and visual standpoint, Wilder fits the bill. He’s a boxing movie fan’s boxer, rippling with muscle, standing as tall as an NBA player and, at this point, still undefeated. Talks have begun for him to have a title fight against the also-undefeated Anthony Joshua, and while the fight doesn’t seem too close, it’s the kind of event that could just spark a boxing revival, with proper promotion.

After all, on the global front, boxing is in rude health and with the advent of ever more platforms for fans to access the sport, the American market, with the impetus of Wilder, UFC and the betting markets, may be on the cusp of a renaissance.


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