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Why Manny Pacquiao Can't Save Boxing

by Adam Roy Nov 16, 2009
Maybe Manny Pacquiao will be able to make boxing popular again. It would surprise the hell out of me.

PACQUIAO, THE FILIPINO boxer who is being held up as the sport’s latest savior, has done some very impressive things. On Sunday, he beat Miguel Cotto to win the World Boxing Council welterweight title and become the first boxer in history to have been champion in seven different weight classes.

“The fight has left boxing fans hungry for more,” Time’s Howard Chua-Eoan wrote after the match. “The trouble, however, is that they have only one Manny Pacquiao to go around. The roster of exciting talent is thin.”

This kind of thinking misses the point.Yes, Pacquiao’s talented. He’s beaten some of the game’s biggest names, Oscar De La Hoya among them.

But lack of talent isn’t why boxing is losing viewers to UFC. There are legions of active, first-class boxers around, like Humberto Soto and the Klitschko brothers. If talent was the issue, boxing would have made its comeback years ago.

The sport is doomed on an organizational level. Professional boxing has five major governing bodies, each of which puts together its own rankings and crowns its own champions. Add in smaller leagues like the International Boxing Organization, and you’re looking at seven or eight “world champions” at any given time. Is it any wonder that no one gives a hoot?

In the UFC and other mixed martial arts competitions, fighters compete inside a centrally-owned league, just like other major US sports. An athlete who wins a title in his or her weight division is the champion. Not one of five champions, the champion. Boxing could gain back a lot of its legitimacy by adopting the UFC model.

Unfortunately, promoters and organizing bodies have discovered that drama makes more money that athletics. A championship fight, even between two mediocre boxers, is easier to sell on pay-per-view than a normal match. For boxing’s governing bodies, five times as many championship matches means five times as many sanctioning fees.

The result is a pro boxing circuit that’s as over-hyped as it is watered-down. Speaking as a boxer and boxing fan, I know that it can be more than that.

Any attempt to “fix” boxing has to start with the sport’s status quo. Unless Manny Pacquiao’s next fight is going to be against boxing’s governing bodies, it’s time for fans to find a new savior.

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