Every promoter we have spoken to, in our admittedly brief time covering the sport, has had basically the same message regarding matching their fighters. In public at least, they all appear keen to work with rivals in order to make the “best” fights. Several months ago we posted a poll on Twitter asking “Who is to blame for poor match-ups at the top level?” of boxing.
What constitutes the best match-ups differs depending on who you ask and this is the main issue. Boxers, managers, fans and promoters will all have different opinions on what is best for the sport. Throughout this article we will look at several points of view and try to work out why many are left so frustrated by the sport we love.
As fans, we are often bloodthirsty and insatiable in our desire to see the best face the best regularly. Now, as I type this, I can already hear the masses exclaim “Is it unreasonable to want to see the best take on the best?” Pride, legacy, greatness, fear, ducking, and cherry-picking are just some of the terms that will get banded about when criticising the current state of the sport. Having spoken directly to several boxers from a variety of levels I firmly believe that no professional boxer is “scared” of another and given the opportunity any of them would take on any of them. So why then, don’t we get to see (supposedly) even match-ups more regularly? The sad truth from a fans perspective is that there are too many cases of good potential fights slipping into oblivion. Relegated to a case of what might have been. Money is the obvious reason. This is after all, prizefighting. All fans of boxing will have their own ideas and thoughts on how much a certain boxer is worth and what sort of split they should accept for a particular opponent.
Billy-Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr is a prominent example as talk of a rematch has been in the public eye since the first bout. For me, BJS clearly won the firs match and has since moved onto world honours, clearly outpointing now former WBO champ Andy Lee. So, logically, he should be able to demand the lion’s share of the purse for a rematch against the British champion, Eubank. However, when he recently demanded an 80/20 split on social media, he was mocked and derided. The Eubank camp retorted that their man was the bigger draw and, like him or not, it is hard to ignore this claim. For whatever reason, the Brighton boxer draws an audience and obviously values himself highly as a result.
This sort of pricing out or negotiating happens at all levels of the sport, from Area title bouts to World title unification. While it is undoubtedly frustrating for fans it is important to remember that we are not the ones putting our health at risk for a living. So let’s move onto the men who do. Professional boxers make immense sacrifices. The fact that they do so for entertainment therefore should bow down to public demand is a hollow argument in my opinion. They do it for a living, to earn as much money as they can from a relatively short profession. Even those who pride themselves on a legacy and always leave it all in the ring, did so to earn money, as well as a love for the sport (in many instances anyway). Moving away from the British scene and over the Atlantic to the US. In particular to the Al Haymon model. Haymon’s clients are often at the forefront of abuse and criticism. And one of these men who gets more than most is Danny “Swift” Garcia. This man is undoubtedly a talented boxer as evidenced by his wins over Khan, Mathysse and Peterson. However his (or his team’s) attitude towards his career is clear to see from these now somewhat infamous quotes from his dad and trainer Angel. These were taken from an interview in January of this year discussing a fantastic match-up between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter.
“I mean, I think its a good fight. But I don’t know why they’re calling each other out, they’re both elite fighters” said Garcia. “I don’t want people to misunderstand what I’m saying…it is a great fight, but at the end of the day, someone is going home with an L. So if they want to do that, it’s up to them. They’re making good money to be calling each other out. At the end of the day it’s about retiring wealthy. What I’m trying to say is that they’re both elite fighters, why would you fight each other when you can fight a [Rod] Salka?”
In laymen’s terms, this is the trainer of a two weight world champion who genuinely cannot fathom why boxers would risk losing when they can continue to face lesser opponents for sizeable purses. This will no doubt infuriate fans and understandably so, yet it is hard to argue with that sort of logic as long as fighters can get away with it. It is also worth noting that not all fighters control their own careers as much as we would like, or they would like, and this is often with their best interests at heart. Professional boxers who are fortunate to enough to have a manager acting on their behalf would be foolish not to listen to them. Miles Shinkwin recently engaged in a Twitter discussion with Eddie Hearn regarding a potential British title rematch with Hosea Burton. There were some doubts cast on Shinkwin’s willingness to take the rematch, which were quickly quashed by the Hertfordshire light-heavyweight.
“I would of [sic] fought for a fiver to get that win back but that’s why I have a team.” Shinkwin told us, which reflects the attitude of most men who box for a living. There is a lot of pride involved but others involved have a responsibility to get the best deal for their clients.
Which brings us onto those who definitely bare the brunt of frustrations, as shown by our poll results, the promoters. Outside of those at the elite level, boxing promoters don’t generally make a fortune out of the business and do their bit because they love the sport (not unlike yours truly). A promoter’s many duties and responsibilities include; setting up and fronting the bill for events, including paying boxers, boards of control, medical staff among others, event hire. Now the cost of all this may come from their own pocket, sponsors or secondary backers yet the responsibility is that of the promoter. On local shows the majority of boxers are paid on a basis of selling tickets, if they don’t shift enough they won’t get put on the card. This is ruthless however it is a business at the end of the day.
Now having taken on this financial responsibility, it is only natural that a professional promoter would expect some sort of return and this is where the conflict often arises between a promoter’s interests and a boxer’s. The less a promoter spends on a card, the more profit they can make, however there has to be some sort of compromise. If the show isn’t any good, it won’t sell well (in theory). So in order to get better boxers on the card, the promoter needs to expend capital, but if they overspend on talent, then the profit margin won’t be as wide.
Another reason for which promotional companies often get criticised is the apparent refusal to work with rivals. Again, sadly, the reason for this comes down to money. To paraphrase Garcia from above, why would a promoter work with an outside company and split costs when they can keep fights “in house” and be in charge of all aspects? Not to mention the risk of losing to a rival in the ring (See McGuigan vs Hearn).
This article was originally conceived as a way for me to vent a few frustrations on one of the sports I love. What I’m about to say next, might be considered sacrilege to fellow followers of the noble art but I’m actually a bit of an MMA fan too. Sorry! Now you might then think, that I’m about to condemn the sport of boxing and say it should follow the UFC model but you’d be wrong. Notice the difference between MMA and UFC. One is the sport and the other is an organisation within the sport. Admittedly a very well known organisation but a single company nonetheless. The UFC benefits from having more money than its rivals, more exposure, therefore better fighters, better matchups and the circle continues. Even then, there have been many talented mixed martial artists operating outside of the Vegas based promotion, none more so than Fedor Emelianenko who was widely regarded as the best heavyweight in the world but never entered the Octagon.
The world of boxing is so fragmented that it’s almost impossible to envisage a similar model. The aforementioned Al Haymon seems the most likely to move away from the traditional sanctioning bodies yet he attracts arguably the most vitriol. There is also the subject of what exactly his “advisor” title involves. MMA is a relatively modern sport, and the UFC played a huge part in its evolution, and as a result, arguably possesses 90% of the world’s best competitors.
Boxing is obviously a more established sport and is therefore more set in its ways so it makes it harder to see it being united in the same way. The fact boxing is so fragmented at present, with four”official” sanctioning bodies often with more than one world champion per weight class, makes it even harder for the best to be enforced on each other. A world with one leading sanctioning body, one promotional outfit and all of the best boxers in the world is definitely a simpler one but it is unfortunately far from realistic.