A punch-drunk sport


The focus on money in professional boxing is in stark contrast to its amateur roots, writes Joe Ronaldson

Now a multi-million dollar industry, professional boxing consists of weigh-ins, face-offs, and trash talk sessions that end in media hype and edgy relations between boxers. It is sometimes forgotten that their whole purpose is to fight one another in a 20 x 20 foot ring.

This modern boxing, as some people now call it, is driven by money with greedy promoters and venue hosts raking in millions after a quick 12 round bout; if it even makes it that far. These showboating fighters are closer to being actors than boxers, with their seven figure pay checks and fanatical fame. No wonder they can’t resist the ring.

As the weight goes up, the showboating and everything else that goes with it grows. Ever since Muhammad Ali’s shuffle, the heavyweights have reined superior in showmanship terms. The big men have always built up the tension, the drama and the image of a world heavyweight title fight. Is that what makes a great fight and a talented boxer?

These days it would almost be frowned upon to merely stroll into the ring without a favourite theme song blaring in the background. Your fans may disrespect you for turning away first at a face off or even accuse you of cowardice.

These outside ring activities can distract and sometimes ruin young boxing talent, as they find it impossible to deal with all the distractions. With all this media attention it is easy to lose boxing focus for a place on the tabloid front pages or maybe even a $5,000 bonus from media interviews.

Some of the less successful boxers in the professional ranks are there solely to act as punching bags for new up and coming fighters. Money is the unfortunate catalyst in this equation, as top fighters will only dare to fight these promising young pros once they have weaved themselves through the hordes of money fighters.

They have lost the ambition to be the best and are prepared to let themselves get pounded in the ring. There is little skill needed, just the talent to subject themselves to a heavy defeat in exchange for a healthy paycheck. This is the part of professional boxing that is hidden in the background away from the spotlight of the media.

A great example of a money fighter came last November when Freddie Flintoff overcame an unheard of American by the name of Richard Dawson. In this carnival-like fight, Dawson was just required to show up and let Freddie, the English cricket star, win his first ever professional bout.

Dawson was the sacrifice needed for Flintoff to appear a credible fighter. It was evident from the outset that money was the deciding factor in the fight rather than the skill of the boxers.

Yet, behind this mass of money and self-obsessed fighters, there is a cleaner side to what was once called a gentleman’s game. Amateur boxing has still endorsed the more respectful and good-natured aspects of the sport and keeps the game great.

Amateur boxing in Ireland is centred around a community of volunteers trying desperately to keep kids off the streets and give them something to focus on. When amateurs fight, there are no ring entrances, no face offs and certainly no money involved. It overshadows the professional game in terms of learning the virtues of respect and sportsmanship.

These great values have almost vanished from the professional game, without much deliberation or debate. Money has become the new valued prize of professional boxing; gone are the days when boxers fought for belts and pride.

Two fights can be used to illustrate this point. A heavyweight battle set to demolish records in and out of the ring versus an inspirational yet sheepish Katie Taylor who was on her way to securing Ireland a priceless gold medal at the Olympic Games.

David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko in the battle of showmanship. Taylor and Sofya Ochigava in the more traditional battle. In the heavyweight clash that was to define a decade, millions watched as David Haye eventually bowed down to the dominant Ukrainian, Klitschko, with ‘The Hayemaker’ blaming a broken toe for his defeat.

The fight produced none of the drama that was once associated with the heavyweight division and the boxing world was left red-faced as this highly anticipated bout came to a very banal end. The arranged face-off between the fighters, the media hype that was created and the five-minute long ring entrances could not even produce a few decent rounds of boxing.

In comparision, the amateur protagonists did not have the same spin doctors behind the scene telling tales about how this bout was going to redefine boxing, but overall Taylor’s fight was a better spectacle. Four two-minute rounds is all it took for Taylor to inspire Ireland as a nation and claim the gold medal. It was breath-taking to watch as the two competitors put on a spectacular and inspiring display of boxing.

There was nothing that resembled the professional side of the sport; no gimmicks, no acting, just two women desperate to claim what they had trained for and dreamt about for years.

This is the level of excitement professional boxing should be aspiring towards. Perhaps one of the most exciting professional boxers in the world today is American Floyd Mayweather, but with a nickname like Moneybags, it is clear the professional game has taken a wrong turn somewhere along the road.