by James Oddy
Boxing and boxers are built on hype. Some boxers never get the publicity, money or fights that they deserve because they ultimately don’t justify the risk/reward for an established fighter. On the other hand, some boxers will continue to get big pay days regardless of how much they deserve them, because they represent guaranteed money for everyone involved.
I recently read a book called ‘Road to Nowhere’ by ex-boxing news editor, Tris Dixon, in which he travels the USA meeting retired ex-boxers, mainly from the 50s to the 80s. What stands out is the amount of times boxers, from prospects to world champions, were pitched into 50/50 fights. Sometimes they won, and sometimes they lost, but either way the fans were attracted to the spectacle.
Whereas the hype of the boxing business used to be built on the quality of the fight taking place, or the proven fighting ability of the men competing, it is almost entirely revolves now around a boxers win/loss record.
The moment somebody is beaten, they are derided as being a ‘bum’ who has been ‘exposed’. Many people have written off George Groves following his recent loss to Badou Jack and consecutive losses to Car Froch. But all three fights were competitive and entertaining, and there is a great possibility that Groves could learn and grown from those experiences.
This fear of losing and therefor losing box office appeal now seems to affect people at all levels of the sport. Kell Brook proved to have elite level ability when he beat Shawn Porter, but has since underwhelmed somewhat in his choice of defences.
Similarly, Anthony Joshua’s progress is hard to judge. He is on the cusp of becoming a crossover star and has thus far been handled brilliantly. But the lack of any real 50/50 fights on his record makes it hard to judge at just what level he can attain. He certainly looks like world champion material, and matching somebody like that must be incredibly tough. But I think fans as whole would prefer to see Joshua in with an Ustinov, Tony Thompson or a Bermaine Stivernie rather than another one round blow out of an over matched opponent.
Of course, Dillian Whyte vs Joshua may prove to be just that, a fight that helps spectators understand just how high Joshua’s potential is. I expect Whyte to be a solid test for the Olympian.
Almost every boxer I’ve come across seems sincerely to be willing to take on anyone. I don’t think anyone could make it as a pro boxer, from domestic to world level, if they weren’t committed, skilful and above all, tough. I think the majority of boxers want 50/50 fights as often as possible because it fulfils their competitive instincts. As usual, it is the promoters, managers, governing bodies and ‘advisors’ who seem to complicate matters and throw up roadblocks.