How the boxing industry complicates association fights

Haney vs Kambosos, Charlo vs Castano, Spence Jr vs Ugas, these matches between champions remind us of the beauty of our sport. But they have now become the exception and no longer the rule …

(Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME)

As a boxing fan, you have probably heard the question from an outside boxer: “Why do such and such not fight such and such?” “When it’s not a heretical match-up between two boxers from different eras or different weight categories, this question is often relevant. Why do these two boxers – popular enough for a neophyte to know them – not fight against each other?

Stakeholders with divergent interests

If there are not always confrontations between boxers, it is often due to the difference of interest between the parties that control the boxing. The 4 world federations have different rankings and champions, which complicates collections. Each of the federations has its own classification, when a boxer collects several belts, he must face different mandatory challengers at risk of losing one of the titles. When the world wanted to see an association match between heavyweight champions Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury, the WBO forced Anthony Joshua to face his challenger Oleksandr Usyk. Joshua has since said he would be willing to drop a belt if it was necessary to make the Fury fight happen.

In addition to union approval, promoters must find a deal so their boxers can fight. The Premier Boxing Champion gained the infamous reputation as a boxing catcher due to his lack of concessions. Its main names most often fight among themselves. Al Haymon has set up a closed circuit to best satisfy its interests. The rare excursion coupons he offers his boxers relate to fights where the benefit outweighs the risk. This was the case when Andy Ruiz was contacted by Matchroom to fight Anthony Joshua, where Jarrell Miller had been sanctioned for doping. On the one hand, Joshua played his first match in the United States, and it was better for him to fight an American. On the other hand, Andy Ruiz and Al Haymon had the opportunity to win 3 belts while securing a giant purse. Then the interests of all parties came together.

By a combination of circumstances, Andy Ruiz had the opportunity of his life to meet Anthony Joshua … We know the rest. Creative Commons License: Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

An economic logic that surpasses the sporting logic

Another case of divergence, this time internally, between promoters and boxers explains to us that the difficulty of agreeing also lies in the economic aspect of the fights. After his victory over Oscar Valdez, Shakur Stevenson declared his desire to completely unite the category of super feathers, to which his promoter replied: “f * ck being champion unified”. Bob Arum’s words are explained by the lack of notoriety of the two other champions of the time, Roger Gutierrez and Kenichi Ogawa, and therefore the low wallets that would result from these fights.

On the other hand, a battle between an established champion and an undefeated young prospect is more interesting when the prospect is at the top. For Errol Spence, for example, it would be more advantageous to meet Jaron Ennis when the latter has achieved greater status. On paper, this strategy is smart, but some examples show us that risks can be expected. The fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao came sportingly late because the 2 boxers would wait for the most lucrative moment to do so.

For Dana White, president of the UFC, the observation is clear: “One of the biggest problems in boxing is that these guys are overpaid. Every fight is at a loss. Such a sport cannot be built.” For him, it is the whole economy of the sport that is harmful. The system has created economic monsters that no longer struggle below a certain amount. Conversely, the superflies are little known, only clashes between the best give them increased visibility. Over the last ten years, 11 fights have been against 2 of the 4 best super flyweights. The latest of them saw “Chocolatoto” and Estrada go head-to-head brought in $ 800,000, which is an exception in this category. Following this example, we are entitled to ask ourselves whether the boxers are being paid the fair value of the opponents they face.

What solutions?

With the UFC, Dana White runs a closed league that gives fighters little room for negotiation. Credit: Andrius Petrucenia

Could a closed league, like the UFC, be a solution? Leading organization in MMA, its position allows it to sign the best fighters. However, the terms of the contracts it offers give little freedom to its athletes. They are forced to face the opponents that the UFC has imposed on them, with the risk of being thrown out and ending up in another organization where the scholarships are much less interesting. This system breeds amazing battles, but gives fighters a payout far below what they generate.

In boxing, the absence of a closed league means that boxers have more freedom and have the choice between several promoters with similar weapons. A fighter at the end of the contract on Top Rank may very well extend it or go to Matchroom or PBC if they offer him a better contract. Stars can become “free-agent” and get rid of a promoter by negotiating match after match to be as free as possible, as Canelo has done since the expiration of its contract with Golden Boy Promotions.

Between the limitations of the closed league and the differences between federations, promoters and boxers, the ideal system seems complicated to find. However, the future is promising, Devin Haney, for example, agreed to box Kambosos at home in Australia, for a lower purse and this, with the aim of marking history by becoming the first united lightweight champion. He favored athletic logic at the expense of his financial interests, and it paid off. Let us hope that this situation serves as an example for his peers.

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