What Top Rank’s Summer Series Taught Us About Boxing Fans Moving Forward
Boxing during the COVID-19 pandemic occurred this summer, and despite the logistic nightmare, unforeseen testing costs, the liability of keeping people healthy in a bubble at the MGM Grand, boxing fans have looked at the cards rather harsh for two reasons 1) ratings and 2) strength of the card.
The first half I get, the ratings have not been good, and that is sad since it shows just how further irrelevant our sport is becoming, but in terms of the matchmaking the cards have featured bouts, that have been fairly even and exciting, but have hallmarked one thing – a lot of fight fans look at the main event only, and don’t watch fighters they don’t know.
Most of these cards due to circumstances of this pandemic have seen main event fighters who are being paid a pretty sum of money against an undesirable, but game opponent, no different than a hometown defense, with a supporting cast that is very even. Essentially, you can watch the undercard and get some engaging bouts, and watch a showcase fight in the main event.
For example, the best card of the summer series saw Joshua Franco win a decision over undefeated Andrew Moloney, Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz reignite his career defeating Jason Sanchez, Miguel Contreras essentially obtaining a Top Rank contract by beating Rolando “Neno” Vargas, and lesser-known Helaman Olguin defeating undefeated heavyweight Adam Stewart.
Yet, as the Summer Series comes to a close, a lot of dismissive and self-defeating boxing fans and writers are labeling the series a failure on all fronts and looking at the main event line-ups as the reason why forgoing to mention that several upsets have occurred.
The feel-good story of the summer, Clay Collard who defeated David Kaminsky, goes largely unnoticed in these penned pieces or Mike Plania defeating Joshua Greer Jr., and my fight of the year Joshua Franco versus Andrew Moloney, which was one of the best fights of the past few years. In a lot of penned pieces, these fights never seemed to exist as the most lopsided of contests go on full display.
So my question is, does boxing have fans of the club or developmental stage, beyond 300,000 in America? It certainly doesn’t look like it.
Let’s first dispel the common myth that good fights don’t happen…
This occurs in rare instances Riddick Bowe versus Lennox Lewis, Ray Leonard versus Aaron Pryor, those didn’t happen, but often we get all the fights we want just not when the fight is as attractive as a fan, which hurts the sport, but not the fighters wallet. Besides Canelo Alvarez’s Mexican heritage, and fun fighting style part of the gravitas of him is that he faced a murder’s row for quite some time, with tune-up bouts only here and there. From facing Floyd Mayweather, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, and so forth, essentially, every fight Canelo is involved in was meaningful, meaning more people would tune-in as it felt culturally relevant.
What the Top Rank Boxing Summer Series showed was boxing isn’t culturally relevant on its own. It is star-driven, and currently, we’re looking for the next group of stars. In the post-Floyd Mayweather era, besides Canelo and Tyson Fury, fighters haven’t really grabbed the bull by the horns to get the public eye, and stay engaged with the general public.
Sure you have Anthony Joshua as a star in his own right, but outside of the U.K., people now have a major question with him especially with the run Fury is on, which is far better, without a brutal knockout loss. Ryan Garcia is a draw but hasn’t had a major step-up fight after Jayson Velez. The rest of boxing now waits on guys like Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney, and Gabriel Flores Jr., to see if they can get momentum outside of boxing as well in the sport as well.
The small minutiae that is boxing twitter may feel large if you inhabit that space, but probably only equates to at most 10,000 people, and the fact that boxing cards are not trending in the middle of the pandemic, simply states that people are not into watching fighters develop. That is disheartening to me as I grew up watching Tuesday Night Fights on the USA network, but also a reflection of reality and the times.
At some point, boxing fans became defeatists, and it is probably the promoters’ and writers’ fault. The promoters didn’t promote, build or give the fans what they wanted to see in the manner they need to stay with the sport, and the media who have further confused the fan on what they’re watching. The TMZ drama stuff now is more important than the in-the-ring talent, or fighters skillsets. Fighters who are talented, but don’t get into trouble seem to now be punished for their good behavior at times, if a fighter who moves the needle and does all the wrong things is in their division.
This past weekend, Vergil Ortiz, a surging star in the sport of boxing, knocked out tough veteran Samuel Vargas, as the fight appeared on social media similar to the Top Rank cards of the summer. The fight which appeared on DAZN, a sports streaming app, that hasn’t had live content in three months, one would think DAZN has lost subscribers and is in need of a boast in terms of ratings, and when ESPN isn’t doing well with boxing then a start-up seems even more troubled in this landscape. What that means is less money on boxing programming and fewer jobs, fewer jobs equate to fewer fights.
Recently, Premier Boxing Champions announced their fall line-up for Showtime, as the bouts were more fan-friendly or relevant to those not trying to watch everything to scout and scour the sport. In a week or so the FS1 PBC cards should be announced as well. All that being said, some of these fights need to do well, or funding will be cut as I said before.
It is very simple. Businesses look at the market demand. We’re in an economic crisis, and a health crisis, boxing, in essence, is a health crisis, to begin with, and when it isn’t pulling in great ratings, it begs the question of what will it take for the sport to be revered, let alone be viewed. If a fight of the year happens on a hard to find cable channel or streaming service, did it really happen? Well, we are slowly starting to sort out that answer this year
I think one thing we might be overlooking is, television just might be a thing of the past. What if watching full-fights to some is boring, and they prefer highlight videos or short clips outside of two fighters they follow. It certainly feels like that is the way the sport is going, as most people I know who watching boxing only watched Shakur Stevenson’s fight on ESPN, and then watched IG videos of other fights that they felt were noteworthy. Are outlets like @HouseOfHoops, the future, even though they just aggregate other people’s content, but condense it.
In short, is boxing just too big of a time commitment for a world that wants things to exist in a 15-second video clip or a funny meme? Boxing is as beautiful as dance and as brutal as war, in a world of no-clarity, and as divided as ever, is boxing only entertaining for those who have an attachment to the sport, unless rebranded, or reimagined?
It is certainly a conversation that wouldn’t hurt to be had as, as despite a solid outing of fights on ESPN, the re-written narrative by some is, “the fights weren’t good.” What they’re really saying is, “they didn’t like the main event, and they’re unfamiliar with the undercard fighters so they didn’t watch.”
These type of group think thoughts are what continue to hurt the sport, but the question is, how can good developmental fights still occur while engage the group-thinkers who try to shape narratives?