In the wake of Liam Smith’s predictably gallant losing stand against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in Texas, last weekend, former top flight domestic trainer, Julian McGowan was feeling nostalgically outspoken.
“Another ‘world’ champion steps up and actually fights a genuine elite, world class fighter and is five levels below. Boxing, in terms of purity and the the notion that belt holders should be special has been badly damaged.
Don’t tell me Liam Smith is brave, all fighters are, tell me instead how we fix the problem…?”
Until Smith’s deposition last Saturday after a fight in which he gave his all and it never looked like being enough, the U.K. boasted 13 ‘world’ champions. Many have chosen to see this as a sure sign that the domestic fight game is flying to unprecedented levels of success and prosperity while other grizzled die hards insist that it’s all a cynically orchestrated illusion.
Let’s address the situation.
It is no coincidence that in the era of universal world champions and fewer divisions, or even the period in which the WBC and WBA enjoyed a dual monopoly, we simply didn’t get a conveyer belt of world champions from these shores and the notion that a fighter of Ricky Burns’ ilk could place himself in the same bracket as Henry Armstong as a triple champion would have seemed laughable.
The argument from fight insiders and those with a vested interest is that the multiple belt situation is a good thing as it allows more fighters to earn major paydays on big platforms.
If Terry Flanagan and Derry Matthews can fight each other in a unification ‘world’ title fight (Derry was WBA interim champion,, if memory serves) before a packed house at the Echo Arena then where’s the harm…?
So what if it was a glorified British title fight at best….? This is a business and it’s all bout marketing to the masses.
Such logic sounds fine, on the face of it, until you realise that the aforementioned masses stopped by paying close attention a couple of decades ago.
Try walking around any busy UK shopping centre armed with a a picture of each of Blighty’s dozen remaining world champs and canvassing the great British public for instant recognition thereof.
Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua would surely be named by a few (though certainly not all) and some might remember James Degale from the Olympics but it seems likely that the rest would draw a blank across the board unless you unwittingly bumped into a family member.
Contrast this with the media profiles and household name status of John Conteh, Alan Minter, Charlie Magri, Lloyd Honeyghan, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.
Admittedly, the world has changed and it might seem futile to apply old standards to a new culture but it has always been my contention that the increasing plethora of spurious belts at all levels of the game is ultimately a bad thing, yielding short term gains at best.
In the words of Author and boxing writer, Ian Probert, ” I think we can and will have this discussion ad nauseum for the rest of our lives. To me the pertinent questions are: 1/ Did Smith-Canelo generate money? Yes.
Will fights of this nature generate money indefinitely? No.
In other words, what we are talking about is short-termism and that’s the biggest problem with boxing: people are content to milk the cash cow until it has ultimately run dry of milk.”
Having worked within the industry, I am more than accustomed to the establishment logic that titles equal ‘bums on seats’ and PPV revenue. They also generally ensure that the best, most meaningful fights seldom happen or at least not until well past any real relevance or zeitgeist al la Mayweather – Pacquiao.
Fight fans still talk in fevered tones about the classic 1985 slugfest between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns as if the fight happened yesterday.
It seems hard to imagine too many barroom stalwarts discussing Floyd and Manny’s tepid tryst, 30 years from now. And to a great extent, you can blame the belts and the sanctioning bodies and anyone else complicit is this disingenuous ruse for that and more.
If boxing is a business then I can’t think of another big time business that is governed in the same fashion and with such a tragic disregard for the consumer and apparently zero focus on growth.
The UFC, while not an area of expertise for me, does not appear to be obsessed with titles or unbeaten records and has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the last ten years.
The resounding legacy of the belts and the ‘alphabet boys’ is the the effective demise of the contender and the prestige once associated with that term.
Men like Earnie Shavers, Bennie Briscoe, Dave Charnley and Herol Graham. Very good fighters who weren’t quite good enough in the context of their eras to attain the ultimate prize.
There was an authenticity and nobility about it all that is quite invisible today.
Regardless, I will leave the last world to former WBO Super – Featherweight Champion, Barry Jones, of BoxNation fame,
“I think I was good but I wasn’t good enough to call myself No.1 in the world, and that’s what a World Champion’ should be.”
Written by Ben Doughty