IT’S TRUE. If you are able to ignore the rate at which boxers are getting caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, and the fact that each failed test appears to be a matter of inconvenience for promoters rather than an impetus for change, and that every so-called attempt to save lives is instead an attempt to save face, and that the uncaught are just careful as opposed to clean, and that many pro events have in recent years been funded by questionable means, and that the gulf between small-hall boxing and pay-per-view boxing has never been greater, and that anything decent, it seems, has to be pay-per-view in order for it to make financial sense, and that headline fighters have been overpaid for too long and have now taken the sport hostage, and that, because of this, fights are happening in the Middle East as if it’s perfectly normal, and that influencers are having fun at our expense, and that there is both a dearth of ticket-sellers and still too many world champions, and that there is a very real danger amateur boxing soon won’t be an Olympic sport, and that nobody really cares about that because, as a news story, it isn’t flames emoji, and that everybody covering the sport wants to be more famous than the fighters, and that covering the sport essentially means just enjoying it and tweeting about it, and that judging remains three people guessing and then going home, there are actually plenty of reasons to be positive about boxing in 2023.
That said, it could be argued that to expect positivity in a sport which incentivises men and women to punch each other in the head is a rather strange expectation in the first place. After all, given the ease with which anyone can worm their way into it and affect its future, it’s only natural that positivity will be outweighed by negativity where boxing is concerned. Sometimes as well it will be far more tempting to focus on the negatives than the positives, a crime of which this column has been accused, yet this will invariably be due to experience rather than simply pessimism. In fact, I would go so far as to say this: reading a magazine called Boxing News in 2023 for a dose of positivity is not unlike visiting a strip club for an honest conversation. The two things, alas, do not and should not go together and, what is more, how can you hope to provoke thought by just highlighting the few positives in the sport in an effort to deflect from what’s really going on?
Back in the time of the Roman Empire they used to call it “bread and circuses”. In those days it was a tactic of the Roman Emperors, its aim to distract citizens by keeping their bellies full and their feeble minds busy; engaged but not enough, crucially, for them to think beyond what made them feel comfortable or positive. The same principle, albeit upgraded and finessed, is used today, too, both generally and in boxing, only in place of bread and circuses we are satiated by the odd fist-fight (bread) and what has become a never-ending pantomime (circus) starring myriad desperate personalities on the fringes who have banter and catchphrases and tell the purists, “Come on, it ain’t that bad.”
Maybe that’s the case. Maybe, rather than our bread and circuses being an attempt to conceal the sport’s issues, it is merely an example of people looking on the bright side of life and somehow, in a sport so dark, managing to find it. Good for them, too, if that’s all it is, yet there is only so much room for blissful ignorance in a sport like boxing. For, after all, if everybody in it is either blissfully or wilfully ignorant – that is, either stupid enough not to know or selfish enough not to care – what hope is there that its problems will be mentioned, much less solved?
Or perhaps true ignorance is believing they can be solved at all.
Indeed, there is an argument to be made that previous generations would have been equally critical of their lot. They, too, let’s not forget, had their fair share of cheats, and criminals, and controversial decisions, and they too would have been at times disillusioned by a sport whose very reputation makes it the mischievous scallywag of the school playground. To its immense credit, in fact, boxing, for all its faults, has never professed to being anything other than what it is, which means its behaviour, for the most part, is exactly in keeping with its first impression. It’s as wild as you expect, as erratic as you expect, and as bad as you expect.
Therefore, when now and again you do get good days, and you do see moments of light, we must not only embrace them but, rather than expect them to lead to change or a new pattern of behaviour, instead accept them for what they are. We must accept that boxing, by nature, will do more harm than good, both inside the ring and outside the ring, and so when occasionally it gets it right, and when it treats us the way we know it can, these moments should be cherished as rare gifts.
Anyway, for the fragile souls who need it, so far this year we have had, in terms of super-fights, Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence, Gervonta Davis vs. Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney vs. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Naoya Inoue vs. Stephen Fulton, and Chantelle Cameron vs. Katie Taylor. As for great ones, we have had Jaime Munguia vs. Sergiy Derevyanchenko, Luis Nery vs. Azat Hovhannisyan, Artur Beterbiev vs. Anthony Yarde, and, most recently, Emanuel Navarrete vs. Oscar Valdez. We have also this year witnessed women’s boxing become even more prominent, as well as seen America reawaken as a serious boxing force thanks to Crawford, Spence, Davis, Haney, Shakur Stevenson, and Teofimo Lopez, all of whom are integral to the sport’s short-term future. We still have those big-name heavyweights, too, if they can be bothered to fight each other at any point. And we have, above all else, the sport’s very essence: two men or women meeting in the middle of a ring to risk it all in a way every other world-class athlete, man or woman, can only imagine.
That aspect will never change, never be taken from us, and never be bettered, no matter how many crooks are involved in getting us to that stage, how many nonsense titles are on the line, how it is covered by the media, or who is watching. It will never change because, as is often true of personality traits, the very thing that makes boxing such an unsavoury and unreliable character is the same thing that makes it so compelling, alluring, addictive, and unique.