In the past few years, boxing has seen a significant decline in its American fan base. Judging solely by the state of the heavyweight division, boxing is dead in the U.S. Obviously, Americans are only interested in the things they dominate, and since a majority of the current top heavyweights are from Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Uzbekistan and even Nigeria, Americans have declared the sport uninteresting. In contrast, from the perspective of my European friends, the heavyweight division has reached new heights.
Allow me to be the first to tell you that you are ill-informed if you think the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the reason for the decline in boxing popularity in the States. If any industry has suffered from the fad of the UFC, it is the sports entertainment world. As the revenue generated by UFC pay-per-views has steadily risen, the amount of World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view buys has plummeted. Meanwhile, boxing has been holding its own. Although the UFC beat boxing in pay-per-view buys, the boxing industry generated more than the UFC from venues and promotions.
Because the UFC isn’t the reason for the decline in boxing popularity in the U.S., I begin to wonder what is. When asked who the current heavyweight champion is, most Americans would probably respond, “I don’t know” or Floyd Mayweather Jr. Either response indicates that the sport’s most important division is in shambles in America. Examples from as far back as the 1910 “Fight of the Century” between Jack Johnson and James Jefferies and the 1971 “Fight of the Century” between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier suggest that the boxing world had always been judged by the success of big boys – the heavyweights.
Unfortunately, the recent state of the heavyweight division in the U.S. falls far short of the glory of the past. In fact, the boxing ranks have not had an undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in 1999, and it appears that American boxing fans will continue to see it that way, despite Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko’s recent recognition as a “universal champion.”
Last Saturday, Klitschko defeated Russia’s Sulton Ibragimov to unify heavyweight belts, which is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Lennox Lewis did it in 1999. There are four major belt sanctions in all: the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Commission, the World Boxing Organization and the International Boxing Federation. Therefore, there can be four recognized champions at once. Now that Klitschko has eliminated one of the champs, the division is one step closer to having an undisputed champion. Unfortunately, it seems Americans don’t really care, which is an unsettling fact, seeing as the heavyweight field is currently dominated by international players.
While watching the “big fight,” my friends and I found ourselves watching YouTube videos of a 7-year-old body builder from Brazil. It was painful to watch the 238-pound Klitschko repeatedly smack down the baby-sized hands of the 219-pound Ibragimov, and the ending results – 108 Klitschko jabs to 16 Ibragimov jabs – summarized a waste of 47 minutes.
Certainly, our lack of interest was not solely based on the absence of American heavyweight contenders. From my perspective, as both a fan and a boxer, Klitschko’s style was a fair representation of European boxers. It seems to me as an American that their style is rather stiff and dull.
Herein lies one of the struggles for recruiting a fan base in the U.S. Klitschko, like many other European boxers, throws one calculated punch at a time and most Americans believe that this causes the quality of the match to suffer. My opinion is that it would be wiser to preserve energy by using accuracy as opposed to quantity, which appears to be a reflection of most American fans and, therefore, the reason that boxing has lost popularity.
Another reason that the support of boxing has declined in the U.S. is because American fans judge the talent and substance of the sport primarily by the heavyweights. It is unfortunate that a golden age for Americans in the welterweight division (140-147 pounds) has been overshadowed by the American inferiority in the heavyweight division (200+ pounds).
Hopefully, in time, boxing will recapture the hearts of Americans, assuming that American heavyweights become hungry to prove they can dominate. Perhaps in five years, the high-ranked American heavyweights will look less like the obese James “Lights Out” Toney and more like the driven Roy Jones, Jr.
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011.