Professional boxing, is also known as prize fighting. A phrase that signifies that boxing is not just for the honour and glory that winning titles brings but also the fame and fortune that completes the familiar rags to riches story of many boxers. The most popular format has been to bang the drum for pay per view fights and work relentlessly on promoting an event enough for the public to be intrigued and convinced to part with their money and pay for what they hope will be unmissable television. Unfortunately pay per view events in recent years have not always been mega events featuring the best vs the best which has ultimately stunted the growth of boxing.
Boxing in the UK has been experiencing a golden age with 10 current world titlists, many contenders and a host of promising prospects. Matchroom headed by Eddie Hearn do a particularly great job within their current format on Sky. The shows are well produced, the promotion of their events well hyped and the undercards are stacked full of talent. They even have potential superstars such as Anthony Joshua. A young man whose bad behaviour almost landed him in jail but turned his life around by dedicating himself to boxing. Since winning gold at the London Olympics in 2012 Joshua has been a winner both in and out of the ring. Inside he has bludgeoned, battered and bloodied the bodies and faces of all 18 opponents whilst maintaining his own good looks. Outside the ring he is humble, charming and articulate. He’s accessible on numerous forms of social media which is now a must for any public figure that wants to enhance their following. He is the perfect role model, but there is one problem limiting his popularity and following. He only fights on pay per view.
Boxing is traditionally a working class sport that has often been used by troubled youths like Joshua to channel their energy in a positive and disciplined manner. Ironically the working class man and the troubled youths that could be inspired the most by Anthony Joshua are simply being marginalised and priced out of following his journey. Pay per view fights are expensive and events such as Joshua vs Molina last month did little to enhance Joshua’s reputation or to bring more fans along with him on his journey. Casual fans and the general public were turned off at the thought of being ripped off by a fight that they knew would be uncompetitive. Joshua put on a good performance by destroying Molina and the undercard had some good fights but the general public had already decided that this mismatch just was not worth paying their hard earned money for.
I myself was made a fan at a young age watching blockbuster fights such as Chris Eubank vs Nigel Benn 2 which was held at Old Trafford in front of 42,000 spectators and around a quarter of the nation tuning in on ITV. Like Joshua they had fascinating personalities and terrific talent. The fight was exciting and the two rivals battled to a draw but in reality everyone was a winner. ITV recorded fantastic ratings, boxing gained new fans and satisfied old ones and both fighters earned record purses and enhanced their legacies which cemented them as legends who are revered to this day.
Sky must be paying Joshua a fortune and I am not naive enough to believe that this will ever happen but imagine if he fought on free ITV (not the new farcical ITV PPV that will air Chris Eubank Jr’s fight against ???) against an opponent like Tyson Fury. That fight would have a cross over appeal, old and new media would have a field day whipping themselves up into a frenzy and hyping the fight until even none-boxing fans are frothing at the mouths in anticipation for the fight. ITV would have spectacular ratings not just from the fight itself but for all the pre-fight interviews, the weigh-ins and shows equivalent to The Gloves Are Off and 24/7. Their ratings for X-Factor are dwindling and the whole reality TV talent contest has become more stale that a 5 year old packet of crisp. Big time boxing would bring the audience back. An event like Joshua vs Fury would have the real x-factor and the fighters themselves would surely build not only their legacies but also their bank balances from participating in a unique event so accessible to all.
The biggest winner from it all would be boxing itself as a fight of this magnitude would create a long-lasting legacy, it would transcend the sport and increase viewership and inspire participation of boxing. Two top talents, battling at the peaks of their career on free TV, creating magnificent memories so that everyone can watch. Especially those troubled youths in need of a little inspiration so that maybe one day, they too can complete their rags to riches stories.