If you are truly to enjoy watching the Sweet Science on television, it is not enough to know how the sport is contested. Yes, that will help you to determine who’s winning and make some sense out of the judging (more on that later), but if you’re watching in a social setting it won’t help to make sense out of why some fight night parties draw every straggler who walks in off the street and others draw maybe three or four hardcore fight fans at most. Since boxing’s marketing efforts are iffy at best, it’s not even as easy as “watch SportsCenter and see who they talk about.”
The best way to know who’s who, of course, is to read The Boxing Tribune. While you’re reading our fine site, pay attention to who we give coverage to, and also pay attention to who we skewer around here, since in order to draw enough attention to get taken down a peg, you have to be up a peg to begin with. Our top ten rankings, available on http://msn.FoxSports.com/boxing and updated monthly, feature the ten best pound-for-pound (meaning irrespective of weight class) fighters in the world.
Keep a rule of thumb in mind; the heavier the fighter, the more respect his division gets. There are exceptions (the welterweight division, 147 pounds, contains the two biggest names in the sport, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao), but there’s a reason the term “heavyweight champion of the world” carries such cachet. Wladimir Klitschko (who spells his first name with a W but pronounces it with a V) is the consensus champion and has all but one of the major belts (keep reading for an explanation) but his brother Vitali (VEE-tuh-lee) is considered by most to be the better pure fighter. Don’t count on the brothers settling things in the ring; they have both said they will never fight each other. Below the Klitschko brothers, you have a bunch of guys who are not considered to even be in the same league, so complete is the dominance of the Ukrainians at the top.
Speaking of champions, there are two ways to determine who’s good. The naïve way is to look up “list of boxing champions” on Wikipedia or Google and take those sites at their word. Here you will run into a bunch of alphabet soup—these are boxing’s infamous “sanctioning bodies”. The World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Organization (WBO), W.B. Association (WBA), and International Boxing Federation (IBF) are the “major” belts, the so-called world titles, and while being a champion does not necessarily mean you are a legend (search for “For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” here on the Tribune for one such example), it does mean a fighter has at least proven he can beat some decent guys at the very minimum. Even suspect champs like Saul Alvarez at 154 pounds were able to beat above-average fighters.
The other way to determine who’s good is to count names on mainstream sites. If a media outlet like ESPN or FoxSports.com considers someone important enough to mention outside of the context of his boxing, smart money’s on that guy being pretty important, since those sites rely on big names to drive traffic from casual fans. This is not foolproof; a guy like Lucian Bute, since he’s a Romanian fighting most of his fights in Quebec, isn’t widely known outside of boxing circles and Francophone Canada. But Mayweather, Pacquiao, Bernard Hopkins…those guys are as big a name as you’ll find.
Finally, know when you’re watching a show on TV what the “level” of the fight is. At the top are the pay-per-view main events. These are the guys people pay a lot of money to watch fight. Immediately below are the pay-per-view undercard fighters, in ascending order of importance as the night goes on. Follow that with “HBO World Championship Boxing” and “Showtime Championship Boxing”, which are often headlined by guys who aren’t quite pay-per-view draws but whose promoters are trying to show them off so they’ll become big draws. Below that is HBO’s Boxing After Dark, which often features good-but-not-great fighters in entertaining matchups (the series is best known for the Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward trilogy). Then there’s ShoBox: The New Generation and ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, where the stars of tomorrow get their start.
If you speak Spanish, Univision, Telefutura, and Fox Deportes all put on cards that are on about the same level as the ShoBox and FNF cards but with Latin American fighters and other guys of interest to Hispanic audiences. If you’re looking for the potential next great Mexican champion, like a Julio Cesar Chavez, you might find him here.
But what’s the best way to become a better boxing fan? Watch a LOT of fights at all levels and count on the great writers here at The Boxing Tribune. Since we’re not paid off by promoters, our only loyalty is to the truth and you’ll get it unfiltered like a Lucky Strike here.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @RealFoxD. Fan mail, hate mail, and mail bombs from sanctioning bodies can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.