By Fox Doucette
Before we begin, a disclaimer: I’m not calling out any fighter’s toughness here. Anyone who accepts a relative pittance (and even what Pacquiao and Mayweather make counts, especially when compared against a designated hitter’s salary) to step into a modern version of a gladiatorial arena for combat has my respect. This is simply about a fan’s frustration with the cold reality of the Sweet Science.
That having been said, what the hell, Andre Ward? The Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic started almost two full years ago. With Ward having sustained a cut in sparring while preparing for his grand final against Carl Froch, it will be December at least before the tournament ends, and who knows whether we can even count on that date? If the March Madness college basketball tournament were like boxing, they’d play the championship game on Labor Day.
While we’re on the subject, how many fights has Wladimir Klitschko pulled out of citing some sort of injury in the lead-up to the fight? That might just be his android programming designed to shut him down if there’s an anomaly in his servo motors, but it sure doesn’t inspire confidence in his fans in the lead-up to his fights.
It seems like every week on FNF, Teddy Atlas is talking about how such-and-such a fighter “took this fight on short notice”, usually because one of the combatants had to pull out due to a boo-boo. Josesito Lopez, Ji-Hoon Kim, Ruslan Provodnikov…all tough guys, and all guys who left their fans at the altar like a jilted bride, sometimes so close to fight night that ESPN had already said ‘tune in next week when our main event will be…’ and named one of those guys.
Yes, I understand that boxing is a brutal game. To prepare for a televised fight, fighters do bag work and running and sparring, that last of which is, simply put, risking getting the crap beat out of you in order to get ready to beat the crap out of somebody else. Getting punched in the face is part of getting ready to do your job as a professional fighter. Anyone who has ever even done so much as a shadow-boxing workout knows how much joints can hurt from doing things like snapping out jabs, now imagine doing that in a combat situation and ask yourself why more fighters don’t end up with strains and sprains from the workouts.
Boxing also doesn’t have a monopoly on pregame injuries. Ask an Indianapolis Colts fan how they feel about their team’s outlook since Peyton Manning got hurt, or watch a few days’ worth of NFL Live on ESPN and you’ll hear a litany of “so-and-so is questionable for Sunday’s game after sustaining [fill in the blank injury] in practice.” Hockey players, basketball players, even golfers get hurt before big events. Of course it is very different if you get injured and not a professional athlete, a workers comp mediation can help you if that happens.
But it is not good for the sport to have so many fights called off after being announced and promoted. Sometimes the guys in question just punked out (David Haye and Kelly Pavlik, I’m looking at you), but when an Andre Ward or a Wladimir Klitschko or even a Ruslan Provodnikov pulls out of a fight due to an injury, it kills me and it kills other fans to have to wait that much further for the payoff. You can’t believe a fight is actually going to happen until Michael Buffer yells “let’s get ready to rumble” and the referee says “protect yourself at all times, I want a good clean fight” and the bell rings to start Round One.
This is the big difference between boxing and other sports. If Peyton Manning gets hurt, the Indianapolis Colts don’t get to wait two months or four months or “whenever he comes back”. They pull some guy out of the parking lot from a tailgate party, put a uniform on him, and…OK, fine, Colts fans. Put the gun down. I’m sorry for bringing Curtis Painter up. But you get my point. Football goes on. A golf tournament doesn’t get canceled because Tiger Woods threw out his back screwing a stripper. The NBA season goes on even if five Celtics end up with blown ACLs because they forgot to take their Geritol.
I’d love to offer a magic-bullet solution to this, but there isn’t one. An individual sport that depends on an individual’s drawing power for its entire revenue stream can’t readily substitute guys in and expect people to buy the pay-per-view or the tickets. It’s just frustrating as hell. Ward-Froch will be a great fight between great fighters. I just don’t want to wait for it. And I won’t believe it’s going to happen until the bell rings to start round one.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Follow Fox on Twitter @RealFoxD. Fan mail, hate mail, and Tiger’s sloppy seconds can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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