Lies are part of the boxing business. If one cares to pay attention, not a day goes by without a hearty helping of bullshit.
From publicist spin to fake job offers from wannabe power brokers, I deal with lies just about every waking moment as a boxing writer. Somebody’s always selling something or trying to hustle you or leech from you.
The useful idiots in our business can make an entire career out of being pleasant marks. Whatever you tell them– if it suits their ends– becomes absolute fact. And they will hard sell that BS as fact, regardless of how preposterous the lie.
Meanwhile, the few of us with a critical eye and actual first-hand experience grow poor trying to hose away the feces from the driveway of public discourse.
Here’s just a small list of lies, fake statements, and false ideas routinely attached to the sport of boxing:
The Most Feared Man
Remember that glorious era when boxers just wanted to test themselves and cared little about things like money and the risk/reward ratio?
No? Well, that’s because such an era never existed.
For the hopelessly nostalgic fan or helplessly inept media hobbyist, boxing is some fairytale endeavor, carried out by noble warriors and existing solely as a means by which to escape a humdrum existence.
Realists, however, know that prizefighting has always been PRIZEfighting and that money and risk have always played a part into what fights get made and when they get made. Nobody intent on a long career in boxing (or with management worth a damn) disregards finance in search of a “test.”
Back fifty, sixty years ago, the boxing business was a smaller one with fewer options for the participants. Fighters took fights when they were ordered to. And even then, fights were made according to how much revenue they could generate or via whim of someone powerful enough to steer the matchmaking process.
In this day and age, the only thing that’s changed is that the fighter and his management now have a bit more input into the fights he takes. And that means that it’s easier to manufacture an image that can be marketed to the fighter’s benefit.
For an all-offense powerhouse, the prized marketing ploy is to become “Feared.” And it’s shockingly easy to employ this marketing strategy.
Just take a legitimately talented offensive fighter, match him against tailor-made opposition to ensure plenty of highlight reel knockouts, catch the eye of a network, then viciously low-ball all potential opposition.
Once attaining the “beast” reputation, all you have to do is record incident after incident of “name” fighters passing up on the offer to fight a dangerous fighter for chump change. Voila! Your fighter is now “Feared.”
But the thing about fighters is that, by nature, they are, indeed, a different breed than most. Maybe not the noble knights of suburban man-fantasy, but definitely a heartier, braver offshoot of humanity. Offered the right money, most fighters would walk into a wood chipper. So, cries of “So and So is afraid” ring hollow. If there’s no fight, the reality is most likely that there’s simply not enough money in it.
The Lineal Champ
The title lineages are dead. Let’s get that idea through our heads. If there is one indisputable truth in boxing, it’s that the concept of a true lineal champ is a thing of the way distant past. The quaint idea of having the man who beat the man who beat the man as the standard for champ status is deceased.
The oldest, purest lineage at the moment is that of the middleweight division, and that one only goes back to 2004 when Bernard Hopkins beat Oscar De la Hoya to unify all four middleweight belts. But, even then, there was no true lineage in place as Hopkins never beat the man who beat the man.
Sugar Ray Leonard, after beating Marving Hagler in 1987, was the last universally recognized middleweight champ before Hopkins. He disrupted the title lineage by removing himself from the division immediately after the win. But STILL, he was not really killing the lineage, since Marvin Hagler never really beat the man who beat the man, either.
The real middleweight title lineage ended in 1977 when Carlos Monzon retired. Faux middleweight lineages were only re-started when one man proved himself to be truly dominant in the division. Hagler got the designation, Leonard swiped it from Hagler…then nothing until Hopkins.
Fans ultimately decide who gets the nod as the REAL champion, not sanctioning bodies or website rankings panels.
When a group like the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board talks about preserving lineages, what they really mean to say is that they are hell bent on establishing lineages according to their whims and agendas. Actually, though, their dogged grasping at the lineal concept makes crowning a true, universally recognized champ even more difficult.
Sticking with the middleweight division, their insistence on recognizing Miguel Cotto as the true middleweight champ, despite obviously being neither the best nor most accomplished fighter in the division, props him up and prevents universal recognition of the real no. 1 middleweight, Gennady Golovkin. The era of Golovkin is slow to materialize, in part, because of the “purists” who want to preserve the lineage that runs through Cotto, even if that lineage is really only four fighters long.
And this is all just based on the middleweight division’s “sacred” lineage. Most other divisions and their lineages are more scattered and confused.
Barring a complete and total overhaul of the sport– and a few years to determine a “true” champ in each division– the lineal champ concept is as real in today’s boxing world as three-rope rings and bare-knuckled heavyweight title bouts.
All These Belts Hurt The Sport
Let’s get one thing straight. There’s not a single person out there being kept away from embracing the sport of boxing because the guy holding the middleweight title can’t trace his lineage back to Harry Greb or because there’s some guy in the Ukraine claiming to be the real world featherweight champ. Nobody who wants to follow boxing is being discouraged by the fact that there are four sanctioning bodies, often recognizing four different champions. That’s a boxing nerd’s lament.
Most fans are either born into boxing fandom or pick it up via TV. They like the sport, like the action, like the characters involved in the sport. But it’s ridiculous to claim that fans are dissuaded from following the sport because of what essentially amounts to the politics of business. As if potential fans of the NBA stay away from basketball because they’re confused by the salary cap concept or possible baseball enthusiasts refuse to follow MLB because they don’t fully understand the free agent rules.
“But when there was one champ, the sport was much more popular,” the hopeless reformists say.
Well, before man landed on the moon, the sport was more popular too…and before the internet, before velcro, before bagel-slice toasters, too.
There could actually be a case made that, in this day and age when boxing has become a niche sport reliant upon international participation, having four world champs has been a positive thing. It has allowed world class boxing to reach Eastern Europe, Asia, and other growing boxing markets. It has helped create new stars and put more money in more fighters’ pockets. It has also served as a tremendous advertising tool for the sport as fans debate champ vs. champ dream clashes.
If Sergey Kovalev had not gone to the UK to take the WBO belt from Nathan Cleverly and then back to the US to beat Bernard Hopkins for the IBF/WBA belts, would he be as big a star as he is now? Would a potential Kovalev vs. “lineal” champ Adonis Stevenson bout be anything special, beyond contender vs. champ?
Sanctioning body politics prevent some big bouts from happening, but the biggest fights usually end up getting made. It would be sweet to go back to 1950 and have one champ in each of only eight divisions, but the world has changed. What worked then wouldn’t work now. And, really, it’s not such a big deal, anyway. Fans are smart enough to know the pecking order among world titlists and new fans are just interested in the actual bouts, not the politics behind them.
Al Haymon is the Devil
Al Haymon is nothing more than a businessman looking to put out a product people will buy. He’s not out to ruin the sport. He’s not some chicken bone-wearing voodoo villain casting spells on the sport and its fighters. He’s just a smart man who came to power with a shrewd business plan and a deep knowledge of the old school boxing hustles kept in place by the old timers.
And when Haymon does move into shady territory, he’s not doing anything unusual for the sport. He’s not doing anything that most everyone else in the business hasn’t done or tried to do.
The Golden Boy lawsuit against Haymon, crying about violation of the Muhammad Ali Act (among other things) is especially humorous since it wasn’t too long ago that Golden Boy was also being taken to task for violating the Ali Act.
And the idea that Haymon deals in mismatches and poor matchmaking? Well, that doesn’t even deserve a response. It wasn’t too long ago that a non-Haymon main event fight on HBO featured a -5000 betting favorite in the red corner opposite a complete no-hoper. The thirst for an easy, big-money mismatch is, also, a sin that everyone commits.
The truth about Haymon is somewhere buried in a shade of gray. Whether you see him as a hero or a villain depends on whether you support the status quo in the sport. Al Haymon is a threat to the way business has been done in boxing. The “solution” to a Haymon takeover is simple– Just do a better job than he does.
Bob Arum is Evil Incarnate
Bob Arum is a hustler, con man, flesh peddler– but one would expect nothing less from a man in his position with his history.
There is no doubt that if Arum says it’s Monday, you better check your calendar and confirm. At the heart of the matter, though, he’s just doing his job in the best way he knows how.
Boxing is full of hustlers and wannabe hustlers, who will tear you apart like piranhas if you give them half a chance. Arum, as the sport’s top promoter, has to be the king hustler, the baddest man on the block, to stay alive and thriving. If that means lying, cheating, stealing, and all kinds of nefarious activity, then so be it.
If you’re a fighter, you want Arum as your promoter, just as you’d want Al Haymon as your manager. Arum knows how to navigate the murky swamp waters of the sport and will keep making you money as long as you keep making him money (even though you also have to watch the money count very closely). He also knows how to cut his losses and create strength from weakness.
Arum built the boxing street cred of Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto, and Manny Pacquiao off the back of former client Floyd Mayweather. His persistent attacks on Mayweather since their break-up were more about creating legends and myths around his own fighters, than merely lashing out at Mayweather.
Even the shrewdest. most savvy fight fan out there has fallen, at one time or another, for some well-made Arum bullshit. He’s just that good. And in the context of big-time professional boxing, he’s not the devil. He’s just a hustler doing what a hustler does in this business.
But, of course, this doesn’t mean that we won’t call BS on some BS Arum move. I mean, that’s kind of what this gig is all about, really.
You can email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to his weekly Boxing News/Zombie Preparedness podcast, “Left Hook to the Brain.” Oh yeah, and buy his book: Notes from the Boxing Underground! Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.