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23 NOVEMBER 2014

 

When They Were King


W.Klitschko vs. Ibragimov: HoganPhotos.com
W.Klitschko vs. Ibragimov: HoganPhotos.com

By John Lumpkin

It used to be that heavyweights were king. The fights were exciting and there were many big names to root for. Those days, however, are long gone. Heavyweights are no longer the dominant force in the sport. Many of the fights contested in their ranks are outright boring and just plain dull. It has gotten so bad that in the last major heavyweight championship fight, the trainer was so concerned about the entertainment value of his fighter’s performance that he abandoned advising his fighter about the fight to discuss the financial implications of his performance during the fight. Predictably, after the fight, the trainer boasted that next time his fighter would put it all together for a great show. But, didn’t we hear this before from the same trainer with the previous heavyweight champion?

Back in the “good ole days” when heavyweights were king, there was the argument that reasoned that heavyweights were the best fighters in the world because they were the biggest hardest punching fighters fighting. It made sense because the few who dared to move up to heavyweight to challenge for the title were often sent home empty handed. And not since the very early days of boxing did anyone reasonably contemplate moving up several divisions to face a heavyweight.

Things have changed. In the last several years not only have fighters successfully moved up into the heavyweight ranks to compete, several much smaller men have actually captured titles. Fighters such as Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Roy Jones Jr., Chris Byrd and Michael Moorer have all defeated some of the best representatives of the heavyweight division in recent years. While their personal accomplishment should never be minimized, it raises the question of how far the big men have fallen that so many non-heavyweights can be so successful in such a short period of time.

The decline of the heavyweights has not only been in the caliber of the contenders in the division, but also in their ability to put on a good show. In the last 30 years there have been a total of three fights in the heavyweight division that were named fight of the year and two of those included one of the aforementioned fighters who moved up from a lower weight. It has been 11 years since the last one. This is in stark contrast to the previous 30 years where heavyweights accounted for half of all fights of the year and made up the bulk of those considered for the award.

What remains today from those glory years is the pay structure. Today, it is taken for granted that a heavyweight should be paid more. In fact, the assumption is so pervasive that several of the sanctioning bodies built their business models around the idea that heavyweight title fights bring in the most revenue. Promoters still spend lavishing on heavyweight title fights in anticipation of that great spectacle and the A-list fans still seem to make their appearances. The question now is why? Are we doing it because we have always done it or are we doing it because we are holding out hope that maybe the next fight will be the catalyst to the return of the greats?

Think about all the potential fights out there that you want to see. How many of them are heavyweight bouts? How many heavyweight bouts that can be realistically made today can you think of that would top the sheer entertaining excitement of a bout involving Cotto, Pacquiao, Vazquez, Marquez, Valero, Pavlik, Mijares, Lopez, Miranda, or any other number of fighters in the lighter weights? How many years of heavyweight drought do we need before we recognize that the fighters we most appreciate today are in the lighter weights? It is not that the heavyweights are not important, it is just that it does not make sense that they should continue to receive top dollar when so many others in the lower weight classes are providing the fans with better display of boxing and far greater entertainment.

June 17, 2008


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