Anthony Joshua is Not the Savior of Boxing
Published: November 02, 2017
In the build-up to Anthony Joshua’s defeat of Carlos Takam last Saturday night, many an article had been written on how the future of boxing rests in Joshua’s hands. He is, after all, tall, good-looking, well-spoken, and an Olympic champion, who happens to come across as a genuinely nice guy, his 20 wins with 20 KOs notwithstanding. The belief that boxing needs Joshua rests on the premise that a heavyweight champion is the only one that can capture the attention of the casual boxing fan and the general public.
It is true that historically the heavyweight champions were the ones to capture the public’s attention, from Dempsey to Tyson. However, the fight game has changed. After all, MMA, the chief competitor to boxing, built its popularity on a 135-pound woman and a 155-pound man in Ronda Rousey and Connor McGregor, respectively – far from the heavyweight division. For years, when the 147-pound Floyd Mayweather fought, it was a national event, bringing in unprecedented pay-per-view numbers. Now that Premiere Boxing Champions and Top Rank are bringing their respective fighters to mainstream television such as Fox and ESPN, instead of relegating the sport to obscure cable channels that cannot be found in the mass of a 600 channel listing, people are watching. In 2017, boxing on non-premium TV is routinely pulling in more than one million viewers. Wherever one million viewers fall in the ratings; it is a hell of many people watching a sport supposedly in need of a savior.
What the one million viewers shows is that a heavyweight is not necessary to bring boxing back to the masses. It will be the promoters and managers doing their jobs and ensuring that entertaining fights take place. Eddie Hearn, Joshua’s promoter, showed on Saturday night that he knows how to do his job. Fearing the possibility that Joshua’s original opponent, Kubrat Pulev could pull out, he paid Takam to prepare to fight just in case a back up was needed. Sure enough, Pulev did pull out due to an injury. Instead of Hearn scrambling to find a game last-minute opponent eager for a quick paycheck, or worse yet, cancel the event, Takam was waiting in the wings, and the fans were treated to an engaging fight as a result. That is a damn good job by a promoter who saved a night of boxing, which just so happened to involve heavyweights.
Premiere Boxing Champions built its brand on great fights on free TV, reserving fights with bigger purses for Showtime to help defray costs. Top Rank has adopted a similar model after its fallout with HBO, and recently signed a long-term contract with ESPN with its “bigger fights” on pay-per-view. For both PBC and Top Rank to get viewers to pay for fights, they will first have to wet our appetites with entertaining, competitive fights on “free TV.” With at least one million viewers for each event thus far, PBC and Top Rank also appear to be doing their jobs and showing the skeptics that boxing is still a viable sport.
Joshua may be great one day, but he is not there yet. He is not even on anyone’s pound for pound list. If the future of boxing is in the hands of someone who is not considered one of the ten best fighters in the world and the holder of two major heavyweight belts, then boxing is in trouble. However, I do not believe it is, as evident by what PBC and Top Rank have been delivering as of late, which has yet to include any heavyweight offerings. Thus, the saviors of boxing, for better or worse, will be businessmen who want to ensure their businesses survive and thrive for years to come, not Anthony Joshua or any other heavyweight.
(Feature Photo: Lawrence Lustig)