What was the biggest story of 2016?
By Hector Franco
January 10, 2017
We are now over a week into 2017, and most boxing fans have already moved on from the stench left from 2016. 2016 was a transitional year for the sport. It was a year where the phrase “ you take two steps back to take one step forward” was appropriate. 2016 may have been the two steps back. Even thought it was a disappointing year there still many events that took place that set up the sport of boxing for the future.
1. The Death of Muhammad Ali.
On June 3, 2016, the man known by many as the greatest heavyweight champion in boxing history passed away. There are few athletes let alone human beings on earth whose death would elicit such a strong reaction worldwide. What he meant to the sport of boxing was immeasurable; there will never be another Ali.
The day after his death on June 4, 2016, WBC 130-pound champion Francisco Vargas defended his title against Orlando Salido at the Stub Hub Center in Carson, California. That night there was a feeling in the air that something special would take place. Vargas-Salido ended up being a fitting tribute to the great Ali as the two men produced a fight that will be re-watched for years to come.
2. The Decline of PPV and the rise of Facebook Live.
If any year was an example of declining pay-per-view (PPV) sales in boxing, it was 2016. No PPV in 2016 sold over 500,000 buys for boxing. The closest may have been the Canelo-Khan PPV that took place in May. That event originally had been rumored to have sold 600,000 buys, but other reports claimed it sold about 460,000 buys. Other PPV’s like Pacquiao-Vargas, Pacquiao-Bradley III, and Canelo-Smith stayed in the 250,000-300,000 ranges in buys. These fights weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by boxing fans. But even November’s Wark-Kovalev PPV failed to get over 200,000 buys. Ward-Kovalev was highly anticipated and many thought of the fight as the best that could be made in the sport.
Many factors can be debated as to why sales have gone down for PPV. It could be the blowback from the Mayweather-Pacquiao event that left more fans disappointed than satisfied. It can be argued that the PPV’s didn’t have much substance outside of the main events. It could also mean that the PPV model for boxing is outdated and needs to change.
Social media sites and apps hold a large portion into how news travels. In today’s world, one doesn’t need HBO to watch a fight on the premium network. In fact, one does not need even to have cable. Facebook now has a feature that allows members to show and share live videos of what they are watching or broadcasting. This has led to many boxing fans watching fights normally on PPV through their phone or computer. This development is likely only to increase rather than dissipate over time.
3. The inactivity of fighters within the PBC.
Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) seemingly had a rough year. In 2015, PBC bombarded boxing fans with what felt like too many dates. There was more boxing for fans to view but the quality of the fights was called into question. There were rumors throughout the Internet that the PBC had been hemorrhaging money and could be on its way out of business. This may have been wishful thinking from PBC detractors but what can’t be disputed is that there were many fighters associated with the PBC that fought just once in 2016. Almost as many didn’t fight at all.
The list of fighters that only fought once in 2016 ranged from Adonis Stevenson to Shawn Porter. Even more curiously fighters like Lamont Peterson were completely inactive the whole year. Al Haymon has a bigger roster of fighters than any other promotional or managerial group. It seems with the decline of television dates available it has taken an effect on his fighter’s activity.
Fights like Thurman-Porter came too far and in between for the PBC. 2017, hopes to be a more active year for Haymon clients, as it will make fights like Thurman-Porter more likely to occur but also make for better fights. Fighters need to fight; it’s the only way to make sure that their skills stay sharp.
4. The return of Richard Schaeffer.
This year marked the return of one of the most controversial figures in boxing. Richard Schaefer came back to the boxing world with his new promotional group, Ringstar Sports. Schaefer had been out of the sport since the return of Oscar De La Hoya to Golden Boy Promotions.
There isn’t much of a gray area when it comes to Schaefer. You either love him for the amount of work he put in with Golden Boy in 2013 or you feel he is a person who can’t be trusted for how the fallout with Golden Boy occurred. Whatever may be the case his return to the sport could be positive.
In December, Schaefer was the lead promoter for a show featuring Abner Mares defeating Jesus Cuellar and Jermall Charlo stopping Julian Williams in dramatic fashion in the fifth round. Schaeffer has stated that he is willing to work with all promoters. Seeing that his first show was with all Al Haymon clients some may be skeptical. We will have to wait and see if Schaefer lives up to his word.
5. Prichard Colon and Nick Blackwell.
Prichard Colon’s last fight was in October 2015 against Terrel Williams. Since that day Colon has been in a coma due to brain injuries he suffered in that fight. It’s hard to imagine that the young man from Puerto Rico is only 24 years of age and was only a professional for two years before this incident occurred. There have been some signs of improvement as Colon was moved to his mother’s home in Florida this past May, but it’s still troubling that he hasn’t come out of the coma in some way.
Across the pond in England, Nick Blackwell could have suffered the same fate as Colon. Unlike Colon who was hit in the back of the head with shots that didn’t look damaging at first watch, Chris Eubank Jr beat Blackwell to a bloody pulp. After the fight with Eubank, Blackwell was put into a medically induced coma to deal with bleeding in his brain. Blackwell ended up making a recovery only almost to squander it away with a sparring session that once again left him in the hospital.
Blackwell needed surgery to recover from the sparring session and luckily was able to once again recover. These two men are examples of just how dangerous the sport of boxing can be. It’s not a sport to be taken lightly in any way.
5. Canelo and the WBC.
Since Canelo Alvarez defeated Miguel Cotto in November 2015 for the WBC middleweight championship, the drums have been beating for him to unify against middleweight kingpin Gennady Golovkin. Alvarez instead decided that it would be in his best interest to first defend the title against Amir Khan at a catchweight of 155 and then drop the belt completely afterward. When Alvarez dropped the title, it made Golovkin the new WBC middleweight champion. It also gave fans the impression that Alvarez and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya didn’t want to face Golovkin if they didn’t have to.
What may have fueled the flames to the backlash that Alvarez received was his boisterous proclamation after the Khan fight that he wasn’t scared of Golovkin in any way going as far as saying “Mexicans don’t f*** around” in Spanish.
After the Khan fight, Alvarez decided to fight once again at 154-pounds and face Liam Smith for the WBO 154-pound title. It seems that Alvarez has a newfound relationship with the WBO and was recently even elevated to number one contender status for the title in the middleweight division.
It’s still unclear whom Alvarez will face this upcoming May. There have been rumors of a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. That fight can generate a substantial amount of money and if put in a venue in Texas could sell out almost any arena. Alvarez’s promoter has maintained the position that the fight with Golovkin will take place in September 2017. If the fight doesn’t come together for 2017, Alvarez and Golden Boy may have to prepare for some serious backlash that could affect business.
6. The rise of Joe Smith Jr.
Few athletes in sports, in general, had a bigger coming out party than New York’s Joe Smith Jr. Smith first hit the consciousness of boxing fans when he faced off against Andrezj Fonfara in June 2016. In what may have been the years biggest upset, Smith stopped Fonfara in the first round. What made the victory so special was that it was a knockout win over an opponent who had proven to be durable with a good chin against fighters like Adonis Stevenson in the past.
Smith followed this up by putting the nail in the coffin to a legend's career. Smith was given the opportunity to face Bernard Hopkins this past December. He was once again the underdog against Hopkins, and it made no difference. Smith became the first man to stop Hopkins, and he did so in spectacular fashion. Smith stopped Hopkins in the eighth round after landing a devastating combination that sent Hopkins through the ropes outside the ring.
Needless to say, Joe Smith has arrived as a player in the light heavyweight division. Smith in 2017 may be looking at doing a big local New York fight with Sean Monaghan.
7. Alexander Povetkin and PED’s
The drug testing in boxing conversation has been continuous since the start of the decade. This year Alexander Povetkin may have broken new ground by failing two drug tests before two high-profile fights. In May 2016, Povetkin was set to face WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in his home country of Russia after winning the purse bid for the fight. The fight was canceled when Povetkin tested positive for a drug called meldonium. There was some controversy with the testing and the drug itself as meldonium had only been recently put on the banned substance list in January 2016.
Wilder ended up injuring himself in a fight with Chris Arreola and sitting out for the remainder of 2016. Povetkin then moved on to face Bermane Stiverne in December but once again failed a drug test. This time he failed for a drug called osterine. Osterine was also in the public eye this year when Lucian Bute failed a drug test for that substance after his fight with Badou Jack in April 2016.
Stiverne went back to Las Vegas, and Povetkin had another opponent waiting for him in Johann Duhaupas. Povetkin disposed of Duhaupas easily but has been given little to no credit for the victory as it took place in a days notice after a failed drug test.
In 2017, there may have to be stricter penalties inflicted on fighters who fail drug tests. Povetkin was able to secure a fight immediately, and Lucian Bute will be facing Eleider Alvarez in February. With a victory, Bute could be in line for a title shot against Adonis Stevenson. The WBC has taken a stance by implementing drug testing for all fighters in their rankings but clearly more needs to be done.
Fans and media alike need to put pressure on promoters and ask the tough questions when fights don’t have testing.
8. Ward-Kovalev decision and boxing’s racial divide
Art imitates life. The sport of boxing has always been a magnet for political issues. In the United States, race and racism will always be an issue that divides people. This year in boxing no other event brought race into the picture like the Ward-Kovalev fight and decision. Boxing fans would have you believe that there is a direct correlation between how you score a boxing match and your political views.
Many observers thought Kovalev clearly won the fight against Ward citing the knockdown in the second round and his overall dominance in the first half of the fight. Others thought that Ward had done enough in the second half of the fight to get the decision.
This development in boxing is not likely to change. There has been an up rise in pseudo alt-right boxing media this year on YouTube. Some in the boxing media have gone as far as to name African-American boxing fans “the demographic” or “the dummygraphic”.
Boxing just like society will not change without further discourse.
Looking back at 2016 it's a year that simply had its moments. Fans and media alike hope 2017's biggest story will be the amount of great fights that took place.
(Featured Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)