Boxing is in a predicament. There are more broadcasters, promoters and media outlets than ever before.
Every week, a new outlet fitting one of the aforementioned stakeholders in the game comes along with lofty, admirable ambitions of reinventing the landscape of the sport we know and breathing fresh life into the age-old art of combat.
One would like to think there’s room at the inn for everyone. But, there is a danger that boxing is at a saturation point, where something has to give or dilution will occur.
So if we put politics to one side and immerse ourselves in a hypothetical world, where everyone’s agendas align under the ‘worthy’ objective of furthering the sport and ensuring its legacy is sustainable and secure, what can we do to avoid dilution?
Boxing Needs Constant Waves Of Talent
For me, the obvious answer is sometimes the best one. We need to look to the future. There simply has to be a push for new crops of boxing talent to come through in a revolving door fashion to ensure we can maintain enough boxers to fit the growing list of broadcasters and promoters looking to put on shows.
That responsibility does not rest solely on the hard-working amateur clubs and diamond-forming GB set-up. It also rests on the spawning forces within the sport (TV networks, promotional companies, media platforms).
As a journalist for a said media platform that was relatively late to the party, you may note that when talking about the need for progression in the sport, the ‘we’ pronoun is used.
So the next question is how do these groups pave the way for a sustainable future for the sport? It has to be a two-headed approach. Encourage new participants and engage new audiences. There has to be a light shone on the grassroots of the game, the amateur clubs.
My proposition would be a 2012 London Olympics-style marketing campaign that looks at the role of inspiration in instigating people to lace up those gloves.
There needs to be televised senior amateur shows and championships on broadcasts, be that TV/streaming companies or the media platforms themselves.
Boxing Needs Constant Waves Of Talent
Starting with the Haringey Box Cup. The promoters can get in on the act too and have already started to do so, with Neilson Boxing hosting a pro/am show in Oxford later this year.
I know some South American promoters also combine pro and fight on shows, it may seem incongruous but it incentivises the next wave by giving them the opportunity for a stage and audience. There also needs to be greater publicity given to the fact that a fair few professional boxers also host PT sessions.
First hand, I know Sammy McKay has been pivotal in regularly hosting a free class called ‘Champ Within’ at Miguel’s and my documentary with Billy Deniz showcased his work with young fighters too.
Is it an opportunity being missed by the boxing world? Imagine how many people would jump at the chance to learn and train as a footballer by playing with someone that’s on the TV.
Boxing doesn’t have the commercial and widespread appeal of football. But the sense of awe it can inspire when someone reaches the pinnacle of a title or a statement knockout is a greater motivating force than any goal could produce.
If more people knew that pro boxers are also pro trainers and some kind of subsidising scheme could be facilitated, more people could get down to the gym.
Boxing Needs Constant Evolution To Avoid Over Saturation
Next up is engaging new audiences. Wary that this is bordering on a polemic, I will stick to a few bullet points:
Continue to build narratives around fighters and shows that transcend boxing and become an occasion that would mean even someone not inclined to pugilistic passions, would feel they couldn’t miss out on the broadcast collaboration between competition.
This means promoters and broadcasters working together to avoid clashes and put on the mega fights that draw in more eyeballs and keep them coming back for more.
Media avoiding duplication, cross-creating on content and ensuring there is space for new journalists to come along and grow their portfolio of work.
And the last one is maybe somewhat contradictory but needs to be stated. Put simply, the sport cannot lose its soul. It has to stay rooted in the humble origins of many of its fighters.
That means making sure community-based support for fighters like the Romford Bull Army, continues to be kept on board. The YouTubers and influencers and glitz and glamour can continue to rumble.
But boxing has to remain accessible, otherwise the first part of the two-headed approach. Encouraging new participants will be turned off. It’s a tricky balancing act but as long as good people come and stay within the sport, boxing will remain well-poised for this trapeze.
By Harry Duffy