The man who can save boxing

There is scientific evidence to suggest that dinosaurs were operating at their most proficient right before they became extinct. Somehow, that popped into my mind as I was watching the events surrounding the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao “Fight of the Century” unfold last weekend.

Few fights in history have been more anticipated, and the money involved was staggering even by today’s standards. Celebrities flew into Las Vegas from far and wide just to be there and be seen. It was the event on a day filled with huge sports stories.

Yet after the super-hyped fight turned out to be something of a dud, the sport of boxing as we know it was suddenly on life support. There’s no question that boxing is a dinosaur, and very close to becoming extinct.

I’ve spoken to former fighters and those who cover the sport. The prevailing question is, now that this fight finally happened – somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 years too late – what’s next? What’s out there for boxing fans to look forward to?

Please don’t even mention a Mayweather–Pacquiao rematch. No one wants to see it. Pacquiao’s camp quickly threw out the “our fighter was injured and not 100 percent” card in the hopes of fanning whatever flickering flame was out there for a second fight and mega-payday. That strategy has actually backfired because now legions of fans are screaming for their money back and filing (stupid) lawsuits.

Injured or not, the fact is that Manny Pacquiao is well past his prime and retirement is beckoning. And with his more or less permanent rope-a-dope approach to every fight, Mayweather – also well onto the downside – is boring. He hasn’t knocked out a male (ahem) in more than a decade. The truth is that there’s just nothing out there left for boxing fans like me to look forward to. If that’s not a death knell, then I don’t know what is.

Like it or not, mixed martial arts (MMA) has taken over boxing’s place in the hearts and minds of fight fans. And boxing has done almost nothing to fight back.

It seems the rise of MMA has coincided with the lack of a central leadership figure in boxing. When he was in his heyday, super-promoter/con-man Don King was a big reason why boxing thrived. He may have spent as much time in court as he did at the ring, but King, warts and all, was great for the sport. He was a de facto commissioner, albeit with no scruples. Since he left the scene, the alphabet soup of boxing organizations has grown cold and stale.

King and the other old-school power brokers in the sport are all but gone, and they are not coming back. Whatever influence guys like Bob Arum have had pretty much dried up and blew away in the desert last weekend.

There’s just one man out there right now who can save boxing: Dana White, the president of UFC. The very guy most responsible for the growth of boxing’s kryptonite is the one man who could bring it back.

It sounds almost preposterous at first. Why would White want to rebuild his competition? But that’s just it. Boxing does not have to be competition for UFC. Just like the NBA and NHL are not in competition. They are different sports that oftentimes share the same owners and arenas. UFC and boxing could coexist and help each other thrive in much the same way.

White is actually a long-time boxing fan. He’s gotten into well-documented verbal feuds with boxing promoters like Arum, accusing them of hurting the sport with poor decisions and tactics designed to maximize one-time profits at the expense of long-term growth. He’s wanted boxing to operate in the same manner that UFC has, with slick marketing and affordable events. Dana White wants boxing to thrive.

Still, why would White take on the resurrection of boxing? Obviously, he do it as a business venture, but one with added benefits. There are UFC fans that are growing disgruntled with the oversaturation of UFC events. It’s too much of a good thing.

There are not enough really big fights and big names any longer. Many of the UFC stars of the recent past have retired. Jon “Bones” Jones has gotten into recent legal trouble and his removal from his next scheduled fight card hurts the sport.

I spoke to a local sport bar owner who says UFC event crowds are a fraction of what they used to be. Only Rhonda Rousey fights are big draws right now. He’s disappointed.

An MMA fight trainer told me that the reason for so many events – and the perceived delusion of quality – is that MMA fighting has become so popular, with so many fighters getting into the sport, that they must have pretty much weekly events in order to keep the legions of fighters active. Might some of those fighters turn back to boxing if it gives them a better opportunity?

There’s no way the greedy suits that run the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, World Boxing Organization, International Boxing Federation and all the other mishmash of boxing “oversight” outfits would ever cede power to White. However, what if White went about building his own boxing organization modeled after UFC? What if he systematically took, one by one, the best boxing prospects out there and signed them up? He could build a boxing organization – complete with true leadership and conformity – that would cause the alphabet soup outfits to dry up and blow away, as well. 

Dana White could become the single thing that boxing has needed most – a true commissioner for the sport. With White in charge, we wouldn’t have to wait five or 10 years to see the best fighters fight one another, nor would the next “Fight of the Century” turn out to be a dud.