Levels to This: An Overview of the Boxing Landscape
In a time when Mayweather-McGregor seems to excite and rile in almost equal measure, it’s worth setting the scene of the boxing landscape that this circus act is entering into. ‘Boxing is booming’ and ‘there’s levels to this’ are two of the most popular clichés of current times and here we will take a (somewhat skewed) look at both claims.
Level 0 – A Fight in the Crowd at a Boxing Event
Not in the ring or for money, but an alcohol fuelled adrenaline rush that convinces two angry thirty-something males that the ring walk music was for them and that they could give the crowd a better showing than the two trained professionals on centre stage. Quite the opposite of prize-fighting, they have paid £80 for entry to an arena they will be dragged out of. Surprisingly pulls in a bigger audience than a Level 2 fight as almost the entirety of the arena turns to watch the outcome of this wind milling slugfest, rather than the event they have paid to see.
Level 1 – The ‘Trade Fight’.
Expect the two fighters to display maximum respect in the build up to this one, contrasted with minimum respect for their own health during the contest as they slug it out to show us the gritty (slightly less glamourous) reality of what a Rocky film would actually look like as we peer through our fingers. Not for the faint hearted, you and whoever is watching will quickly realise you could afford to retire if you had a quid for every time you asked each other “How is he taking these shots?”. If the fight perhaps doesn’t get the attention it deserves from the wider public, you can rely on Sky Sports bingo to be in full flow as we hear the story of two “real family men”, who you’d struggle to find someone in boxing that has a bad word to say about. Don’t bother trying to count the number of times the terms “warrior” or “such a nice guy” is mentioned, you’ll get more confused than the judge who couldn’t tell the difference between Ryan Burnett and Lee Haskins.
Level 2 – The Hardcore’s Fight of the Year.
Little chance of a Rocky-styled war here, as the two protagonists dance around the ring displaying outrageous skill, perfected through years of training, alongside precious little charisma or the increasingly essential controversy needed to sell a fight to the masses. Never mind the dedication they’ve shown to their craft for 25 years of their life, why haven’t they tried biting someone’s face at the press conference? The mate you invited round as you’ve not seen him for a while tells you he’d rather watch someone fight diabetes than that Rigondeaux fella and proceeds to educate you on what boxing used to be about when he watched a prime Mike Tyson, (when he was around 2 years old).
Level 3 – The Brit Fighting Abroad/American Coming to the UK.
Like the England national team, regardless of what you may think of them the rest of the time, it’s us against the world now, so get behind the Brit because we’re invading Las Vegas like Normandy. Much like the Iceland scandal (the football one, not the Kerry Katona one), what often follows can be an uncomfortable, awkward watch (back to Kerry again) as we come to the painful realisation that our hero may well have come up short. If the Golden Generation had too much pressure heaped on them by the media, our British boys fighting abroad had other forces conspiring against them; the referee (yes you Joe Cortez), a broken toe (Sorry David) or an ash cloud delaying your flight. When the dust settles however – puns aside – we are left to swallow that bitter pill that maybe, just maybe, we had been outclassed by the better side. We can be forgiven for our optimism. For weeks on end in the build up to this fight we’ve been building ourselves up with conviction that our man just might pull this off, in a manner reminiscent of a young man convincing himself that girl across the bar really is going to be interested in him. Every foreign fighter that visits these shores is greeted with tales of ‘another Jeff Lacy’, every adventure out to the States compared to Lloyd Honeyghan’s exploits in 1986. Never mind that we’ve had to go back to the 80’s to find this crowning moment, or that for every Jeff Lacy that visits the UK there is a Terence Crawford, for every Lucien Bute an Errol Spence. Perhaps ironically, with all this being said, it is our ability to blur this overwhelming historical evidence against our cause and get behind our man that makes these nights so magical. Those nights forcing your eyes open until 4 am are laced with nostalgia, those voyages to Germany a patriotic pilgrimage, each PPV fee coughed up in the hope of being able to say you witnessed that eternal moment of glory. And if we do fall short? Even better, we’re British we love losing.
Level 4 – The Domestic Dust Up.
More ‘beef’ than your local butcher and all the drama of a Love Island break-up, prepare yourselves for Jeremy Kyle on speed in this one, as we buzz from one press conference to the next. We’ll learn that these two have always hated each other, while Eddie Hearn tells us this is ‘boxing porn’ with a twinkle in his eye that suggests a Harold Macmillan-styled declaration that we’ve never had it so good, (an article that extends to politics too, I won’t include a link for that quote, you’re not interested). Hearn/Frank Warren/anyone in a suit that stands to make money from the event, will insist that we have to remember these two are role models that ultimately must behave themselves, all the while doing their best to hide their glee as each expletive-ridden rant or turned over table adds an extra few PPV buys. Many will insist the whole thing is ‘staged’ and ‘they’re friends really’ so the result is a fix, regardless of how events spiral out control. As WWE as it may appear, I’m told method acting stops at someone getting glassed so whenever Dereck Chisora loses it next we can interpret it as genuine and take the ‘fix’ argument as seriously as we take Adam Smith’s inevitable comparison to Hagler-Hearns when one of these fights opens up into a scrap.
Level 5 – The Monster.
The fight that inspires the ‘We’ll have to get all the boys round together for this one’ Facebook comment from a bloke that still can’t understand why Mayweather doesn’t step up and fight AJ. (Coincidentally if you ask the same chap if he fancies Canelo Alvarez on 16th September he’ll tell you he doesn’t like spicy food and he’s out that night anyway but thanks for the invite). As it happens you can include any AJ fight in this bracket from now on – be it Klitschko, Eric Molina or your local bin man who’s a big lad and pretty handy, stick him in there and the masses will cough up the Sky Sports PPV and swear blind “we wouldn’t miss an AJ fight” regardless of their general disinterest in boxing the rest of the year. Resist all you want, you’ll be sucked in by the hype and will fully realise this when you’ve sat through an entire press conference for a fight you told people you could take or leave when it was first made. Whether it’s just needing to see what everyone is talking about or not wanting to miss such a huge one-off event that will be remembered, you’ve become just another small part of the standstill that the world seems to have come to for this event. A fight cannot be considered a ‘monster’ until your dad’s offering an opinion on boxing for the first time since Benn-Eubank II or your gran’s asking you how you think the fight’s going to go.
(Side note: For what it’s worth Mayweather-McGregor is almost on its own level; a Level 5 fight on more juice than a Russian relay team).
So there we have it, a breakdown of the boxing landscape that Sky Sports won’t be rushing to steal. It appears that across the board boxing is ‘booming’ after all and amongst all of the above there should be something for everyone (for the boxing audience if not for the online article reader). Rest assured, despite the concerns of many, one more circus act into this mix will not be the end of boxing.