History shows us that boxing’s most memorable fights have generally taken place in the United States. Making his Write Cross début, Tom Olney suggests that things might be on the move.
Boxing has always been a worldwide sport but with its spiritual home very much situated in the US. Thinking about the greats of the sport: Muhammad Ali; Sugar Ray Robinson; and the lesser known Henry Armstrong; they are all American. The biggest fights have nearly always been held in the USA (apart from the notable exceptions of the Thriller in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle).
But that is no longer the case as, other than Floyd Mayweather Jnr, the current greats are from other corners of the world: Manny Pacquiao (Philippines); the Klitschkos (Ukraine, fighting out of Germany); and Sergio Martinez (Argentina). The big fights are still happening mainly in the US, but the Klitschkos’ decision to fight out of Germany has focused the heavyweight division away from the US. So is the home of boxing still in the US and what does this mean to boxing in general?
The case for the champ
The big fights are still being held in the US, in its iconic cities and arenas. Most fans would expect to see the biggest fights and best fighters in Las Vegas, New York or Atlantic City. That is exactly where the big fights have been held recently, other than in the aforementioned heavyweight division. Pacman vs Marquez in Las Vegas, which for once did not fail to disappoint (other than the contentious decision). Martinez beat Macklin in Madison Square Garden on St Patrick’s day in another high-class and high-profile bout. Atlantic City provided the venue for Froch vs Ward and showed us who the next American superstar should be.
The current US star, widely regarded as the pound for pound king, is of course Floyd Mayweather Jnr. However he doesn’t do himself or the US many favours by averaging just one fight a year over the last six years. When he fights he still draws big crowds but he does little to strengthen the cause of the US boxing scene. The Pacquiao fight is still no closer to being made than it was two years ago. Elsewhere Bernard Hopkins continues to defy the laws of ageing and fight on, but he can hardly re-energise the sport at the age of 47. There is some hope with the emergence of Andre Ward from the super-middleweight super six competition. He has all the tools to be a top pound for pound fighter and should generate great interest. However, the natural fight for him should have been against the only contender to his super-middleweight crown: Lucien Bute. But while Ward has enjoyed his victory, Bute has been signed up to fight the man he defeated, Carl Froch. Hopefully Ward won’t be following in Mayweather’s footsteps and can provide the US with the headliner it needs.
The case for the contenders
So if the US’s hold on boxing is diminishing, is boxing losing its appeal or is the gap being filled elsewhere? One place that it seems to be booming is Germany, especially in the heavyweight division, thanks to Messrs Wlad and Vitali
Klitschko. Their popularity in Germany is based around their complete domination of their smaller and weaker opponents combined with their impeccable conduct outside of the ring. They keep selling out big German arenas, much to the amazement of American and British boxing fans. But sell out they do, and they hold all the belts and thus all the cards so all major heavyweight fights happen in Germany. The heavyweight division, often seen as the flag bearer of boxing, is most certainly centred in Germany. Germany has its own champions as well, not just adopted, in Felix Sturm, Marco Huck and Robert Stieglitz. So it is now making a strong claim to be viewed alongside the US as a boxing superpower.
Recently Britain has also thrown its hat into the ring. Last year we had six genuine world title holders and a few years ago in Joe Calzaghe one of the pound for pound elite and Ricky Hatton who generated massive crowds both in the UK and the US. However Britain, despite a flourishing domestic scene, has not put on a big fight in a few years, despite Haye against Wlad being mooted for London it happened in Germany. We are still a country that enjoys its boxing but has become overshadowed by Germany in recent years. Another country famous for producing great boxers is Mexico, but while its boxers fight their big fights in America and generally move there when they become established it will remain a producer of talented boxers rather than a home of boxing.
The future of boxing
If the USA is the spiritual home of boxing, then surely the decline in its power is a bad thing for boxing. A sport that already has a problem with the best not fighting the best will only struggle through more fragmentation. However it might also be a good thing. Competition brings out the best in people and maybe boxing needed more competition within itself. If US promoters and boxers notice the decline in their power to put on fights and get paid the money they want, they will have to react. Hopefully it will result in better fights being made and the sport regaining its previous unrivalled popularity. Boxing has failed to do much to counter the threat of MMA, partly because it is so fragmented and has no overall leadership. So it is only if its individual parts compete that they can drive the sport forward. Although the spiritual home of boxing may no longer lie as firmly in America its very essence probably still resides in Canastota, in the state of New York, home to the boxing hall of fame, where the great and the good of boxing are remembered.