Thursday, January 9, 2014
'Cold war' a good thing? Just wait and see
By Brian Campbell
Next month will mark exactly one year since Floyd Mayweather Jr. left HBO to sign a widely publicized six-fight, 30-month deal with Showtime/CBS.
Mayweather's leap was, for all intents and purposes, the final straw to kick off the current promotional and network cold war that had been brewing for years. One month later, HBO severed ties with Golden Boy fighters, essentially creating two independent professional boxing leagues.
The immediate aftermath wasn't the doom and gloom many had feared, however. In fact, the intense competition created loaded fight cards that, in turn, helped produce a year as enthralling as boxing has seen this century.
Last week, we celebrated the end of 2013 by marveling at what it delivered -- a fact perfectly illustrated by how much positive debate surrounded many year-end awards. But all of the excitement had a certain fools' gold quality to it when you consider: (1) the best still aren't fighting the best, and (2) we aren't any closer to resolving this petty and short-sighted debacle than we were 12 months ago.
Blogging on how annoying and potentially damaging the cold war is to boxing is far from a novel concept. And it would be naive to think that one or more of these stories have any kind of power to change the current culture.
Promoters and the equally culpable networks will continue to accept short-term reward without care for the long-term consequences created by this current segregation. So, too, will many big-name fighters look to protect their immediate financial gains by not rocking the boat.
It's difficult to fault the fighters, considering how unorganized and unforgiving this sport truly is. But it also stands to reason that things would likely be different if more fighters spoke up. Ultimately, the power is theirs.
We enjoyed something pretty special this past year, during which the overall health of the sport seemed to improve following a dark 2012 marred by drug suspensions, injuries and lopsided matchmaking. Attempting to write off 2013 as merely an aberration would be disingenuous, but predicting a repeat is far too optimistic.
It's not that the New Year fails to offer any intriguing in-house promotional bouts, with a likely Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. rematch in April topping the list. It's just that each of these fights brings us closer to an inevitable letdown as major bouts in multiple weight classes fail to get made while notable elite fighters run out of realistic opponents.
In the meantime, we'll wait as Mayweather chooses between an undeserving Amir Khan and an overmatched Marcos Maidana for his next fight, instead of Bradley or Pacquiao (who both failed to help matters by not even mentioning Mayweather's name after recent wins). And we'll be sure to shrug our shoulders with a look that says "that's just the way it is" when outraged casual fans can't seem to grasp why obvious fights have no prayer of getting made.
In a way, we're all accomplices: the fans who continue to pay for second-rate fights, the writers worn down enough to accept dysfunction as the new norm and the fighters who are willing to fight "whoever my promoter wants." But too many of us submit to an easy-out justification of the sport's current reality: You can't change the system, so why bother trying?
In 2013, we were paid handsomely, up front, with a perfect storm of great fights that allowed us to forget the fact that pure selfishness continues to control (and plague) the sport. As long as the getting is still good, you won't hear many complaints.
But as the months roll on, it's inevitable that the rust within this faulty system will begin to show. Does anyone really believe that a year from now we'll still feel this accepting of the current state of affairs?
Until those in power are forced to come to their senses and fighters with the most clout openly campaign for Mr. Arum and Mr. Schaefer to -- with apologies to the late Ronald Reagan -- "tear down this wall," there will be no great thaw.
This past year was a good one -- no, a great one -- for boxing. But let's not lose sight of the consequences of allowing the ignorance and greed of boxing's two most powerful entities to prevent its two most important ones, the fighters and the fans, from getting what they want and deserve.