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Here’s how to save boxing

MIKE HOUSER
Appeal Sports Writer

Question: What qualities do March Madness and “The Contender” possess that could potentially rescue and revolutionize the sport of boxing if they are implemented?

The common denominator shared by both is their bracketed, single-elimination format.

Every March the top 64 teams in the nation meet each other until only one is left standing and is rightfully and unambiguously recognized as the national champion.

Although “The Contender” does not match up the best boxers in the world, it does match up a group of boxers until one is eventually declared the show’s champion.

What both of them do well is capture the imagination of a diverse group of viewers. March Madness is nothing short of a phenomenon and attracts untold millions of fans and bettors, sparking the interest of its followers in a magnitude not seen in any other sport.

For all of its failings vis-a-vis the traditional boxing fan – enough to write a different column on – “The Contender” has managed to reach the non-traditional boxing fan and bring new viewers to the sport.

Alongside professional baseball and college football, boxing at one time was one of the most popular sports in America. Since there were no recognized sanctioning bodies at the time and only eight weight divisions, it was not uncommon for the average sports fan to be able to name all of the world champions.

With 17 weight divisions today and four widely recognized (if not widely respected or loved) sanctioning bodies – the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO – the ability to tick off every “world champion” may not be as daunting as memorizing a phone book, but as with the white pages, the names are forever in flux and are elusive to recall.

Add to the mix “super champions” (WBA), champions emeritus (WBC) and Interim champions (get in line), and the proposition of naming every world champion becomes a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Because there is no national boxing commission – much less a world boxing commission (just don’t label it WBC for short) – to govern the sport and because the sanctioning bodies and certain questionable promoters are inextricably intertwined and entrenched in the current boxing paradigm, the following plan to reform boxing and restore its popularity is both idealistic and unrealistic at best.

But, hey, since there is a legion of sports fans that currently enjoy playing fantasy baseball, football, etc., let’s at least give this proposal a quick day in court.

Not only did being a world champion once mean something, so did being a contender ranked in a division’s Top 10. It prompted boxing fans to look ahead in anticipation to how the current champion would fare against a group of up-and-comers.

Due to the absurdity of politics inherent in today’s boxing structure, a fighter can be a recognized world champion or top contender in one organization and not even ranked by the other three.

The following proposal would not only restore the importance and dignity of the title of world champion, it would also eliminate all sanctioning bodies, add one independent ratings organization (much like the Associated Press) and restore the respect and cache due to real contenders.

The Internet has made this world a smaller one and the idea of getting together an independent ratings organization is not far-fetched at all. And with a tweak on the current pay-per-view and YouTube institutions a multimedia broadcasting and replay network could bring boxing home to its viewers like never before.

Furthermore, getting together a national and worldwide boxing commission should be no more difficult or unimaginable as assembling the United States and International Olympic Committees, which are already in place and governing a whole boatload of sports, not just boxing.

So, with the infrastructure and broadcasting and replay multimedia in place, it’s time to add one more proven ingredient – bracketology and a single-elimination tournament.

A good start would be to cut boxing back to 16 divisions (many would argue for going back to the original eight, but that’s for another column). The 105-pound division -whether it is called strawweight, paperweight, minimumweight – could be eliminated, making the 108-pound division (properly called the junior flyweight division) once again the lightest weight division.

With this somewhat Sweet 16-division format in place, the next step would be to decide on which 16 boxers in each weight division would be chosen to compete in the greatest boxing tournament ever devised.

The current world champions in each sanctioning body would be grandfathered in, with the remaining dozen or so contenders chosen by the independent and knowledgeable ratings organization.

Every week, beginning on network television and working toward cable TV, pay-per-view and the Internet, a pod of various fighters in their respective weight divisions would be highlighted (the No. 1 vs. No. 16 heavyweight, the No. 2 vs. No. 15 featherweight, and so forth) and matched.

This would continue until there was only one world champion in each weight division left standing. Unlike now, by the time those respective champions emerged, people would know who they were.

Once a world champion emerged, he would have to fight at least twice a year, once against the survivor of No. 1 vs. No. 2 eliminator and once against an opponent ranked in the bottom half of the Top 10.

If the journalism world could rise to the occasion – print, broadcast and Internet – it could bring to you each fighter the way “The Contender” did. Not all of the weepy, boo-hoo stuff, but who the boxer is as a person, his background, etc., which would spark even more interest among fans and ultimately bestow an even greater reward to the individuals who compete in the toughest sport there is.

The only people left weeping would be those employed by the sanctioning bodies and promoters who refuse to do business in a fair way. They could still dole out their meaningless belts and charge their ridiculous sanctioning fees, but with the collective revenue raised by the new proposal, they wouldn’t be able to compete and would be rendered irrelevant.

This proposal may be idealistic, but it wouldn’t take a perfect world to make it a viable and superior alternative than the existing template, which has all but killed the sport of boxing.