Nobody blames the media quite like boxers. And boxing promoters. And boxing managers. A fight tanks in the ratings? Blame the media. A pay-per-view doesn’t sell? Blame the media. A negative narrative overwhelms a big event? You guessed it: Blame the media.
Take this week. There were three examples of it. There was Victor Ortiz, the fighter/actor who has been promoting his Fox-televised rematch with Andre Berto this weekend. Ortiz loves to blame the media. For criticizing him for quitting against Marcos Maidana in 2009. For not showing up against Luis Collazo in 2014. Now Ortiz feels slighted because reporters assumed that a fighter who has fought once in the last 16 months, who has shown more interest in being Sly Stallone’s sidekick or "Dancing with the Stars," was finished as a contender.
Seriously, Victor: What was anyone supposed to think?
How about Eric Gomez, Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gomez sniffed at the suggestion that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez — who will defend his middleweight title against Amir Khan next weekend — would be labeled a ducker if he didn’t defend his title against Gennady Golovkin in his next fight. Gomez called it “ridiculous” and “stupid” and pointed out that Golovkin’s recent opponents were inferior to Canelo’s.
Here’s the thing, Eric: A take-on-all-comers reputation isn’t a lifetime label. It’s true, Alvarez has never backed down from a challenge. He fought Austin Trout when nobody wanted him to, he took on Erislandy Lara when many begged him not to and he is fresh off a decisive win over Miguel Cotto.
But if Alvarez dumps his title and runs from Golovkin, yes, he is a ducker.
Golovkin is Alvarez’s mandatory challenger. He just registered 1.3 million viewers on HBO last week against an opponent (Dominic Wade) that even the most ardent boxing fan couldn’t pick out of a lineup. He sells out arenas in New York City and Los Angeles. A Canelo-Golovkin fight tomorrow would zoom past one million pay-per-view buys, and Golovkin would happily give Alvarez the bigger share of the financial split. There is no logical reason that fight shouldn’t happen in September.
Let’s tell the truth here, huh? Alvarez is Golden Boy’s cash cow. He sells tickets, drives pay-per-views and attracts enormous audiences the rare times he fights on premium cable. Against Golovkin — who picked up his 22nd consecutive knockout last week — Alvarez would be a big underdog. The Golden Boy instinct seems to be to sit on the fight and wait for Golovkin, 34, to get older or, better yet, get tired of waiting and move up another division.
Never mind that Alvarez-Golovkin has the potential to develop into the type of historic, multi-fight rivalry that Golden Boy’s founder, Oscar De La Hoya, was once known for.
And we didn’t forget about you, Keith Thurman. At a press event to promote his June 25 fight against Shawn Porter — a terrific matchup, by the way — Thurman broke out the old, “You really don’t know boxing” chestnut at those who dared suggest rising star Errol Spence Jr. should be on his radar right now. The same Spence who is one fight away from being the mandatory challenger for Kell Brook’s welterweight title.
Boxers love throwing that “You don’t know” line out there. It’s their way of justifying the string of pointless fights they sign on for. Take Thurman: He is managed by Al Haymon, the shadowy advisor who controls a large chunk of the boxing talent. Porter, Danny Garcia, Amir Khan and Lamont Peterson all fight under the Haymon banner. Yet Thurman’s last four opponents have been Collazo, Robert Guerrero, Leonard Bundu and Julio Diaz.
This isn’t meant to pick on Thurman. He’s not alone. Manny Pacquiao just defeated Tim Bradley in a fight nobody cared about. Adonis Stevenson recently defended his light heavyweight title against a club fighter. Garcia has fought mostly inferior opponents since outpointing Lucas Matthysse in 2013. Garcia’s father, Angel, best summed up the state of boxing when he wondered recently why top fighters would fight each other when they can make good money fighting lesser competition.
And you know what? That’s fine. Boxing is a dangerous sport. If someone is willing to cut a fighter a seven-figure check to fight an opponent that has little chance of hurting you, no one blames him for taking it.
But you can’t demand respect when you do.
In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are respected because they compiled a 73-9 record by stomping on the league’s elite. They battered Cleveland, beat up San Antonio, knocked around Oklahoma City. They didn’t have the option of scheduling a four-game home stand against Philadelphia, and if they did, no one would credit them for it.
It’s the same with boxing. You want respect, you want recognition, you want to be profiled in the New York Times, the Washington Post and Sports Illustrated, you have to go out and earn it.
Boxers, though, too often act like employees. Thurman fights Collazo because Haymon told him to. Pacquiao fights Bradley because Bob Arum lined it up for him. Thurman and Garcia have been circling each other for years. You think if the two of them went to Haymon, insisted on that fight, and no other, that Haymon wouldn’t find a way to make it? Better, you think a premium network wouldn’t line up to buy it? Or if Pacquiao told Arum that he wanted Garcia, that he demanded a new challenge, that Arum wouldn’t do whatever he could to make it happen? And that fight wouldn’t obliterate the anemic pay-per-view numbers of Pacquiao-Bradley III?
Today’s fighters act impotent, and it’s killing the sport. Think boxing is healthy? HBO and Showtime have both slashed boxing budgets. The PBC — the network TV experiment that was supposed to return boxing to the mainstream — has failed to do that, and it has started to scale back. Thurman-Porter is a Showtime Championship Boxing on CBS presented by Premier Boxing Champions, a word salad necessary because resources are needed from all three. Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol is headed for pay-per-view because HBO doesn’t have the budget for it.
The money is drying up, and it isn’t coming back. Boxing will survive, of course, but the only way for it to thrive is for those in it to step up. It’s not the media’s job to hype a lousy product; in fact it’s a reporter’s responsibility not to. Fighters want to go mainstream, be respected, burnish legacies like those that fought before them?
It’s simple: Go out and earn it.