Good problems to have
Once upon a time in the history of boxing, the best fought the best on a regular basis. These days, fight fans are lucky to get such a contest once per calendar year. When two of a division’s best face off, the bouts are often highly competitive and tactical, if not less than spectacular, and go the distance. Any time a close fight goes to the cards, there will be controversy, particularly in the age of Twitter experts and clickbait media.
2017 has been a throwback year of sorts, with several of these “best of the best” match-ups having already occurred just in the first quarter. The official scorecards have left fans and media arguing long after the final bell. Before ring announcer Michael Buffer is done saying, “…and the new…” or “…and still…,” social media gets flooded with all the typical “robbery” hyperbole prophesying the boxing apocalypse. Leave it to boxing fans to finally get what they’ve been asking for, only to complain about it later.
On Jan. 14, the two best super middleweights in the world, Badou Jack and James DeGale, shared a thrilling 12 rounds that ended in a majority draw. A couple weeks later, Leo Santa Cruz and Carl Frampton, two of the best featherweights in the world, put on an entertaining rematch that concluded in a majority decision. On March 4, welterweights Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, both undefeated coming in, unified titles in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The viewership for that bout, which ended in a split decision, peaked at over five million.
Last Saturday, Daniel Jacobs became the first man to take Gennady Golovkin the 12-round distance before a packed house inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden. That fight, which featured the two best middleweights in the world, concluded with a razor-thin unanimous decision win for Golovkin, which sent the boxing Twittersphere ablaze.
Frampton and Garcia took their first official losses. Santa Cruz and Jacobs showed new levels we had never seen before. Golovkin lost his aura of invincibility. Several fights made career high paydays. Tens of thousands of tickets were sold to diehard fight fans. The lone pay-per-view contest will do north of 200,000 buys, which is a success in the post Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao era. Many fans, respected media and even the fighters themselves are still debating the outcomes.
Are these not good problems to have?
Next month, former heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko and his heir apparent Anthony Joshua will fight for Joshua’s IBF and WBA titles in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. In late-May, Kell Brook and Errol Spence Jr., arguably two of the best three welterweights in the world, will go toe to toe in Sheffield, England, for Brook’s IBF strap. If those fights go to the cards, look for this “debatable decision” pattern to continue.
And there is more to add to the mix. The “Super Caneloweight” fight between Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6 will undoubtedly do major business. The rumored June 10 bout in Kazakhstan between Golovkin and WBO titleholder Billy Joe Saunders will completely unify the middleweight division. The eventual return of Manny Pacquiao will do numbers. All of this taking place within the first half of the year; suddenly the dreck of 2016 feels like a distant memory.
So if you’re one of those fans who disagreed with the judges about a razor-thin decision, or got upset that your favorite fighter lost his “0,” take a deep breath. After years of bitching and moaning about the best not fighting the best, you’re finally getting what you’ve wanted. More fights are going back to arenas, packing impressive crowds and doing respectable TV ratings. The bouts are competitive and the judges are earning their money, unlike the overpriced sparring sessions we suffered through when Floyd Mayweather Jr. was running the sport.
You may not agree with a close decision and your fighter might take an “L,” when he steps up to the elite. If those are the biggest problems boxing fans have, right now, I say these are good problems to have.