More lucrative contracts in the NBA and NFL have long been blamed for the languishing heavyweight division when it comes to American boxing these days. Boxing might outpace MMA in average pay for the best fighters, but all combat sports are typically overshadowed by larger, more popular American sports. Mainstream staples like football and basketball can make young men into millionaires overnight. Athletes flock to those sports for the wild pay days and fringe benefits.
The lockouts of the NFL and NBA threw a wrench into the works. Though many NFL players and pro basketball players train in MMA, not many have made any significant transition to professional MMA. The noted exception that comes to mind is Matt Mitrione. He was hooked into the UFC culture on The Ultimate Fighter long before the lockout loomed its ugly head, though. Other former NFL players on the same show bombed as MMA fighters.
More NFL fighters have moved to boxing since the lockout. The NBA lockout just started, and there is big news surrounding Lakers' Center Andrew Bynum training in the sweet science. Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski might have started the trend. He went 4-0 on his boxing comeback as the lockout loomed. Minnesota Vikings Defensive End Ray Edwards followed in Tommy Z's footsteps. Kimbo Slice used to play some mean football before getting into televised street fights, and after a failed MMA career he's coming into boxing and asking for Edwards as an opponent. Bynum is working with Freddie Roach, though. That's pretty significant and could be great for the heavyweight division if the lockout goes on for a while.
Once the hammer really drops on the NFL season, if there comes a day when it can't be played, we could see many more NFL players turn to boxing. If there is no football or basketball because of these lockouts for any extended period, boxing is also bound to get more exposure. Even if the lockouts don't produce the next great American heavyweight from the ranks of other pro sports, it could lead to the spotlight that inspires the best prospects to choose boxing as an option.
We could see a new golden age for the sport of boxing if the trend continues.