Boxing fans might be sick of hearing that their sport is dying or on life support, but the reality is mixed martial arts is appealing to more and more boxing fans with each passing day. Some have abandoned watching boxing because it no longer holds their attention and is no longer exciting enough for them to invest their time in watching a typical 12-round fight. Others hold on and wait for the best to fight the best, though Mayweather vs. Pacquiao seems to be an impossible dream lately. Could more professional boxing tournaments be the answer to bringing the sport back from the brink?
The UFC itself actually began as a tournament style format with every event featuring fighters battling multiple opponents in just one night. Boxing's amateur competition is still based on championship tournaments at the college, Olympic and Golden Gloves level. While the UFC ultimately abandoned the one-night tournament format for their regular events, their popular reality show The Ultimate Fighter embraces the tournament model with combatants fighting multiple times over the six-week filming schedule for the show. The fighters even have to face off on the first day just to earn a spot on the show and get a berth in the fighter house.
Boxing's got a lot to learn from MMA when it comes to the tournament format. Yet, the Sweet Science is making moves in the right direction in that area. Consider the "Super Six World Boxing Classic" Tournament and the phenomenal fights fans have been treated to as a result. Despite the exit of Jermain Taylor, Mikkel Kessler, and Andre Dirrell the tourney is turning heads and bringing promoters together to signal a new era for boxing as we know it. For every fighter who bowed out another superstar entered the fray. Allan Green replaced Taylor and was subsequently eliminated, but the remaining field still includes Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch, Andre Ward, and new edition Glen Johnson. Showtime developed a true gem and has a potent marketing machine behind it. The series did so well the cable network went on to hold a bantamweight "Super Four" tourney on December 11, 2010.
Showtime's boxing tournament success even helped inspire Strikeforce's Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament set to begin this coming February with a headlining fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva. Boxing was actually at one time considering and working toward its own heavyweight tournament dubbed Superfighter back in 2006. Due to contracts and passport (the event was going to take place in Australia) issues the 4-round elimination-style event never came to pass. These days, when the most frequent complaint from those who criticize boxing seems to revolve around the lack of identification with the heavyweight champions, the Superfighter concept needs to be revived.
If the UK is offered up as an example, it seems to be a much better breeding ground for the tourney style than the United States has been in recent years. The most recent foray into this realm of boxing competition is called "Camp 24" and is based in London, though there are some American boxing figures like female Manager Jackie Kallen taking notice.
The innovative competition takes 24 fighters, aged between 17 and 24, puts them through a gruelling training and elimination process before awarding 4 stars of the future a lucrative professional contract and place in the talented 'Stamina for Sale' stable.
The UK has also experienced some major successes with the PrizeFighter Tournament. The format has featured heavyweights 4 times already and explored multiple weight classes over the nearly three-year history of the concept. Closely resembling the design of the Superfighter tournament, Prizefighter features multiple 3-round bouts starting with 8 fighters and whittling the field down to the final two in just one evening of boxing. In addition to a nice pay day the winner gets a giant trophy and all the bragging rights.
The PrizeFighter format and concept needs to be expanded and should be taken across the pond to the U.S. where this type of boost to the American Heavyweight circles could do some good. Fans have to go back to the Mike Tyson era to find a polarizing American heavyweight. Tyson's potent, explosive power and abrasive attitude and demeanor made his fights must watch TV. Though he may not have been the best representative for the United States to be an ambassador of the sport, he at least managed to get people talking more about boxing. These days it's hard to even remember who the last American World Heavyweight Champion was. (Hasim Rahman)
The fact is, boxing is not dying and never really was. Across the world boxing is and always has been strong and viable, but the problem is it's growing stale to many American fans. The perfect way to spice it up is shorten the round totals and get guys (and gals, too) to fight more one-night, winner-take-all tournaments. If it's good for the golden goose of MMA, it's good for the gander of boxing.