Boxing, Alphabetically Doomed

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez beat Miguel Cotto on November 21, 2015.

With the exception of Mr. & Mrs. Cotto, no one worth mentioning thinks any different.

But the judges in this fight scored the matter 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109. For the boxing neophyte or those of us who are mathematically challenged, a shutout in a 12 round fight (no knockdowns, 10 to 9 for the winner of each round) totals out to 120-108. Which is to say that on these judges’ cards, Miguel Cotto won three, two and one rounds, respectively.

I use that last word in that last sentence with all the irony I can muster. Those scores show no respect to Mr. Cotto (or Canelo for that matter), those who paid for the privilege to watch the fight or even boxing itself.

But no one can accuse the judges of being disloyal to their employer.

The Alphabet’s rules and regulations spell out some of the affinities:

The [Alphabet] may deny or withdraw its sanction of any contest to be held in a jurisdiction that does not recognize and accommodate to the [Alphabet]’s satisfaction the [Alphabet]’s legitimate interest in the conduct of [Alphabet] bouts, including these Rules & Regulations, implementation by the [Alphabet] of any of its programs or protocols… and the [Alphabet]’s right to appoint and approve ring officials.

It’s all about the Alphabet.

After the Alphabet that issued his belt mandated that Cotto pay an $800,000 step-aside fee to Genady Golovkin, it then sent Miguel an additional $300,000 bill for its bout sanctioning fee. Cotto balked at the $1.1m total and, ultimately, refused to pay. Cotto in turn was sanctioned by the Alphabet which, as a matter of course, exercises a decent (perhaps “indecent” is the better word here) degree of explicit and implicit control over the judges (see above, think: “You’ll never work in this town again”).

The Alphabet stripped Cotto of his title before the bout; Canelo, however, paid the fee and was therefore eligible to win the belt. Miguel Cotto, however, even if he won, could not— even though he held the lineal championship, as the man who beat the man who….

Try explaining that to a casual viewer who asks, “Is this a championship bout?”

Obviously, a Cotto victory over Canelo Alvarez would have complicated the matter and further exposed the Alphabet for the ridiculous if not absurd state of affairs that boxing, sanctioning and “the title” have become in this, the 21st century.

Leaving nothing to chance, the judges’ sanction read: 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109.

A few scores from people or organizations that are not beholden to the Alphabet, do not believe Miguel Cotto slighted them to the tune of somewhere around $1m and/or who would not be deprived of future revenue sources if Cotto won: Dan Rafael of ESPN: 115-113; Tim Stark of Queensbury Rules: 116-112; The Guardian: 115-113; Lance Pugmire of the LA Times: 116-112; and AP: 116-112.

That’s Canelo Alvarez by scores of seven rounds to five and eight rounds to four; reasonable scores for this, a competitive fight.

CompuBox numbers, not an exact science, but an indicator worth consulting, show power shots for Cotto at 40/145; for Canelo: 50/133. Jabs for Cotto: 35/225; for Canelo: 26/122. Total punches thrown: 370 to 255 in favor of Cotto; Total punches landed 76 to 75 in favor of Canelo.

Nothing about those CompuBox numbers indicates that Miguel Cotto won only one round, or just two. And nothing I saw, or more importantly, nothing the public at large (or small, remember, it’s boxing) saw equated to what the judges said they saw.

And so again, boxing asks its same old tired question: “Are you going to believe me, or your lying eyes?”

And mired in its own dysfunction, boxing further recedes in the public eye.

In my day job, I’ve been working with Rick Gentile on the Seton Hall Sports Poll. As an Executive Producer and Senior VP for CBS Sports, in the 80s and 90s Gentile brought a lot of network boxing to the air. In this video piece for The New York Times, “Blood and Sport,” he talks about how boxing went from being a top tier sport in America to being a niche product. The piece talks about how when boxing was struck by public tragedy (the death of Duk Koo Kim) that unlike the NFL and its present battle with player health and concussions, boxing had no central organization with which to respond— just a rag tag group of promoters and ineffectual sanctioning bodies with no real ability to meaningfully advocate for the sport. In turn, for boxing, corporate sponsorship disappeared as advertisers no longer wished to be associated.

Corporate sponsorship matters, and being associated with corruption is not a favored practice.

The Cotto-Canelo judging, in light of the Alphabet’s money beef with Cotto, is just one more nail in the coffin; and a closer look at the Alphabets, in all their ranking and belt-happy dilution and duplicity, reveals them as a primary hammer in boxing’s decline.

In a recent piece about baseball’s overall decline (but relative recent resurgence) in comparison to the NFL, I responded to Jason Notte at MarketWatch, noting boxing’s fall as a cautionary tale:

Notte concludes: “Baseball has gone from a national pastime to a niche, and neither it nor its World Series are going to work their way back until they become more accessible.”

I’m not sure niche is quite the right word here. Boxing is niche. I’ve written about boxing for The Guardian, 15Rounds.com, Queensbury Rules (named a Top 25 blog by Time magazine, but you’ve almost certainly never heard of it), the Daily Record and the Asbury Park Press. When I look for boxing news and go to a general sports source such as ESPN.com, BleacherReport or SBNation, my sport is listed under “Other” or “More.”

Baseball still holds a place in the header, but Notte has a point— and MLB should listen, and build upon the tenuous gains it’s made— or risk finding itself relegated in the popular consciousness and sports pages to “Other.”

Boxing has made tenuous gains over the last few years, and has even returned to network TV. But these gains are far too critical to be left in the hands of the Alphabets— who have shown again that they, as always, can be counted on to put their own interests first. Boxing is too good for that.

And 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109 is, simply, a lie.

The first step, I think, is to stop acknowledging the Alphabets’ rankings. The Transnational Boxing Rankings are a step in that direction, and perhaps a good step towards other than “Other.”

(Canelo Alvarez celebrates with promoter Oscar De La Hoya after defeating Miguel Cotto by unanimous decision in their middleweight fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas; Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images)

 

 

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