Anytime a discussion about boxing arises, there is bound to be some differing opinions, to say the least.
There were many stories of note in 2015 — some were epic sagas, others popcorn-like fare — and for each story, the fighters were the central characters, or at least they should have been.
While pre-fight promotion and post-fight antics got a great deal of coverage and rumination, there were some fights that stood out in the year, for good or bad.
Boxing showed that it was alive and well, at least on the pay-per-view side. The long-awaited bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao finally happened, drawing the largest PPV audience in the sport’s history.
In addition, fighters like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin continued to shine, making their arguments in the ring — where they should be! — for recognition as the big stars of the future. In 2016, if everything works out the way we hope, Alvarez and GGG will meet, and the road to such a bout was paved this year.
Another fight of far lesser note will also likely been seen in 2016, a rematch between Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury. Their first bout this year was honestly terrible, but it made money, so a rematch is almost a certainty, barring injuries.
Klitschko and Fury aren’t actually bad fighters, but they are far from great. Their fight proved as much, while showing by way of contrast just how lacking the heavyweight division is.
2015 was a study of conflicting ideals. We saw fights that showed us just how great boxing can be and others that displayed the opposite. It is the former (taken with a bit of salt) that is the beating heart of boxing, showcasing the best traditions and ideals of the sport.
And in the spirit of traditions and ideals, we can look back and see what we learned from the sport of boxing in 2015.
Sometimes We’re Buying the Hype, Not the Fight
After several years of waiting, pondering and prognosticating, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao finally met in the ring.
It was a fight that had been building with a kind of inescapable gravity that sucked in everyone around it; evidenced by the staggering 4.4 million PPV buys the fight finally garnered in 2015.
It was easily one of the most anticipated fights in boxing history, but once the final bell had rung, we were left with the sad truth that the fight didn’t live up to expectations in any real way. Mayweather was his tactical, cautious, counter-punching self, and Pacquiao, with a hurt shoulder, was simply not up to the task of being the irresistible force needed to drown Mayweather’s unhittable object.
George Foreman said that boxing, when it is really good, is a lot like jazz music in that most people don’t appreciate it, or perhaps understand what they are seeing. With Mayweather and Pacquiao, we didn’t get much in the way of music. It was more akin to a big overture followed by a small show.
When we paid our money to see Mayweather and Pacquiao in the same ring, we were buying into the hype of a great fight, much the same way fans declared that Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello would be a fight of the year, far before the first blow was thrown.
The Pryor-Arguello fight was fantastic, but much of what we saw in the ring that night was the assembly of the obvious; we knew those two men were going to go at it, hard, just as we knew Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti would bring the fireworks. The careers of such men gave us ample evidence of what we could expect, and they remained true to themselves and gave us the kind of fights fans dream of.
In this way, Mayweather cannot be faulted for how the bout turned out. He has spent the majority of his career fighting a single way and to expect him to deviate from that path in the biggest fight of his career was simply not realistic.
We thought Pacquiao might be able to put enough pressure on him to make Mayweather fight. That was the singular question of note before they stepped into the ring. When the final bell had sounded, we got our answer, and while disappointing to most, it was also honest.
Sometimes, when two fighters of note come together, we are purchasing the promise of drama; no fight is a sure thing, no matter how much we wish it to be.
The Heavyweight Division Needs New Blood
The defeat of Wladimir Klitschko at the hands of Tyson Fury wasn’t tragic because a gentleman got beat in a boxing contest; it was tragic because the contest was so poor.
I’ve given my two cents on that bout already, so no need to discuss it any further. But it was a clear indicator that the heavyweight division needs new blood, in a bad way.
Fury now holds the majority of the belts, but given his recent talks about wanting Lennox Lewis to come out of retirement for a bout, he doesn’t seem like the man needed to uphold the best standards of the heavyweight crown.
In addition to that, he isn’t the best fighter in the division from nearly any standpoint — belts or not — let alone the best boxer to come from British shores, as he claims.
Thankfully, there are some new, young fighters that will be making their name in the division on a much larger scale.
Anthony Joshua, winner of the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, has a true perfect record of 15-0 with all 15 wins coming by way of KO/TKO. Although three inches shorter than Fury, I would predict he could dethrone Fury tomorrow if the bout could be made.
Joseph Parker is another up-and-coming fighter with big power, but it may take him a few years to refine his skills as he doesn’t have the pedigree of a fighter like Joshua.
Then, of course, there is the matter of the owner of the WBC title, Deontay Wilder, who is openly calling Fury to meet him for a title unification bout, which is exactly what the division needs.
While 2015 may have proven that no one is unbeatable, Fury has not proven that he is the next big thing in the division. If anything, he looks more like a steward to the next king, and he is lucky to be that.
Boxing is Not Dead
Aside from the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, fans of the sport were able to witness some excellent contests where both fighters took turns as both hammer and nail; a rare thing to be sure.
Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura thrilled us for eight rounds and some change before the former, his right eye suffering cuts above and below, ended the bout by knockout after being badly hurt the previous round.
Andrzej Fonfara and Nathan Cleverly gave us a similarly great show, as did Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov. These were but a few bouts that thrilled fans with swings in advantage and serious heart and desire, giving loud voice in opposition to the opinion that boxing is dying.
When you add to the argument that the light heavyweight division is quickly becoming the division to watch — especially if a fighter like Andre Ward moves up in weight — it is clear the sport is still growing.
There are many great match ups to be made in 2016 — GGG-Alvarez, Pacquiao-Adrian Broner and so on — and these bouts were made possible by the good work done in 2015.
Some years are slower than others, but sometimes big names like Mayweather and Pacquiao can overshadow great fighters just waiting for a chance to show their desire and quality. For proof positive of this, take a moment and ask yourself if you really ever thought a fighter as special and terrifying as GGG would be coming out of Kazakhstan?
For a very long time, boxing has had to suffer ongoing predictions of its demise. Given that Mayweather is now retired and Pacquiao will probably follow him in 2016, many have said the sport is without a clear heir to the throne of superstar status.
With fighters like Gennady Golovkin, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Timothy Bradley, Roman Gonzalez and many others still full of passion for the sport, the next big name attraction will have earned his status the only real way that matters: in the ring.
Boxing isn’t dying because boxing is global, and always has been.