Diversity is good for sport! Diversity would have been better when there were too few black or Latino athletes. Diversity would be better now in some sports where there are few whites. Diversity is almost universally accepted as a positive for any organization.
Disclaimer: The following topic is more sensitive than Floyd Mayweather himself. It also comes with a request...those of you (far fewer than some want to acknowledge) with malice in your heart please stay out!
For the last 10 years or so, Major League Baseball sponsors clinics and leagues throughout inner cities to try to boost the number of African Americans that make it to the big leagues. This is a grasp at diversity due to the minuscule number of African Americans in the Majors. But of course nobody expects an organization to sponsor suburban clinics for white athletes in boxing. Therefore white American kids have had about the same access to boxing as a Don King fighter has had to his dividends.
Just a few weeks ago HBO ran a piece about an up-and-coming fighter from a poor, violent and crumbling neighborhood. The kind of neighborhoods where boxing gyms still exist. The young man has stood tall outside the ring, ignoring the temptations from those too timid to tussle inside. The young man should be commended. It is not an easy task and takes great courage. It was a nice story and well wishes to the young fighter, but at the risk of sounding too callous...I've heard it many times before.
Wouldn't the better, more interesting story be the middle class kid with the solid grades forgoing a chance at college for a chance a championship? Where are these American kids, white or black? How come these kids don't make it all the way to your TV?
The theory of why there are so few African American professional baseball players, is their lack of access to the sport. To offset this perception, clinics and leagues are brought to the inner cities (of course American suburbs are jam packed with Americans of every race including a large black middle class) and baseball is being viewed as making an effort to give African Americans more access.
For many years preceding and during the 10 years baseball has been specifically reaching out to black Americans, it has been at least as difficult for American whites trying to find a boxing gym than for American blacks trying to find a baseball league.
And as stated, there is no way the WBO is going to start setting up gyms in middle class neighborhoods. Blacks don't make the majors because of their lack of access. Whites have very little access to boxing, so whites aren't going to win belts. So, the likelihood fans would ever see a reemergence of whites in boxing has been as likely as seeing the reemergence of championship fights Saturday afternoon on ABC.
What there was in middle class areas were Karate or Tae Kwon Do schools as prevalent as pizza parlors. Almost every little middle class kid has a Karate outfit hanging next to his soccer uniform in the back of his closet. They tried out their only access to a combat sport, and most petered out and went on to other things.
But thanks to the the UFC and Pride, in the last 5 years MMA gyms have been sprouting up in middle class areas as frequently as Subway sandwich shops. These gyms offer all the staples of MMA, BJJ, boxing, kickboxing. Patrons can take classes in one or all. A house wife can do the kickboxing Monday thru Friday while her son trains in BJJ. A father and son can take boxing classes together. It is a chance for a middleclasser to get bit by the boxing bug whereas before he had better odds of getting bit by a bed bug.
In just one section of north east Atlanta there are 3 MMA gyms within 20 minutes of each other. Each gym is consistently packed. Each gym's clientele is as diverse as a pizzeria customers in the same area, but doesn't smell nearly as good.
Now for a little math...there has been a solid 5 years of these gyms being super popular, now add another 5 years of thousands of 10 or 12 year-olds entering the gym wanting to be like Chuck Lidell, but falling in love with the ring and gloves, and it becomes the emergence of the middle class in boxing. Middle class whites, blacks, Asians and all. The year is 2015. How is that for a long term prediction?
How important is this to boxing? Well, Larry Bird took some heat a few years back when he said the NBA needed more great white players. He said white fans want to see some white players. It would be good for the league. That is not racist. That is common sense.
It is the same reason Walmart sells baby dolls with blond hair or dark hair or white skin or dark skin or different shaped eyes. People instinctively relate to those more like themselves. It does not mean we can't and don't appreciate those different from us or enjoy the differences between us. But it is the same reason local fighters get billed at local venues and their fans come out in droves. He's from New Jersey too! He's just like us!
The vast majority of boxing's white blockbusters are European. These Europeans are great, and along with other fighters from outside the US make boxing global. But for boxing to leap back into the mainstream in the US, it needs more white American boxers.
The irony is, there will be plenty in the next half dozen years beginning at the latest 2015. And it is going to come from a place which many pit as boxing's biggest competition. A sport that many are saying will kill off boxing. But really it's going to give boxing the lift it needs to create a more diverse group of boxers and bring in more fans. Thank you MMA.