Over the next couple of weeks this website and most other boxing sites will feature the inevitable end-of-the-year awards. Typically these are fun topics to kick around and discuss with one another over a healthy debate. Like most things in boxing, and in life, the awards are purely subjective.
The usual centerpiece award is the Fighter of the Year. In short, we try to figure out who faced the toughest opposition, and looked the best while doing so. Maybe you liked Fighter A because he has killer instinct, and his fights end rather conclusively in a visceral fashion. Perhaps you appreciate Fighter B more because his opposition was more stiff even if he didn't look great defeating it. The process is not unlike judging a boxing match. Some prefer the aggressor, actual effectiveness be damned. Others may enjoy the slick counterpuncher that, while very good, is more likely to put the crowd to sleep than his opponent. No, I'm not saying that all counterpunchers are boring, but that is the honest stereotype.
Looking over this year's field of boxers to consider for Fighter of the Year I noticed something troubling. Nobody fights. Or, to put it more accurately, nobody fights regularly. Or, to put it even more accurately, nobody fights what used to be considered regularly.
Andre Ward will no doubt be a popular choice for the award due to him winning the Super Six tournament. However, despite his tremendous abilities "Son of God" competed only twice all year in a boxing ring. He shutout the human punching bag Arthur Abraham over 12 monotonous rounds to finally reach the conclusive match of the tourney. It was there that he outclassed the tough, but limited Carl Froch to gain general recognition as the top super middleweight in the world.
I hate to say it, but that's all it takes in 2011 to be the fighter of the year. A decision over a blown-up middleweight that has been a massive disappointment in every sense of the word, and a decision victory over the third or fourth best man in his weight class.
I'm picking on Ward a little bit, but he is not nearly the worst offender of this new way of boxing scheduling. Floyd Mayweather Jr., the man atop many pound-for-pound lists, has fought just once in the last 18 months. It was reported on this site that he was listed as one of the most overhyped athletes of 2011, and truthfully, if one looks at the facts, it is hard to argue that point. The world's best boxer should be in a ring more than once every 500 days.
Compare his situation with other sports. Imagine if the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl last year, and then decided they didn't want to play again for a good while. While they are absent, other teams play against each other for the opportunity to rise above the rest of the pack and prove their worth to audiences. Then, suddenly, the Packers return over a year after winning the Super Bowl to defeat, say, the Chicago Bears. Instantly, everyone instills them as the top team in the NFL, and they sit out for another year as they wait until the time is right again. This sounds silly, but it's the reality of what Mayweather does at this point.
Manny Pacquiao, the other leading man in boxing's talent cast, is a little better. He regularly fights twice every year, the more accepted schedule for today's top boxers. Pacquiao is in full "Superstar Mode" where every fight is a pay-per-view bonanza, and is typically accompanied by an undercard that gives insult to the term "bathroom break" (though, admittedly, they have gotten a bit better recently).
It is has been preached endlessly by boxing writers and members of numerous forums (including our own) that things need to go back to the good ol' days of boxing when its combatants entered the squared circle several times a year to prove their greatness and provide depth to their bank account. If you haven't figured it out by now, however, let me fill you in: it will never return to that status.
The model has changed for elite fighters. Pacquiao and Mayweather are earning over $20 million every time they step into a boxing ring. In other words, they could never box again and they would be financially set for the remainder of their lives (until they go completely broke six months after retirement but that's a whole other story). However, it's not just those two that make ridiculous amounts of money. An HBO regular can earn anywhere from low six-figures to seven-figures for one night of work. Why do you think Paul Williams is in no hurry to return after just one bout in this past year? It was well-documented that Andre Berto made $1.5 million just for his match with Carlos Quintana in 2010. Many fighters make out like bandits, and HBO has themselves to blame for much of this. They created a monster, and now Frankenstein may be killing its creator by running their budget dry.
One of the more maligned issues over the previous two decades has been the presence of pay-per-view within the boxing industry. Like a cancer, pay-per-view grew to become something that changed the physical and mental makeup of its beholder. Today, men like Pacquiao and Mayweather rely on it for their massive paychecks. The pay-per-view upside is often a greater sum than the guaranteed money from their promoter. This is truly the biggest reason why we will never see the most popular boxers return to fighting several times each year. If one is on pay-per-view for every match in order to receive the largest paycheck available to them, they will only be able to fight two or three times per year in order to maximize sales. A boxer that can attract a major buyrate will not take short money simply to stay busy, and run the risk of losing a fight in a time when losing is often looked upon as being a death knell to a career in the eyes of short-sighted individuals regardless of a man's performance.
What much of this inactivity boils down to is that boxing is just a job to most of the men that participate within its walls. We, as the hardcore boxing fan, tend to romanticize fighters as gladiators that should be foaming at the mouth for the opportunity to fight another human being. What we often fail to recognize is that boxing is simply the means by which some men can pay their bills. They aren't looking to add to their legacy, and many do not care if the fans feel like they got a great show regardless of what they claim in an interview or on Twitter. It's a sad bit of irony when boxing's best fighters are also its worst examples.