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A 2019 Boxing Wish List

Woods lays out some wishes for this year in the sweet science.

Errol Spence Jr. v Carlos Ocampo Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

We’ve turned the calendar but most of us are still in contemplative mode. The change of the year is an opportunity to look ahead through a new lens — we look back and ponder what went right and what didn’t in the past year, and years, and lifetime to this point.

And we realize that we have the opportunity to, moving forward, do some things differently, and, presumably, better. None of us sets out on January 1st and says, “You know what? I’m going to dial back on the exercise. Three times a week is a bit much. I think I will subtract one exercise session and add a weekly visit to Dunkin Donuts, with an option to do two Donut sessions a week.”

Many of us all also think about what things we’d like to have happen in the year ahead, with the knowledge that some of the stuff on the wish list we can’t influence. Like in the world of boxing — our influence as fans is what it is. Powers that be get on a track on how they’d like things to go and often are loathe to deviate from that.

But still, we have our wish list. And guess what? Being that we are the consumers of the product, I think our influence on what matches do or do not get made is a bit bigger than sometimes you assume. No, promoters do not often humble themselves and admit aloud that due to public outcry, the severe mismatch they’ve scheduled for three months down the line is being cancelled. That would wreck their omniscience game somewhat.

Anyway, here are some of the things I hope to see in 2019’s year in boxing. Feel free to add your own in the comment section, too.

1) The Best Fighting The Best: It is a constant refrain, so it’s not like we got breaking news here. We the fan has been conditioned to accept what’s served to us, and since the fare is often pretty good, we don’t always speak up on our behalf and demand that the matches we want get made. Indeed, a curious mindset has infected many in this age — it is sort of a Stockholm Syndrome deal, many fans and media see themselves in the shoes and thrones of the deal makers, and accept excessive marination as the way it should be. Nah — meat marinates, boxing matches shouldn’t be subject to the same strategizing. Too often, marination is the term used in place of “greed.” Promoters spend more time than they should thinking about how the pile of revenue can be as large as humanly possible, and that typically means they want to let a fight build, and simmer, and simmer, and so too often we the people spend a year or two or more expending more energy on the build up than the actual event. How many man-hours were lost talking about why Pacquaio-Mayweather wasn’t happening on a reasonable time line? WAY TOO MUCH. We’ve already reached that point with the Deontay Wilder vs Anthony Joshua bout. And I suspect we have another span of time to hear the back and forth, and assess arguments from the two sides about whose fault it is that it hasn’t been made. We can all take an it is what is stance on the matter — or speak up, and tell those in power to STFU with the machinations and make the fight.

2) Along Those Lines From Previous Heading, Let Walls Come Down To Make Better Matches Possible: Because we’re entrenched in (another) era of walls separating entities, I’m hoping that 2019 is an anti-Trump year, in that we will see walls being hopped over, or torn down, so the Vasiliy Lomachenkos and the Terence Crawfords and the Errol Spences can be fighting the people they want to fight, or they say they want to fight. Put Bob Arum in a room with Al Haymon, send in copious catering and coffee, and make them hash our agreements so these A-sides can fight each other, even if they wear different jerseys. How the heck that happens in this age is complicated by the fact that back in the day — and by the day, I mean like two years ago — super fights could be fashioned by agreeing to do a co-PPV, and revenues were split up like pie pieces. And you can still see it that way — Crawford moolah can be shared and put back in the ESPN pot and Spence money can be dropped into the FOX and/or Showtime bucket. But especially on the ESPN and DAZN sides, much of what their programs are designed to do is snag subscribers, on ESPN+ and to the DAZN platform. So accomplishing that when an ESPN and a DAZN fighter face off isn’t so easy. Having a fight screen on ESPN and DAZN at the same time wouldn’t get signed off on. So there are wrinkles to iron out. But better minds than mine best get on it. Because prime years come and go, and too many of these guys are fighting option B fights instead of campaigning in classics. Their careers will end and they will look back, more than they think, with WTF on their brain, unless this gets figured out.

3) Let Me Make Up My Mind On Mayweather: I’m of two minds here — let the old master do what he wants, if he ain’t hurting anyone, let him do exhibitions to his hearts content. And then I’m also of the mind to say naw, how about Floyd do the unexpected, and say OK to an old dog versus young gun battle. How curious would you be to see if “Money” is still crisp enough to get the better of the Spences and Crawfords? Very, I will answer that for you. But it won’t happen, as the man has been beyond shrewd in evaluating risk-reward ratios his whole career. He isn’t going to let us all see the answer to the question of how much age has rendered him more mortal. Maybe in more mixed matches, against an MMAer, or perhaps in an ultra vet vs ultra vet tango with Manny Pacquiao, if the public sends signals that 60% of those that watched the first horrid exhibition would sign on to watch a rematch that would have to be better. But I won’t expend more than an ounce of hopeful energy on desiring Floyd to throw a curveball at us, and test himself like he hasn’t been tested in forever. Anyway, why is this so high on my wish list? Because Floyd is interesting and he still draws interest in the sport, and matched right, his presence can still be a net positive in the game. I mean, for the whole of the game, not just him and whoever might be helping produce and promote one of his fights.

4) Hoping For a Cleaner Scene: Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t assume the majority of the top fighters use PEDs to gain an edge in training, which they hope will lead to a better showing on fight night? It saddens me that there aren’t more vocal advocates, among boxers and power players in the game, and I can only assume it’s because too many of the silent are involved in using PEDs or helping cover up usage. People like Stephen Edwards, the trainer for Julian Williams, are very much the exception in the game. He isn’t afraid to speak up, and sound out the alert that PED usage is pervasive in fight sports. Me, I go off and on regarding that subject; I feel like if I’m hammering the issue too much, I’m just a negative Nelly type, and who likes them? I think a good way to handle it is to try and be positive as much as possible, and offer positive reinforcement to fighters who are obviously clean and enrolled in a comprehensive 24-7-365 testing regimen. Sadly, there are fewer of those than we’d like — but we hold out hope that in 2019, we see an uptick on those playing fair and that sense of fair play infects others.

Cecilia Braekhus v Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

5) Make Or Break Year For the Ladies: 2018 was a solid ramp up year, to let more people know more of the players. But here’s hoping 2019 is a breakout year for women’s boxing. We saw progress and momentum; Claressa Shields’ push continued, to good effect for her. But rivalries need to bubble up, and more personalities need to emerge. Heather Hardy but of course has that in spades — and we think 2019 will be a continuation of her expansion into the hearts and minds of more citizens. The showing on HBO was momentous but just as that platform embraced the women’s scene, they left the arena. Yes, it was a more than a bit strange exit strategy, but whatev — all the platforms are to an extent or another wrapping their arms around the ladies and one or two will pull away from the pack in 2019. Of course, there is no shortage of people rooting against that; major media figures, like Steve Kim and Mike Coppinger, have publicly stated their antipathy for the product, or some of the leaders in that space. So, will programmers stand tall and tough while influencers lob grenades at the players and the choice to elevate the women’s scene with more screen time and promotion? Time tells.

6) Let’s See More of the PBC Aces: I’m cautiously optimistic that 2019 is a breakout year for PBC, that getting to the promised land of snagging a network deal means that the top talent in the Haymon ranks is able to showcase their talents much more often. Activity is such a necessity in building an attraction — and the lack of bouts for the Gervonta Davises and Errol Spences has had me scratching my head bloody. Three bouts in two years for Errol, one single bout in 2018 for the Baltimore-based talent Davis — there may be excuses for that, but I’ve not heard ‘em. Simply put, WTF? Spence needs to fight three times a year in this, his athletic prime, and Davis won’t get to being as good as he is capable of without regular outings. Yeah, I can’t wait for the book which sheds light on the whys of the PBC from 2015 till know, but until that release date, of Neveruary 2050, I will need to accept a lack of knowledge. Best to look forward, with hopefulness, and let us hope that both Spence and Davis, and some of the other under-utilized cats, will be as busy as they want to be in 2019. It will benefit them and the sport as a whole.

Now, you talk to me. What do you want to see, hope to see, in 2019?

Woods, a Brooklyn resident, was a staff writer at NY Newsday, before joining ESPN The Magazne (2003-2011). He edited (2007-20015), and now publishes, and calls fights for Facebook Fightnight Live.

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