No. 1: Olympic-Level Blood Testing
This has come up recently in boxing, and was the reason that the proposed superfight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fell apart. You can sit on either side of the fence in that war of words, baseless allegations, promoter BS and other such nonsense, but the fact is there's nothing bad that comes from Olympic-level blood testing in boxing.
Steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are a serious issue in sports, and boxing has not been perfect. Most notably (though not alone), Shane Mosley was a BALCO customer and has admitted to using EPO (a blood-doping agent) and some of BALCO's designer drugs for his second fight with Oscar de la Hoya back in 2003. Relatively speaking, Mosley got off fairly light. The result of that fight was never changed to a no-contest (Mosley won a close 12-round decision) and he never faced any punishment.
Dr. Margaret Goodman, a respected fight doctor, recently said that the Nevada Athletic Commission's urine testing is simply outdated, and her words could easily be taken to have said, "Hey, these tests are basically useless." She had no horse in the Mayweather-Pacquiao race, and her words were basically the only thing that qualified as something other than spin in the whole ordeal.
The drugs have always moved faster than the testing, and boxing's various commissions don't even use the best testing that they can. There's no reason to not. It may be a bit inconvenient given the sheer volume of fights out there in so many states and countries around the world, and with so many different ACs governing the sport. But it should be done. And speaking of that...
No. 2: Boxing Needs Some Sort of Central Governing Body
This is not a new thought, but it's so much harder than most people (even most boxing fans) might realize.
The UFC is not a governing body in MMA. They are a company that puts on fight cards, same as Strikeforce, same as the many other promotions around the world. The fact that they're the biggest one doesn't mean they have any significant control as far as the sport is concerned. They can sign top fighters and dominate the sport, but when they fight in Nevada, Nevada's commission governs. When they fight in California, same thing.
So I'm not looking, exactly, for a UFC-style "government." Boxing needs an agency that oversees everything. There are so many little things beyond the drug testing and other major stuff that really should be changed.
Example: Ring size should be standardized. The way it is now, Nevada mandates a 20x20 ring, but in some other state for some other fight, one of the fighters may feel he's better off having a smaller ring, and work it out so that they're fighting in an 18x18 or 16x16 ring. It's like having a baseball team with a lot of speed and base-stealing ability, so they decide that at their park, the bases will be closer together. Or a team without a dominant inside presence in basketball decides to raise the hoop by a foot.
Getting a governing body together would take at least the next decade, too. For one thing, finding an unbiased, fair guy to sit in the middle is hard. It would have to be someone that knows his way around boxing, but everyone in boxing has old beefs and grudges that could affect the way they handle any given situation. So you need a smart, boxing-savvy outside man or woman, and you need to get everyone to realize that their way of doing things isn't going to help the sport.
No. 3: The Elimination of the Corrupt, Disgusting Sanctioning Bodies
The WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO have got to go. If you know anything about boxing and you go and look at the "rankings" that these hideous "sanctioning" bodies put out, you know how deliriously off-base they are. Fighters no one -- and I mean no one -- has heard of wind up ranked ten spots ahead of world-renowned contenders, simply because that guy's promoter is closer buddies with someone at the top of their organization. It's ludicrous, it shames the sport, and it drains boxing of legitimacy.
They have their "championships," and fighters fight for them. Knowing no other way, these fighters play gullible and accept a trinket nobody really cares about -- and oh yeah, they also pay a fee for the right to have a cheap-looking piece of leather and metal contested in their fight. The other guy pays, too. And whenever the sanctioning body decides they need MORE money, you know what they do? Interim titles!
The fact that there's four major, recognized bodies also means that promoters have the ability to promote any paper-thin title fight as being for "the championship," which does nothing but confuse people who don't pay exceptionally close attention. Imagine if in football you had four teams claiming to be world champion, and really, none of them have a particularly better argument than the other three. It's chaos.
It's not going to happen, because it's so ingrained in the sport. But if boxing wants to take steps forward, absurdities like this have to be dealt with, and at some point, somebody has to step up and say enough is enough with these people.
No. 4: Closer Evaluation Of Officials (And Consequences For Incompetence)
2009 alone saw some unbelievably bad judging performances, and the in-ring referees don't get off easy, either. In December, judge Pierre Benoist saw Paul Williams winning 119-110 over Sergio Martinez in one of the best, most exciting, and most closely-contested fights of the year.
In August, Paulie Malignaggi warned fans before the fight that the judges and officials in Texas would try to screw him against hometown fighter Juan Diaz, and when the scores came back, Malignaggi was proven right on at least one account, as judge Gale Van Hoy scored another exceptionally close fight 118-110 in Diaz's favor, meaning that he felt Diaz won 10 of the 12 rounds in the fight. Nobody on the planet agreed with him.
There's no excuse for this sort of thing at the elite levels of boxing. Judges should be constantly monitored and evaluated based on their performances. There's no absolute right in judging a fight, but there is certainly a bubble that most people can agree on for any given fight, a range of appropriate scores.
More than anything, the monitoring and evaluation would mean that judges would have to be held accountable for their poor performance. Anyone can have an off night, but there have been judges (without naming names) who have been consistently off base over the years. That has got to stop.
No. 5: Stop Forcing The Heavyweights
The TV networks are most to blame for this, I think. HBO particularly will latch on to basically any American heavyweight with any sort of skill and shove him down the public's throat, paying good money to televise obvious mismatches between the young galoot and his overmatched, faded foes who couldn't really care less about anything other than cashing their check, feeding the monster and giving the impression that these guys are going to be the next Mike Tyson.
Just stop. That money could be spent on actual exciting fighters in the lower weight classes. Cristobal Arreola is a fun guy and an enjoyable fighter to watch on TV, but in no way is he a better prospect than welterweight Mike Jones, who has not once been featured on American TV. Not one time! Meanwhile, Arreola gets fights against the likes of Brian Minto and Jameel McCline put on primetime HBO shows. Why? Because he's big.
This idea that the heavyweights carry the sport is dated. They don't anymore. The glory fighters are all smaller guys -- Mayweather, Pacquiao, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, the guys in Showtime's Super Six (168-pound fighters), Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton.
Pretty much all of the top up-and-coming fighters are smaller guys, too. Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and so on. This started in the 1990s, when Oscar de la Hoya emerged as a massive star, and once Mike Tyson had been dealt with by Lennox Lewis, emerged as without question the No. 1 money maker in the sport. Roy Jones Jr. was another guy that contributed, as he ruled the pound-for-pound charts and even went up and won a heavyweight title, making John Ruiz look slow and incompetent.
The only heavyweights in the entire sport who mean anything at the bank are the Klitschko brothers and David Haye. They're also the three top heavyweights that consistently stay in great shape and seem to take boxing as seriously as the old top heavyweights did. It's not a coincidence.
The heavyweight fighters that get these forced TV pushes have a terrible history of panning out, and worse, once they get to the major leagues (as Arreola did against Vitali Klitschko in September), they also have a habit of being so outclassed that the fights are painfully dull, giving the heavyweight curious the feeling that all boxing looks like the 6'7" Klitschko awkwardly dancing around the edge of the ring and hitting Arreola at will with a jab.
No. 6: More Top Fights That People Can See
This would only happen with a bigger resurgence in fan interest, but that's hardly impossible. Boxing has crawled out of the dark this decade thanks to the likes of Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. Now, things like Jermain Taylor pulling out of the Super Six are featured on ESPN's Bottom Line. This might seem insignificant to a non-boxing fan, but it's big for boxing. It means that ESPN finally recognizes that boxing is at least as big as the WNBA (no offense, WNBA fans).
I've always challenged people who find boxing "boring" to just give a big fight the chance. For me, the big fight atmosphere is the biggest thing that keeps me coming back to the sport. There's nothing else quite like it. This isn't a couple of teams with a halftime show featuring Tom Petty. This is two men about to go toe-to-toe on the grandest stage there is.
But most people won't take the challenge, because it'll cost them $60 on pay-per-view or at least a subscription to HBO, and in this post-"Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" world, HBO isn't quite the TV force it used to be. You might not happen to have a subscription anymore simply to follow the exploits of Tony or Carrie.
Big boxing fights are expensive, which is why HBO and (to a far lesser extent) Showtime are the only networks that can afford them in the United States. A budget increase for ESPN would help dramatically. They do televise boxing with "Friday Night Fights," but who tuned in for the season premiere on January 8 to see Roman Karmazin battle Dionisio Miranda? If you did, you're either a boxing diehard or were bored.
The fact is, someone has to be able to put on a meaningful fight besides HBO or Showtime if the sport is going to get itself back in the mainstream. A fight on network TV would be gloriously expensive, what with top boxers so used to having that PPV revenue to split up after the fact. The guarantees would have to be huge to get a Mayweather or Pacquiao-level fighter on a network broadcast, and really big for the next tier down. The potential that everyone winds up taking a bath is big, but the reward could be massive for the sport. For this to happen, a group of people will have to work under the idea, "If you build it, they will come."
No. 7: Learn From The UFC
I'm not saying the UFC is perfect, but they operate outside of a lot of the things I've mentioned above and do phenomenal business. Every month, they present a pay-per-view that meets or exceeds expectations. They have never been on network TV, the best they've done is a deal with SpikeTV, the cable network that seemingly exists mostly because of UFC programming.
It's obvious that years ago, Dana White and his superiors made some kind of list of goals, and they've built toward meeting them. By comparison, boxing seems like the wild west, a fracas of a sport, disorganized from the ground up, and exceptionally reliant on partners like HBO and Showtime. If HBO were to ever cut boxing programming, the sport would be damaged in such a way that every change I've mentioned and then some would be necessary, and I get the feeling what little organization there is in boxing wouldn't take that as a challenge to adapt, but rather as a reason to fragment even further.
You can't take everything from the UFC, especially immediately, but little things can be implemented. The presentation of the sport needs to be updated. The sport's advertising seems stuck in the 1990s, and its fighters don't get enough of a chance to build a genuine rapport with the audience the way the UFC's combatants have over this past decade. There's a disconnect there that doesn't exist in the UFC, and that's surely by design. From the heroes like Randy Couture to the villains like Brock Lesnar and the lesser fighters on the undercards, UFC's fans care about the fighters. UFC fans know a lot about guys like Chris Lytle. Boxing fans have to dig on their own to learn much about guys on a similar level.
Boxing is at a crossroads. The potential for Mayweather-Pacquiao -- the biggest possible fight in sports today -- is still there. That fight alone is a win for boxing, but then what? UFC builds its young fighters into stars. Boxing's young stars are built almost solely on hype, press releases, and word of mouth.
The sport is standing at a very fragile place right now. It has disproven the lazy sportswriter talk that boxing is "dead," which it never was, but now with a lot more curious eyes focused on what's going down in the sweet science, will they pass or fail the coming tests? Getting the people here was hard enough. Keeping the casual fans interested, or even turning them into true boxing lovers, will be even harder.