Being a child of the 70s, I grew up during one of the golden ages of boxing. Yes, there have always been boxing fans who could spout round by round stats of the Max Bear vs. James Braddock fight. Boxing will ALWAYS have those fans.
Beyond that though, boxing held a healthy presence within mainstream pop culture. Fight results were on the evening news, and were discussed around the water cooler. Plus, any Jane or Joe could tell you who "the champ" was.
In 1971, Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier both had justifiable claims to the World Heavyweight Championship Title. An undefeated Ali had won the title from Sonny Liston
During Ali's incarceration, the undefeated Frazier won two championship titles by knocking out Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis.
Once Ali gained his freedom, he challenged Frazier, who was now recognized by boxing authorities as the World's Champion.
The fight was an event. New Yorkers protested ticket prices which ranged from $20 for a balcony seat to $150 for ringside. Celebrities such as Lorne Greene and Burt Lancaster donned formal attire to attend the fight. Locations across the U.S. and Canada screened the fight on closed circuit television to fans paying $5 to $15.
As I said, the bout was more than a boxing match, it was an event. People cared about the outcome, it was what was happening at the moment. Three years later, the world was captivated again by Ali's & Foreman's Rumble In The Jungle.
Today's bouts aren't awarded the same level of fanfare. Sure, hardcore fans keep boxing alive on TV and keep Pay-Per-Views profitable for HBO & Showtime. However, boxing isn't the water cooler topic it once was, and boxers are no longer house hold names. I can't even remember the last time I saw a boxing result being reported on the evening news.
In Rocky III, Mickey told Rocky, "...the worst thing happened to you, that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized." One might argue that the mainstream populace, "got civilized," and have outgrown violence as entertainment.
To that, I say, "poppy cock!" If we'd outgrown violence, MMA & WWE, which is a faux sport at best, wouldn't be as popular as they are. No, I think the reason for the decline in popularity may lie in the fact that championship fights are too common.
In the old days, there were eight weight classes...,
- Flyweight: 8 st (50,802 Kg / 112 lbs)
- Bantamweight: 8 st 6 lbs (53,525 kg / 118 lbs)
- Featherweight: 9 st (57,153 kg / 126 lbs)
- Lightweight: 9 st 9 lbs (61,235 kg / 135 lbs)
- Welterweight: 10½ st (66,678 kg / 147 lbs)
- Middleweight: 11 st 6 lbs (72,574 kg / 160 lbs)
- Light Heavyweight: 12½ st (79,378 kg / 175 lbs)
- Heavyweight: (unlimited)
Title WBA WBC IBF HEAVYWEIGHT Wladimir VACANT Wladimir (unlimited) Klitschko Klitschko 61-3 (51) 61-3 (51) CRUISERWEIGHT Denis Krzysztof Yoan Pablo (190 pounds) Lebedev Wlodarczyk Hernandez 25-2 (19) 49-2 (35) 28-1 (14) LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT Beibut Adonis Bernard (175 pounds) Shumenov Stevenson Hopkins 14-1 (9) 23-1 (20) 54-6 (32) SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT Andre Sakio Carl (168 pounds) Ward Bika Froch 27-0 (14) 32-5 (21) 32-2 (23) MIDDLEWEIGHT Gennady Sergio Felix (160 pounds) Golovkin Martinez Sturm 29-0 (26) 51-2 (28) 39-3 (18) JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT Floyd Floyd Carlos SUPER WELTERWEIGHT Mayweather Jr. Mayweather Jr. Molina (154 pounds) 45-0 (26) 45-0 (26) 22-5 (6) WELTERWEIGHT Marcos Rene Floyd Shawn (147 pounds) Maidana Mayweather Jr. Porter 35-3 (31) 45-0 (26) 23-0 (14) LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT Danny Danny Lamont SUPER LIGHTWEIGHT Garcia Garcia Peterson (140 pounds) 28-0 (16) 28-0 (16) 32-2 (16) LIGHTWEIGHT Richard Omar Miguel (135 pounds) Abril Figueroa Vazquez 18-3 (8) 22-0 (17) 34-3 (13) JUNIOR FLYWEIGHT Takashi Takashi Argenis LIGHT FLYWEIGHT Uchiyama Miura Mendez (108 pounds) 21-0 (17) 27-2 (20) 21-2 (11) JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHT Simpiwe Jhonny Evgeny SUPER FEATHERWEIGHT Vetyeka Gonzalez Gradovich (130 pounds) 26-2 (16) 55-8 (47) 18-0 (9) FEATHERWEIGHT Guillermo Leo Kiko (126 pounds) Rigondeaux Santa Cruz Martinez 13-0 (8) 27-0 (15) 30-4 (22) JR FEATHERWEIGHT Anselmo Shinsuke Stuart SUPER BANTAMWEIGHT Moreno Yamanaka Hall (122 pounds) 34-2 (12) 20-0 (15) 16-2 (7) BANTAMWEIGHT VACANT Srisaket Daiki (118 pounds) Sor Rungvisai Kameda 26-3 (24) 29-4 (18) JR BANTAMWEIGHT Juan Francisco Akira Amnat SUPER FLYWEIGHT Estrada Yaegashi Ruenroeng (115 pounds) 25-2 (18) 19-3 (9) 12-0 (5) FLYWEIGHT VACANT Adrian Jhonreil (112 pounds) Hernandez Casimero 29-2 (18) 19-2 (11) MINIMUMWEIGHT Hekkie Oswaldo Katsunari STRAWWEIGHT Budler Novoa Takayama (105 pounds) 25-1 (8) 13-4 (8) 26-6 (10)
Equally problematic is the fact that such bouts aren't hard for fighters to get. In the old days, fighters had to have forty to sixty wins, against mostly top ranked opponents, before the were even offered a shot at a title. Today, Boxers with less than twenty professional fights under their belts, have been given title shots and hold titles.
There's no way champions such as strawweight champion Oswaldo Novoa (13-4), light heavyweight champion Beibut Shumenov (14-1), and jr. bantamweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0) have fought enough tough fighters to work themselves up to the championship level.
Additionally, we have famous champions such as heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (61-3) and super welterweight/welterweight champion (even though it's technically illegal to be champion of two weights at the same time) Floyd Mayweather Jr. (45-0) who fight like slow plodding robots and are boring to watch.
The results of these factors are a plethora of title fights, in name only, featuring participants the average viewer can't get behind as a hero, the way they got behind Joe Louis, James Braddock, and Muhammad Ali.
The sad part is, there ARE hero caliber fighters out there who could rally the masses. Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, and Arthur Abraham are action fighters who are very entertaining to watch. The problem is that only hard core boxing fan know about these fighters. Their promoters aren't reaching the average Joe and creating hype among the masses.
Bottom line, boxing won't work itself back into the mainstream until it can furnish fans with a single dynamic champion, whom the masses can root for with a fervor.
Championship chart prints as page 3, at 80% magnification, for your files or bulletin board.