For boxing fans, the sport can still feel enormous. Major arenas still sell out, the fighters are in some cases more skilled than ever, and the drama, if you actually follow the sport, is terrific. From a broader perspective though there’s no denying that boxing has fallen far below the popularity level of its heyday, and it’s going to be a long climb back to the top. The sport does appear to be showing some signs of life however, which makes us wonder: how could it become a major sport once more?
The first thing that comes to mind is a prominent rivalry with enough drama to earn headlines beyond boxing-specific corners of the internet. Given the continued successes of boxing films that almost always depict such rivalries, we can safely say there’s still a great deal of public interest in this exact type of drama. There just hasn’t been a pair of boxers quite up to the challenge in a while – really, since the early days of longing for a Pacquiao-Mayweather bout that ultimately wound up disappointing. That said, this kind of rivalry might be brewing. After fighting to a split decision, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder are set up for a rematch that could be one of the bigger boxing events of the century. Both are massive (a casual audience tends to like heavyweights), the first fight was bizarre, and a title will be on the line. If these two can put on a real show the second time around, modern boxing might just be onto something.
Aside from pure entertainment and the evolution of a rivalry, one of the other changes that may need to occur is a restructured pay-per-view concept. A lot of modern consumers just don’t want to pay $70 or more for a primetime fight when they’re used to $10/month streaming services that get them all the sports, movies, and entertainment they want. We recently learned, in fact, that HBO is dropping boxing, seemingly because so many people are finding other streams and means of watching. One of the things that once made boxing so special was that it was unifying. Everyone watched the same broadcast at the same time, in the same way. This is harder to facilitate these days, but it’s clear that an affordable yet unifying stream option could help boxing gain more popular attention.
Boxing could also explore other means of exposing itself to potential fans more easily, and one idea that comes to mind in this regard is to tie itself back to casino culture. While the connection between the two has never been exclusive, boxing does have a history in Las Vegas and at major casino resorts; people associate it with the glitz and glamor of Sin City, and the emotions of high stakes. This could conceivably be done through vast online casino companies that are now operational around the world. Gaming sites have grown quite professional and now offer huge ranges of entertainment to millions and millions of people. Might a few boxing-themed games and the occasion site-based streaming option help to tap into the natural boxing-casino connection once more and develop new populations of fans? It certainly seems possible.
Lastly, there could also be some factors outside of boxing that will have an impact on its potential rise back to prominence. For instance, it was just earlier this year people were predicting that it was boxing’s time due to the somewhat sudden yet undeniable struggles of MMA. The UFC has been viewed by and large as a sort of modern evolution of boxing, yet is now having very severe problems as an organization. So, should boxing’s top competitor fold, or even continue to struggle, just as boxing makes an effort to appeal to modern audiences, we could see a flipping of the script that might have looked decidedly unlikely just a few short years ago.
Altogether a lot has to go right, and the bottom line might just be that there isn’t a modern boxing audience to be had like what we saw a few decades ago. However, there do seem to be some potential openings for the sport, and for the first time in a while it’s almost easy to imagine a world in which boxing is a major draw once more.