Top Rank chairman Bob Arum had a smile on his face for most of the time he spent Wednesday at the Chevrolet Centre.
It’s not often he gets to witness a hometown revival for one of his boxers.
The sport is about as low as it’s ever been, in terms of viable championship competitors and interest.
Watch the recent Olympics? Swimming, gymnastics and track and field were on prime time on NBC.
Boxing? Good luck finding it.
Wednesday’s pep rally at the Chevy Centre was a rarity in the pro boxing world. There simply aren’t many towns in the U.S. where 500 people are going to show up in the middle of a weekday to cheer on their favorite fighter.
Kelly Pavlik’s plight, however, is not a rarity, according to Arum. Pavlik spent years trying to impress enough people in boxing and the networks to finally get a shot at the title.
Now that he’s earned it, it’s proven to be even more difficult finding viable opponents for his defenses.
“We just don’t have the depth of talent in any of the weight classes that we used to 20 years ago, 30 years ago,” said Arum backstage before Wednesday’s Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins pep rally.
“That lack of talent is compounded by all these organizations … almost everybody [worthy of a title shot] is some sort of champion.”
Lack of amateurs leads to fewer pros
Also contributing is the lack of youngsters going to neighborhood gyms.
After Pavlik’s title-winning effort over Jermain Taylor last year, trainer Jack Loew reported an influx of youngsters coming to the Southside Gym hoping to become the next Kelly Pavlik.
That’s the exception to what’s happening around the country.
More gyms are closing than are opening or expanding, as Loew has done.
The U.S. Olympic team failed to send a full team to Beijing this month, and their medal haul — one bronze — was the worst in the country’s Olympic history.
Part of the problem, said Arum was the training format used by the U.S. team’s coach, Dan Campbell, who required all of the boxers to move to Colorado Springs, Colo., for a year. The fighters’ personal trainers weren’t allowed to have any contact, and many of the boxers complained of Campbell’s training techniques.
“There’s got to be a better way,” said Arum disgustedly, shaking his head. “In 1976, that was the last time we had a great [Olympic] team. So many kids got into boxing after that, and you saw in 1984, we had guys like [Evander] Holyfield and [Pernell] Whitaker on the [Olympic] team winning medals.
“Have an overall coach but let each kid be trained by his coach. You cut off all confidence with these kids [in the current format]. Who else knows what’s best [for the fighters] than their own coach?”
Lure of easy money taking kids from gyms
Arum also blames the infiltration of drugs in the inner cities; young kids see dealers throwing around huge sums of money and figure it’s easier to get rich quick in crime rather than work hard in a gym, with a possible huge payoff years away.
The solution, says Arum, is to be patient. He believes the current downturn in serious title contenders is a cyclical one. Having a popular middleweight champion like Pavlik will help, but he’d like to see the networks that televise boxing to be more accommodating.
“There were a couple good middleweights in the Olympics, guys who could make good pro fighters,” he said, “and there’s some damn good [pro] middleweights now, but somebody’s got to convince the major networks to get interested in them, give them a TV bout.”
XRob Todor is sports editor of The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.