Over the many years that I’ve been following the sweet science, several things have crossed my mind (…trust me I’m surprised by the almost deep thinking too). From events inside the ring to those outside of it, contemplating the different elements of professional boxing is sort of like going on an odyssey. Hold on, an “odyssey”? Yes, because just as odysseys usually involve weird creatures, this figurative journey through the realms of pugilism features a creature known as the pundit. Ah yes, the pundit. Once limited to print and radio, then TV, these varmints have seen their dodgy ranks multiplied by the internet.
So what? It’s a free world isn’t it? Who am I, the pundit police? Everyone can have an opinion, but considering where some of those opinions come from and what they are, is that a good thing for boxing? What happens when an opinion is masqueraded as informed news? Does it matter if the topic is accurately dealt with, or is all that matters making people listen and/or read (the almighty web page hits / views / TV and radio ratings)?
Boxing isn’t the only sport cursed by questionable prognosticators, but their effect is more pronounced here than in other sports. It’s more consequential in pugilism because boxing is one of the most subjective high profile sports. The ‘nuances’ (for lack of a better word) in Queensberry rules fisticuffs aren’t only in how the sport is scored but almost everywhere else too. This nature of subjectivity, to me, puts more responsibility on the shoulders of pundits than it does in other sports. For example, in football no matter what the pundits said, Chelsea’s defeat of Barcelona in the CL semi-final earlier this year was clear and indisputable because they scored more goals. Whether you liked how those goals were scored or not is a moot point because Chelsea undeniably won. Also, the ‘league’ nature of other sports ranks competitors in a basically objective manner.
In boxing, apart from a stoppage, the results of a match and by extension the rating of the abilities of a boxer are subject to interpretation. On top of that, even a stoppage in boxing isn’t the final word because unlike other sports where there is essentially parity within the different competitors in a division (e.g. premiership teams are in one league and the quality of that league is generally superior to the quality of championship teams / NBA teams are superior to D-League teams etc.), that isn’t the case in boxing. Watford beating Arsenal is obviously a bigger deal than Arsenal beating Watford because of their respective positions in objectively defined leagues. In boxing, someone can be 15-0, with 15 stoppages, but the question is who were those 15 opponents?
Many pundits are even more ignominious because, as with any sport, quite a few of boxing’s fans don’t have a proper, technical understanding of the sport. By itself, that’s not the end of the world, but in boxing this characteristic becomes a bigger deal. It’s more of an issue here because not only do these people lack a solid foundation of boxing knowledge, they also don’t always have an absolute criteria to measure things by (as mentioned above). This makes them easy prey for unscrupulous talking heads (talking bobble heads…). Boxing’s pundits are recklessly and sometimes connivingly able to sway public opinion more so than in other sports. Professional boxing, by definition, needs the public’s support. Professional boxing as whole (not just a few individuals) benefits in the short and long term when the public understands what is necessary for the sport to continue to grow.
It isn’t that all pundits are bad, but many of them are either irresponsible, or ignorant (oftentimes both) and nothing good comes out of ignorant and/or irresponsible punditry.
What motivates these types to hurt something they claim to support? I attribute that to selfishness. Whether it’s purposefully ignoring the accuracy of an article and instead only caring about that story generating a paying ‘click’ on a web site, or commentating on TV and judging the abilities of a boxer based on personal preferences are some examples of pundit first, sport second. Pundits/writers are even more bizarre because they aren’t the ones in the ring, yet are unbelievably full of themselves. Many act as if they’ve never heard the saying “you never know until you walk a mile in a man’s shoes” before spewing something about a boxer. I’m not saying pundits shouldn’t have an opinion. What I’d like to see is an opinion which is as fairly and technically informed as possible. In addition I’m not only vexed by the unfortunate level of in-house punditry, but the main stream stuff is just as gall inducing. A recent example, over here in America, was how much more coverage the establishment press gave to the sensationalist passing of Hector Camacho than the violence free death of Emmanuel Steward. No disrespect to Hector Camacho (R.I.P), but Emmanuel Steward was a much more fundamental part of the modern era of the sweet science and certainly deserved more acknowledgement than he was given by the mainstream pundits/writers. This was just another example of the pundits hurting our sport for their own narrow purposes.
Perception doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It usually has consequences and as I said above, boxing is affected by viewpoint more than other sports are. Those who have a hand in shaping what is perceived should take it very seriously and hold themselves to a high standard.
If they don’t want to do that then I sincerely hope that they would shut the f’ up once and for all.
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