1/2016

Mice, Men, and the PBC


This writing appeared on the boxing website ucnlive.com as a 'soapbox' submission to boxing writer Steve Kim. The published version can be found here: http://ucnlive.com/the-soapbox-jan-6-2016-the-return-of-the-president/


Life is messy and untidy; we all know this. Very often things don’t work out as we had planned - or things we yearn for to happen never come to pass. People come into our lives and stay; others move on or just seem to fade away. We aspire to do the right thing, but fail more often than we’d care to admit. Life is a constant trial; a work that will always be unfinished. This may all sound depressing in a way - but is it not meant to disturb. For we also know that out of the imperfection of ‘life’ there can be great triumph. There can be achievements and love - joy and satisfaction. The trials and ‘work’ can suddenly pay off in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had the ‘work’ never been undertaken. These things take on an almost ‘organic’ nature; the outcomes are often unpredictable and unforeseen. Look at it this way: we’ve all reached moments in our lives that were impossible to predict 10, 5, or even 3 years ago. Sometimes this destination is good; other times it is less desireable. But the point is that this is the nature of our reality; this is ‘life’. Now of course you might be wondering; ‘what the fuck does this have to do with boxing?’. Well I believe boxing (at its best) shares this ‘organic’ nature.

The boxing ‘business’ is messy. Many times it can leave the fans unfulfilled, or even bitter. Fights that are destined to happen; never come to pass. Events can be widely anticipated; yet fail to deliver the excitement they seemed destined to provide. A fighter can have all the potential in the world; yet fail to reach it for a myriad of reasons. This is the nature of the sport; a highly imperfect object (just like you and I). This ‘organism’ called boxing is made up individuals and organizations; each of which have their own interests and concerns to address. As in life; sometimes the interests of these entities overlap; but very often they do not. And more often than we would like; they fail to coincide with the interests of the viewing public. Resulting in a rather fine (and all too familiar) mess.

The PBC has aimed to ‘fix’ this mess - or ‘tidy up’ the untidiness. By keeping the vast majority of business in house, removing some ‘messy’ traditions, and adding some shiny ‘bells and whistles’ - the PBC has looked to cover the boxing business with a bland varnish of ‘perfection’. ‘Bland’ being the key word of course. Because once the varnish is applied, everything is flattened. Sure you’ve gotten rid of the ‘mess’ - but you’ve also removed the potential for organic growth. It’s no coincidence that we might see some kind of 147lb. ‘tournament’ next year within the PBC walls. The need to replicate the unexpected nature of the sport is probably apparent (even) to the masters of the PBC universe.

It’s rather ironic then that two of the more ‘organically motivated’ PBC fighters have caused a ‘tremor in the force’ so to speak. First there’s Shawn Porter. It seemed to most observing the lead up to his encounter with Adrien Broner that the powers that be were trying to tip the scales in Broner’s favor. By all accounts, Broner was the preferred choice to move ahead in the PBC pecking order. Porter, to his credit; wasn’t having any of it. And he’s now forced himself into a position to fight the ‘PBC fighter of year’, Keith Thurman (the unintentional comedy / oxymoron factor of the ‘PBC fighter of the year’ notwithstanding).

The second PBC fighter to cause a stir with his non-conformist ways is Julian ‘J-Rock’ Williams. Steve Kim recently wrote about Williams and his current position as the ‘PBC boogeyman’. Williams earned this moniker because of his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, at anytime. By all accounts Williams is a throwback; he’s hungry and ready to carve out his legacy the hard way. However, he’s had difficulty getting those in his weight class under the PBC umbrella to fight him. There are various reasons for this. But basically Williams’ desires run contrary to the very nature of the organization to which he belongs. It’s admirable to be a wolf amongst sheep. However, a wolf that chooses to live in a land that is ruled by sheep cannot expect to maintain a healthy diet. The sheep will keep him fed; as long as he doesn’t feed on them.

This tension between the PBC’s ‘corporate’ nature and the organic nature of the sport it wishes to take over is an important one. For if one looks back at the great ‘momentary eras’ (for lack of a better term) in the sport - one discovers that they were not ‘created’ in a boardroom or brainstormed in a programming meeting. Joe Louis and Max Schmeling were elevated because of worldwide events. Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and the other heavyweights of the time defined the era not through some grand plan - but by a certain element of chance. The same can be said for the time of the four kings (Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns). Or for the battles between Manny Pacquiao, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Erik Morales. The only ‘grand design’ that led to these moments when the sport reached its highest highs was the ebb and flow - day to day nature of life itself. Sometimes things come together; sometimes they don’t. Any effort to exert total top down control will ultimately lead to stagnation and a rather banal boxing existence.

So as we enter this new year; we shall see what happens. It will be an important year for the PBC in my view; because it will be its first full one. Interestingly enough this will also supposedly be the ‘year of the heavyweights’. I remember speaking to someone who works on the promotional side of things over a year ago about how open the heavyweight division will be whenever Wladimir Klitschko should retire or lose. Tyson Fury’s win over the long reigning champion seems to have finally ushered in the ‘renaissance’ we were speaking about. Recent bouts with the likes of Anthony Joshua, Dillian Whyte, Luis Ortiz, and Bryant Jennings only served to add to the notion that ‘business is about to pick up’ in the division. The PBC’s main heavyweight player Deontay Wilder headlines a card in January that will feature two heavyweight title bouts. Now this ‘year of the heavyweight’ might not deliver. Bouts might not get made, fights might fall flat, or prospects might not pan out. However, the point is that this moment in the heavyweight division was a very long time coming. It could not be ‘forced’ or ‘planned’. It came to be organically; through the natural, imperfect nature of the sport - and it has the potential to be great. Be wary of those that wish to suck the ‘organically imperfect’ life out of boxing. For as the saying goes; the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry - and the PBC is no different.