Boxing has never been an easy sport to love for many people. It’s a sport that at its heart can be seen as two grown men knocking seven shades of daylight out of each other.
Of course, there is always the counter argument, that there is a beauty in its brutality, that it is as much a mental contest as a physical one. And certainly as a business, it can draw crowds and money. The richest prizefight of all time was held in Las Vegas in May this year between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao, with prize money of an estimated $200 million. And that’s before we even stop to think about the hundreds of millions the TV rights for the big fights went for.
As a sport it thrives on big characters to bring the big cash in. And controversy. But over the last couple of decades, even die-hard boxing fans have had their patience tested. The confusing and fractured competitive landscape created by having four sanctioning organisations, with no single governing body, allegations of greed and corruption, too few household names, and growing competition from mixed martial arts such as UFC have taken their toll.
The lack of big names, with a few exceptions, has seen average TV revenues decline. For example, in the UK declining viewing figures versus expensive television rights has meant that boxing has very rarely been shown on terrestrial television in the past few years.
Plus of course, there are the frequent calls for boxing to be banned due to the risk of severe injury or fatalities during a fight. It is a sport that often finds itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
And now we have Tyson Fury. The new heavyweight champion. Certainly, he looks presentable enough on the poster to keep the sponsors happy and won the world title after going in as the underdog against Wladimir Klitschko. So far, so Rocky. But then there is the homophobia and bigotry.
“There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the Fifties and Sixties that those first two would be legalised?”
Here’s the thing that all professional boxers have in common; unshakeable self-belief. So while Fury and his people have retreated into public relations disaster retreat mode and claimed, predictably, he was misquoted, this is a sportsman that has made the leap from the back page to the subject of opinion pieces like this one and dominated social media.
The petition to remove Tyson Fury from the nominees for this year’s BBC Sports Personality of The Year has been widely publicised in the past few days. And I have the feeling that Fury’s management are secretly delighted. Because guess what? Now everyone knows the name of the new world champion.
So what if he’s been widely derided as a homophobe? Boxing thrives on controversy and now with his bad boy credentials turned up to the max, Fury can safely go into his next fight as the kind of edgy, divisive figure that boxing has long thrived on. It may be a cynical view but I suspect that Fury and his team will not be too upset if the BBC bow to public pressure and strike his name from he ballot. Because the increased public profile and the new status as a hate figure is exactly what promoters and TV networks will pay the big bucks for.
He has his views which I’m fairly sure are not shared by the vast majority of boxing fans. The truth is that now his infamy has grown to a point where being a hate figure actually helps his career. Because who doesn’t want to see the villain get taught a lesson by the next challenger that comes along? By tapping into the public desire to see him get what’s coming to him, Fury will potentially be bigger box office and make a hell of a lot more dollars.
Yes, Tyson Fury should not be considered for the title of Sports Personality of The Year. He is guilty of nothing less than hate speech and the BBC should never be seen to endorse that. The sad thing is that for Fury, the storm will only push his price up. He’s not running for public office. His job is punching people for cash. And to earn the big money for that, political correctness is not in the job description.
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