People love competition. Take this week’s presidential debate, for instance. Over 67 million people tuned in to watch Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spar over everything from healthcare and national security to the economy and the energy crisis. That’s nearly 22% of the population of the United States even though, according to an article published by the Chicago Tribune this week, only 6% of the electorate is still “undecided.”
So, if most Americans already know who they are voting for on November 6th, why were so many of us glued to our TV’s for nearly two hours on Wednesday night? While some of us did it to stay informed and have something to discuss around the water-cooler on Thursday morning, a lot of us did it because we love competition. We love seeing our favorites win and, sometimes even more so, watching those we dislike lose.
On Friday morning, on the other side of the pond, a different kind of debate took place. The presidents were replaced by pugilists, the lecterns by a gym bench, and moderator Jim Lehrer by Johnny Nelson and Adam Smith from Sky Sports.
Former Jr. welterweight champion Amir Khan and rising star and current welterweight contender Kell Brook traded jabs of the verbal variety in an impromptu version of Face Off with Max Kellerman, minus the mood lighting and chair straddling.
They vowed to knock each other out if they ever met in the ring and had great deal of difficulty in showing respect for each other’s boxing talents, chins, and resumes. They even bragged about who ‘schooled’ who when they sparred as amateurs nearly 10 years ago.
Very few people in this world know which fighter was truly on the receiving end of that boxing lesson and unlike the presidential debate, fight fans can’t consult fact checkers from MSNBC and Fox News when boxers engage in a vocal altercation.
In a sport where self-promotion is nearly as important as what happens within the ropes, the only checking fans can rely on happens with a left or right hook. Like them or not, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman have done a phenomenal job of promoting their personal brand lately. They are boastful, action-packed fighters with knock out rates greater than 80% who have been able to back-up every single word that has come out of their mouths in their short careers.
Gennady Golovkin was on the other side of the spectrum when he brought his own brand to the national stage earlier in the year. Fans loved his aggressiveness and monstrous punching power as much as his modesty, respect for the game and courtesy toward his opponent in the post-fight interview.
On the international stage, boxers have a tremendous responsibility for managing their personal brand and the room for error has substantially decreased with the growth of social media. You can’t, however, do it at the expense of fandom. Note to Amir: Your fans love you, but even they can’t help but cringe when they hear things like “I want to clean up 140,” when the current champion just stopped you within
12 minutes of ring time, and the division is stacked with devastating punchers, like Lucas Matthysse, Brandon Rios, and Mike Alvarado, who can knock a hole through a Ford Fiesta.
There is no denying that the Brook-Khan exchange was intense. But it was also every bit as awkward and, based on what we have seen over the last twelve months, it didn’t leave the boxing world feeling like this was a fight that it truly needed to see.
After suffering a terrible knockout loss against Danny Garcia this past summer, it’s no coincidence that Khan is being paired up with a much smaller opponent, Carlos Molina who is known more for his technical ability than his punching power. Golden Boy Promotions is likely trying to help Amir manage his personal brand because the self-assured, iron-chinned, gladiator variety is not working for him.
Fighting a lightweight with a 38% KO rate will help him with the latter two but new trainer Virgil Hunter and promoter Oscar De La Hoya might need to call Gennady Golovkin in to help him work on the modesty suit, especially for someone who has been knocked out as bad as Khan has, he’s still talking of knocking out someone out.