Stack the Deck: Does fairness really exist in boxing?

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ARE professional boxing matches ‘fair’? Are they even meant to be, or is that just a concept sold to the general public?

The prospect who is given the date of their next bout three months in advance, thus able to plan and prepare with adequate notice, then being matched a couple of weeks out from the show against an opponent who has only just been asked to accept the contest. Is that fair?

A boxer who has ample sponsors and financial backing to train full-time pitted against an opponent who works a full-time job away from the sport and fits in their boxing training around breaks in their work schedule. Is that fair?

A 100-bout amateur, with numerous titles to their name in the vest, against a previous novice amateur, whose career highlight was being granted their pro licence in the first place. Would that be deemed fair?

The journeyman who accepts defeat on the road knows he’s more likely to be offered another payday soon if he loses rather than upsets a favourite. Then he spends the rest of his life explaining his BoxRec credentials to the uninitiated. Is that fair?

Is a contest including someone billed as a heavyweight world champion against someone competing in their first conventional boxing match a fair fight?

Fairness in boxing should of course be paramount. But it’s not.

Which brings us to performance-enhancing drugs. If we thought the issue surrounding the proliferation of title belts seemingly popping up each week was of concern, the more serious issue of boxers popping for PEDs just as regularly is surely more of a worry. Those substances are banned by the boxing authorities, with a view to supposedly stop someone gaining an unfair advantage over an opponent. A ‘juiced-up’ boxer connecting with punches on an unsuspecting, ‘clean’ opponent is deemed dangerous and unfair. But in the examples above highlight there are many aspects of professional boxing that wouldn’t generally be conceived as fair but are nonetheless accepted as part of the business.

The suspensions currently issued for those failing a test for PEDs may or may not be related to how influential the said boxer is in the business, and, consequently, how much they’re likely to earn the powerbrokers in the sport if they remain active. How else can six-month and backdated suspensions (while inactive) be justified? Would a small hall ticket seller be treated the same?

I’m not totally convinced that the money men at the business end of boxing actually want to punish those choosing to take PEDs. Recent evidence seems to suggest if the protagonists are high profile enough, and attract a large paying fan base, then all avenues will be investigated to get them ‘off’ without any severe penalty. If a promoter has spent a substantial amount of their or someone else’s money to stage a show, do they really want to do the right thing and cancel the contest (potentially the show) due to a failed drug test? Particularly when there might be a loophole that’s able to be manipulated and negotiable.

“They’re all on it” seems to be gathering momentum with each passing week and although that might not quite be the case, at least not yet, the stigma previously associated with drug cheats will lessen as more and more fail tests and the influential promoters defend their big money earners.

For a sport that struggles to determine something seemingly as simple as who is the best in each specific weight category, the complicated issue surrounding PEDs is another, more urgent, obstacle that needs to addressed. In the name of fairness and safety? A better understanding of why boxers are taking them in the first place, who is giving it to them, and a discussion around stiffer penalties for those who are caught would be basic starting points. In the complicated world of PED testing even a failed test doesn’t seem to automatically mean they’ve failed. What a situation.

But if you’re after fairness, boxing has never been the place to go. Like life, boxing isn’t meant to be fair. For the paying public it’s meant to be entertainment. The authorities that govern the sport have the responsibility to make it as safe, and entertaining, as possible. Fairness is barely in the mix, and even when it is, it’s only to appease our conscience. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.