Groves beats DeGale, but why did it need to be on Pay-Per-View?

May 22, 2011

It went the distance, and although there weren’t any knockdowns it was a good, competitive fight: George Groves getting the win over James DeGale by just one point on two scorecards while another scored the fight level. Billed as “The Grudge”, you suspect that there will still be plenty of words – especially from Olympic Champion DeGale’s camp – about this decision and the prospect of another meeting between these two a couple of years down the track would no doubt be an attractive one.

Groves boxed a smart fight, confounding the expectations of those who expected him to be out-boxed by DeGale; staying at range, counter-punching, and almost challenging DeGale to find a way through. DeGale meanwhile stalked after Groves, but was too hesitant getting punches away and rarely threw combinations which might have given Groves more to think about. While it was not exactly a classic battle, it was a good contest and there was plenty to entertain the discerning fan.

It was the sort of contest that might get a few people interested in the sport again, but sadly it wasn’t available to watch unless you were prepared to stump up £15 to watch it on Sky Box Office. And that, in so many ways, sums up the problem Boxing now has – not just in the UK, but worldwide.

Recent months have seen the issue of Pay Per View rise to the top of the agenda for some of those involved in the sport – for example Joe Tessitore of ESPN in the US has criticised it on their Podcast – because too many fights – or more to the point fight cards – that are not really worthy of the status have been made so. Consider for example David Haye v Audley Harrison – the interest in which was mainly to see how long it would take for Harrison to be knocked out, and whether he would then actually retire. Consider Amir Khan’s most recent fight, which was announced as Pay Per View before there was even an opponent confirmed – and even almost scuppered the Haye-Wladimir Klitschko bout in the process – and was then demoted to a standard Sky Sports channel when the undercard began to look shakey before Khan’s camp decided instead to take it to another PPV channel. Consider the bore-fest that was Pacquaio-Mosley. And then consider the farce that preceded this card, with Jurgen Braehmer pulling out of his fight with Nathan Cleverly (something the German has previous for), being replaced by Tony Bellew who looked to be an interesting opponent if only for the (ahem) lively Press Conference, and then after Bellew failed to meet a weight check being replaced by Aleksy Kuziemski who then lasted just four rounds before the fight had to be stopped.

While to an extent DeGale-Groves was always the main attraction, was this really a PPV-worthy card? When the headline fight is between two boxers with 22 fights between them, for the British and Commonwealth titles, the answer has to be no. No disrespect to either boxer, who certainly put on a better show than some recent PPV fights, but this is the sort of contest that should be either on Free-to-air TV, or at most on a standard sports channel. While there was plenty of domestic interest in their fight, it will have done little to build their profile with those outside regular boxing fans.

There is always the tendency to hark back, but I can remember when the BBC in particular used to show boxing quite regularly on Sportsnight, and how this could then help raise the profile of those boxing. Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan, Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Michael Watson, Duke McKenzie, even some of the “lesser lights” such as Dave McAuley and Glenn McCrory – these days almost their entire career would be on PPV.

When one considers for example that it is only really now that Carl Froch – following a sequence of contests that has seen few parallels in terms of the quality of his opponents – is getting some wider recognition, you begin to see the problem. While it may offer rewards to those who are capable of drawing crowds, there is the real danger that the overall audience for boxing will diminish as fewer people actually get to see boxers perform – and that this will then have a knock on effect on those lower down the food chain, the boxers who rely on the sport for a living but find the money is becoming more and more concentrated on those on the PPV shows. And unless the PPV shows start to offer better support to the main event, the fans that are prepared to pay will be more inclined to pick and choose.