African professional boxing: Time to show us the money!

THE euphoria of Mayweather and Conor MacGregor has come and gone. The much hyped fight was nothing but a damp squib. All the promise of combat aggression from MacGregor from UFC was just that, a promise, which was never fulfilled. However, what struck most and what remains in the mind of most sport enthusiasts is the money which was generated by the event.     

Mayweather reportedly walked away with $300 million and the abrasive and loud MacGregor earned himself $100million.

These are amounts that African boxers, especially here in Southern Africa would never contemplate earning, even in their wildest dreams. While we are not jealous of Mayweather and MacGregor for making these absolutely ridiculous amounts of money, the Southern African Sports Forum cannot but wonder why in this global village, African boxers, despite their obvious grit and talent, are not making at least a tenth of the purses.

The problem is not with the African boxers but with the infrastructure that surrounds them. African football has produced many millionaires because of the ability of the talented players to play in the lucrative European Big Five Leagues (La Liga (Spain), English Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy), Ligue 1 (France). Players like George Weah, Abedi Ayew, Anthony Yeboah, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Peter Ndlovu, Benni McCarthy and many others have earned lot of money and made a great impact on world football. The football players have been given a unique opportunity in sport, to rub shoulders with the best in the sport.

African boxers are, sadly, not getting the same opportunities to test themselves against the best in their sport. The prominent governing bodies, the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Federation (WBF), International Boxing Federation (IBF) are definitely exclusive clubs where the voice of African professional boxing is not heard clearly enough. Why should African professional boxers be fighting for peanuts in a very lucrative industry where the most talented can literally become millionaires overnight after one big fight? There is no time to agonize but to organise! African professional boxing must be heard in all the governing bodies. African professional boxing authorities must organize themselves to secure the big lucrative fights to take place on the continent. The African boxers must fight for big purses on the continent and everywhere in the world. Africa has got fantastic world class venues for professional fights but no events.

Africa has produced world class fighters such as Corrie Sanders, Proud “Kilimanjaro”  Chinembiri, Hawk Makepula, Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala and many others. Some of these boxers are now deceased and died, sadly, paupers.

The United States and United Kingdom because of their economic clout have had a stranglehold on the hosting of lucrative international title fights, which is a historical fact. This is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  However, it is almost criminal for African professional boxing authorities to just roll over and play dead.

The big title fights are not going to come to Africa “without a fight”. Africa must grab what rightfully belongs to her.  Professional boxing should be utilized to drive and promote sports tourism to Southern Africa. The region has wonderful climate. It is relatively peaceful, politically and economically stable compared to other parts of the world. However, the region and its boxers are not being aggressively marketed on the world stage to bring the much- needed revenues to Southern Africa.

Obviously, something is wrong with the African professional boxing set-up. It warrants a paradigm shift. It needs innovative sports marketers and leaders to diagnose the reasons for the sorry state of the sport.  Speedy remedial action is required.

The conventional business models are no longer applicable.  Unfortunately, the era of “business as usual” is gone. There is need to engage regional and international sponsors as well as sanctioning bodies to totally overhaul the African professional boxing industry. Furthermore, there is need for organisers of bouts in Southern Africa to develop long term and mutually beneficial relationships with the American, European and Asian TV networks who are the prime sources of patronage and most importantly, revenue, in professional boxing. In addition, the existence of Supersport as well as the emergence of Kwese TV and Fox TV Africa is a bonus to the development of African professional boxing.

There is an abundance of raw boxing talent on the African continent. It is just not being developed. Success in international sport or any aspect of life not by chance or luck or good fortune. Success in international sport is a by-product of a strong sports culture or system. In other words, success at major title fights is the proverbial “cherry on the cake”.

As we look forward to more exciting international title fights, there will be the usual accompanying euphoria and crisis of expectations about the performance of African boxers. However, these “great expectations” need to be matched by focused and well managed investments in sport development. African professional boxing authorities need to go back to the proverbial “drawing board”.

But what does this “going back to the drawing board” mean for elite sport and the average lay person in Southern Africa.  Does it have any tangible benefits for the sports in general? Indeed going back to the drawing board is good for professional boxing in Southern Africa and sport development planning is the key to future success.

African professional boxing does not need a “Messiah” but men and women of vision who realize the potential that Africa has. We need these men and women to show us the money in this lucrative industry of professional boxing!

September 2017
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