Boxing’s Heavyweight Division: No Longer a New York State of Mind

By Rich Mancuso/Sports Editor

Once upon a time the heavyweight division was the King of New York.  Then there was Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Shannon Briggs, Evander Holyfield, Shannon Briggs the pride of Brooklyn, and a brawler named Mike Tyson. Before that, of course Jerry Cooney, Leon and Michael Spinks, Jimmy Ellis, Ron Lyle, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, and the iconic, “greatest of all time,” Muhammad Ali.

A boxing Hall of Fame list of names in heavyweight championship history, and all we have now are the memories because trading punches and brawling for what once was the most prized title in boxing no longer happens in New York.

There are many factors to this “once upon a time” theory. Now that the heavyweight division in a resurgence with a new, young breed of fighters, New York boxing is dark because of an onerous million dollar insurance bond per fighter that promoters can’t afford and there appears to be no end in sight for the blackout.

So Madison Square Garden, “The Mecca” of boxing that was built around the classic heavyweight title fights, will not be a part of this resurgence that was seen on the two major boxing television networks this past weekend on HBO and Showtime.

Instead, Anthony Joshua and Eric Molina traded punches for the IBF heavyweight title in Manchester England. Wladimir Klitschko will now take on Joshua, the 27 year old undefeated star from England for the title and not in New York.

Yes, another heavyweight title fight and hosted at the Wembley Stadium on April 29th. The 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Joshua defending against the veteran and soon to be 41-year old Klitschko.

Same can be said for Joseph Parker. He defeated Andy Ruiz Saturday night for the vacant WBO title before the hometown fans in Auckland, New Zealand.

New York, unfortunately has been out of the heavyweight business for a long time and it has always been the dream of a fighter, more so the heavyweight, to fight in New York. But, that was “once upon a time” when the sport of boxing was thriving.  Blame the alphabet soup of titles and various sanctioning organizations, or the controversies, that always surrounds the sport as part of the decline.

Top Rank Boxing promoter, Bob Arum. Credit:

Top Rank Boxing promoter, Bob Arum. Credit:

But in New York, it is the onerous tax structure that places fighters and promoters at the mercy of the political masters who pass the legislation. Promoters, in particular, Hall of Famer Bob Arum of Top Rank, will no longer stage fights in New York.

Nor will they go across the Brooklyn Bridge at the Barclays Center though Lou DiBella and Floyd Mayweather Jr., with the PBC, are hoping to overcome an insurance issue and bring boxing back to New York with a title stacked Showtime televised card on January 14th.

Arum, promoted many of those iconic heavyweight title fights at the Garden. His first one, Ali against Oscar Bonavena, December 7, 1970, was one of many that sold-out some 46 years ago. Ali was boxing and the heavyweight division in New York, and then Tyson would carry the reign.

“New York was a tremendously sophisticated city for boxing,” said Arum recently. “ They had a plethora of newspapers, every one had a boxing writer so it was a place to fight.”

Legalize MMA In NYToday, however, the city is no longer a place to fight for the heavyweight title. Arum and other promoters have to battle this insane insurance requirement, a play maybe that was a compromise with the MMA industry and New York legislators for approval to stage their shows in a state that banned them for years because of the perceived brutality.

However, MMA does produce revenue as was the situation last month with an all-time gross at the Garden. Boxing promoters can no longer feed off the newspaper media as internet blogs now prevail in the industry, and only casino hotels in Las Vegas throw some income to the promoters.

As Arum said, “We lose money before they open the doors,” meaning, New York State taxes get a hefty pinch before the opening bell, meanwhile in Nevada and elsewhere, that is not the case.

So, the promoters have gone elsewhere. The heavyweight division makes profit in arenas overseas — Wembley with 90,000 seats. And now with a heavyweight champion from New Zealand and the Klitschko brothers, who dominated the division for years had a majority of their title defenses in England and Germany.

Yes, it was “once upon a time.” The heavyweight fighters who now have their opportunity to cause some noise and resurge a division that was a face of the sport for years, well they know where the income is.

It isn’t in New York and fighting at Madison Square Garden. Until this ludicrous bond issue of insurance is resolved, the heavyweight title will continue to be contested overseas or in the city of sin, Las Vegas.

Once upon a time…, and all we have are the memories.

Comment Rich Mancuso:  Twitter@Ring786 Mancuso  

Print Friendly, PDF & Email