Paulie Malignaggi, boxing media and what we should be looking for…

I’m a little late to post this, but it is certainly still worth mentioning.

A little while back Paulie Malignaggi was doing the usual prefight hype for his upcoming “Battle of Brooklyn” match against Zab Judah. He starts off with a few anecdotes about his time in boxing (including mentioning how Al Haymon’s team called to sign him… one of the reasons he’s the manliest man in boxing) and his relationship with Zab, notably recalling a time when as an amateur Judah was actually helping to corner him during a tournament. It’s very friendly, very light, quite entertaining and fairly standard.

On a side note though, especially in the wake of the crude promotion for Malignaggi vs Broner, it is nice to see Malignaggi not have to go the lowest-common denominator route with his pre-fight hype. Trash talk is all well and good but the stuff prior to Malignaggi/Broner was crude, banal and painted neither of them in a positive light. Malignaggi’s a good enough speaker that he doesn’t need to descend to that level to get people interested in a bout.

But he then goes on to talk about the media reaction to his last bout and notably his post-fight comments about Al Haymon affiliated fighters (as Broner is) getting the nod in narrow contests. He especially objected to the way that some in the media tried to present the fact that one of the judges gave the bout to him in the same context as CJ Ross’s ridiculous card in the Mayweather/Saul Alvarez bout. Personally, I did have Broner winning, albeit somewhat narrowly but I can certainly understand why a judge would favour Paulie; it was very much a bout where Paulie’s higher workrate went against Broner’s more precise punches.

Paulie then used this to launch into a wider attack on the boxing media. He focuses on what he sees as the media’s obsession with the “nerdy” side of boxing writing; working out a pound for pound top ten, “analysing” fantasy fights and establishing who the lineal champions of a division are for example while seemingly refusing to really engage with some of the bigger issues confronting boxing. He uses himself as an example, pointing out how “rants and raves” about things when really, it should be the media driving the crusade on them. He finishes by mentioning that while the media will often criticise a boxer who is ahead in a bout “playing it safe” and coasting the last few rounds to minimise risk at the cost of excitement, the media won’t take the risk of really investigating major stories if the risk is they lose media credentials and press access.

It’s a powerful rant and one Paulie clearly feels strongly about.

And I agree with him.

First off, it must be admitted that Paulie generally only rants when it’s to his benefit. In the wake of his disputed loss to Juan Diaz in Texas he ranted and raved about the judging and home-town bias (for disclosure, I thought Paulie won a narrow bout) but in the wake of his own disputed victory over Pablo Cesar Cano in his hometown of Brooklyn (for disclosure, I thought Paulie lost a narrow bout) he was rather more circumspect about mentioning home-town bias. Both before and after his bout with Broner he mentioned the perceived Al Haymon influence on the judges… now he’s signed with Haymon I doubt he would do the same in the wake of a narrow victory over Judah. And while Paulie was one of the first to talk about PEDs in boxing, he did so in the wake of the Mayweather camps accusations and innuendo’s about Pacquiao and there was the feeling that he only did so (and so openly said he was happy to be tested) as a way to try to put himself in line for a bout with Mayweather.

But I don’t think that’s enough to ignore his words.

The boxing media does like to focus on the “nerdy” things. I do myself… you can see it in my article on the number of historical champions and certainly in my discussion under the line with noted journalist Springs Toledo. That’s not to paint myself… a commentator with a little read blog… as a big part of the boxing media but it does show the interest that the more “nerdy” side of things get. One doesn’t have to be involved in a boxing discussion forum for long or browse too many articles to see things along the lines of “Greatest heavyweights of all time?”, “Who would win, Floyd Mayweather or Ray Leonard?”, “Top 10 Pound for Pound boxers today?” or “Biggest punchers in boxing history?” appear. I enjoy many of those articles and discussions… but not if they come at the expense of more serious, factual journalism.

Malignaggi mentioned PEDs in boxing and there’s not doubt they have become a hot topic in recent years. But what journalists are really driving this forward… and by that I don’t mean merely reporting failures and occasionally bemoaning the fact that boxers use. Who is boxing’s Paul Kimmage, who took a large role Lance Armstrong eventually being exposed? Thomas Hauser clearly… who all too often seems to be fighting a lone battle on that front. Gabriel Montoya as well and occasionally The Guardian’s Sean Ingle (although he covers far more than just boxing and far more than just doping) have made contributions but beyond that? This is a massive story in boxing… arguably the biggest and most important of our time… so where are the investigative reporters looking into it?

Boxing has had a number of controversial decisions over recent years… Mayweather vs Alvarez immediately springs to mind, even if the right man still won. Where is the serious reporting on that? Not just saying it was a terrible decision and that CJ Ross made a huge mistake but really looking behind the scenes. How are judges trained? How are their performances evaluated? How are they selected for bouts? And considering the controversy caused by CJ Ross’s previous card in Pacquiao vs Bradley (for disclosure, I had Bradley winning), why was she selected for another major event? What does her decision to step down mean? Does that mean she doesn’t have to explain her card? If she returns in six months will she likely have any form of sanction or evaluation?

We almost take it as read that there will be some form of corruption and deceit in boxing, be it by the promoters, sanctioning bodies or regulators. But where is the media constantly looking for an exposing it when it happens? When boxers mysteriously shoot up sanctioning body rankings, when promoters manipulate purses to maximise their (and their boxers) takes?

Where is the serious boxing media on this? This isn’t something that the casual boxing media… the likes of me or the hundreds (if not thousands) of others like me who perhaps run a blog and comment frequently… can do. We lack the resources and we lack the connections. But it’s something the major media can… and should… be doing.

So why aren’t they?

First off, it’s easy not to. It’s easy to throw up a pound for pound top ten or a biggest punchers list or to analyse how Mayweather would have faired against Tommy Hearns and it’s a virtually guaranteed way to start debate. It’s easy to interview a boxer and write a piece (however well written) on it. It’s easy to preview upcoming bouts (I know, I do it…). The first and last of those can be done sitting on a couch with nothing but a word processor, boxrec and youtube to hunt down videos. The middle one requires an interview… but that’s not so hard when you have the connections to make it happen.

It’ difficult to have to do real investigative reporting. To have to hunt down facts, to gain the trust of sources who can reveal secrets, to get your hands on information others would prefer to be kept secret. It’s somewhat confusing for someone not versed in PED’s to understand what is allowed and what isn’t, what the different forms to testing are, what limits there are, who does the tests and what difference that makes. It’s not something that can be started one morning and finished by later that afternoon.

Secondly, it’s risky. Previewing a bout carries little risk beyond possibly getting the victor wrong. There’s literally no way of knowing if your pick in Mayweather vs Roberto Duran is right or wrong and so there’s no risk. And what risk is there in saying that Mayweather is the best pound for pound boxer in the world today?

There is risk in going after the bigger questions. Articles can lead to legal threats, reporters can find their media credentials revoked, websites can be “blackballed” by major promoters. For someone who makes a living from being a boxing journalist that is a serious threat and I certainly don’t underestimate it. But I think back to Malignaggi’s words. Every time we watch a boxer compete we are asking them to risk their careers and their very lives. And if we then complain that they should have taken more risks, been more exciting then who are we to then not take risks in investigating the issues with boxing ourselves?

Thirdly, we don’t make them. There is a tendency in boxing fandom to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is fine and there is nothing to worry about. That every boxer who doesn’t fail the hopelessly inadequate standard testing is completely clean, that ever bizarre judges’s scorecard is just down to incompetence (or worse, we accept it’s deliberately inaccurate but just let it pass), that everything is perfectly normal and there is nothing we need to do. It’s not surprising that the media reflects that. That they don’t feel the need to go after the deeper issues when we’re perfectly content to deal with the frivolities, the “nerdy” things.

But I hope Paulie Malignaggi, an unlikely hero, becomes a rallying cry for why they… and thus we… should.

Because it doesn’t matter if a boxing writer picks one boxer over another to win a bout. It doesn’t matter if they have a strange looking pound for pound top 10. It doesn’t matter if they have an interview with a boxer that is a pleasure to read. None of those things really impact on boxing. Most of them are commentating, not reporting.

And investigative reporting could.

The Biogenesis PED scandal has been one of the biggest stories in baseball over the past year, leading to multiple suspensions for a number of players and, depending on the results of an upcoming court case, in practical terms to permanent ban of arguably the biggest name in baseball, Alex Rodriguez. Yet as well as baseball players a relatively well known boxer, Yuriorkis Gamboa, was implicated (I stress, implicated). His punishment by the boxing authorities? Nothing. Despite Shane Mosely’s admissions relating to his steroid use from the BALCO scandal, the boxing regimes have seen fit to have no system set up to investigate, let alone punish, boxers who are implicated in PED use but do not fail those hopeless inadequate standard tests (not that punishment means much…). For all the good that VADA and say NSAC’s new enhanced testing do, those schemes are voluntary and are reliant on the boxers agreeing to them.

With the boxing authorities unable (although I’d suggest unwilling) to do anything about it, surely this was a perfect time for the boxing media to get involved? To really drive this story forward, to uncover the details, to force the issue until the boxing authorities had to do something, had to improve boxing? Yet where was it? More than a few articles at the time, more than a few comdenations, where was the serious reporting on the matter, where were the investigations?

The silence is deafening.

So while baseball players are banned from hitting an inanimate object while aided by PED’s, a boxer can continue to hit an animate object until it becomes inanimate while possibly aided by PED’s.

And that’s why what Paulie Malignaggi said is important. And that’s why the boxing media should step up to the plate.

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2 thoughts on “Paulie Malignaggi, boxing media and what we should be looking for…

  1. This is great commentary.

    Nerdiness, in the sense described by Paulie Malignaggi, is precisely opposed to good taste in all walks of life. It diminishes culture.

    I think of boxing as one of the few noble sports, but the quality of journalism and coverage, as well as the behaviour of some boxers and other notorious figures in the sport, doesn’t always impress me. I would second Thomas Hauser as an exception; I also enjoyed ‘Dark Trade: Lost in Boxing’ by Donald McRae.

  2. Pingback: The Price of Loyalty | Slip the Jab

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