May 2, 2017

Joshua-Klitschko Heavyweight Bout Signals A Sea Change In Boxing

Anthony Joshua is a former Olympic gold medalist for Britain, undefeated in his pro career and the current IBF champion. On Saturday, he’s scheduled to fight Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko before 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London, and a victory would unify three of boxing’s fractured titles and potentially make him the defining heavyweight of his time.

But the implications of a Joshua victory would reverberate well beyond his own career, solidifying what has been a profound geographic shift in boxing. Joshua, 27, could emerge as a global superstar without so much as setting foot in an American ring. Even 15 years ago, this kind of achievement would be unthinkable. Yet Joshua’s promoters, at least so far, seem unconcerned about establishing him in the U.S.

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“There are fewer gyms,” said Kurt Emhoff, an attorney and manager who has worked with more than 10 professional champions. “The cost of insurance, the rising rents, the competition and proliferation of fitness gyms have all gutted the neighborhood rec centers and boxing gyms.

“The downward spiral also happened when boxing left broadcast networks for HBO and Showtime,” he continued. “You don’t see amateur boxing on TV anymore. It used to be a mainstay in the ’70s and ’80s. Even the Olympics is hidden away on some satellite network, while swimming and gymnastics are on prime time.

“I don’t think you can ignore the war on drugs and the resulting mass incarceration across the U.S. either. Boxing gets its talent pool from the inner city, not the suburbs. There were less than half a million incarcerated Americans in 1980, and that has increased by a multiple of five over the last 30-plus years, with the inner cities being disproportionately represented in that population. Fewer gyms, less mainstream exposure, more aggressive incarceration of the areas where the talent pool is. Not surprising to see where we’re at.”

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