Max Kellerman

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Thursday, August 7
Updated: August 22, 7:41 PM ET
Kellerman: Why boxing needs a league now

By Max Kellerman
Special to

Tuesday on "Around The Horn" we asked:

What is more compelling, an NFL preseason game, or an August major league baseball game between two contending teams?

We asked this question because The Kansas City Chiefs played the Green Bay Packers in the Hall of Fame game on ABC's Monday Night Football, which went up against ESPN's broadcast of the Kansas City Royals defending their slim first place lead against their American League Central rival, the Chicago White Sox.

The panelists on ATH were split on the subject. Two guys (Woody Paige of the Denver Post and Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News) said that the football game was more compelling; two guys (Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe and Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun Times) said it was the baseball game.

The reasoning of the football guys was that since there are only 16 games in an NFL regular season, each game is essentially 10 times more important than each regular season Major League Baseball game, of which there are 162. (Woody actually said that each football game was worth 15 baseball games, but long division presents certain conceptual problems for the distinguished gentleman from Denver.) Even a preseason game, they argued, gives fans a chance to watch a much rarer sporting event.

Baseball is, other than boxing, my favorite sport. But I had to agree with the football argument. It is hard to get around the logic that each football game is (almost exactly) 10 times as important as a baseball game. Football is also a full-contact sport, with more of the violent action we testosterone-fueled men crave than our national pastoral pastime.

So if this argument works for football over baseball, how about an application of the same argument to boxing?

What beats boxing? You want a violent contact sport? You want great significance attached to the singular event? How many fights will a boxing Hall-of-Famer have once he reaches the world-class level? Forget about 16 a year. How about two dozen over his entire career!

You want to talk about a superior sport? Football and baseball and basketball fans have to wait through off-seasons that take half the year. Know what fights we've seen so far in 2003?

  • In January, Ricardo Mayorga upset Vernon Forrest in their first explosive encounter.

  • In February, Rafael Marquez stopped Tim Austin to emerge as the top bantamweight in the world.

  • In March, Roy Jones Jr. captured the imagination of boxing -- and maybe even the American sporting public -- when he moved up to heavyweight and beat John Ruiz.

  • In April, James Toney beat Vassily Jirov in the greatest cruiserweight fight since the 190-pound days of Evander Holyfield.

  • In May, Oscar De La Hoya, Erik Morales, Sharmba Mitchell, Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy, among others, were all active.

  • In June, Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward got together for the epic third installment of their unforgettable rivalry. Later in the month, Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko engaged in a thrilling back and forth tilt with the heavyweight championship of the world on the line. Later still, Joe Calzaghe made his case as the best 168-pounder in the world in an electrifying shootout with Byron Mitchell.

  • July saw Forrest lose a close, entertaining rematch to Mayorga.

  • Kostya Tszyu fought this year already and will fight again before the year is out. Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya will rematch in September. James Toney-Evander Holyfield is slated for October (with Diego Corrales versus Joel Casamayor on the undercard!).

    No off-season. As a boxing fan, it is just one thrilling matchup after another. I've been following the sport for more than 20 years, and the hits never stop coming.

    The only advantage these other sports enjoy over boxing is an organizational one. As bad a commissioner as Bud Selig may be for Major League Baseball, at least there is a Major League Baseball, at least there is a Bud Selig to make decisions.

    Every major sport in this country has a central authority ostensibly looking out for its long-term health. There is an NBA, an NFL, an MLB, a PGA Tour, NASCAR.

    There is no national boxing league. There is no national boxing tour.

    As a result, boxing is no longer a major sport in this country. We have been marginalized. We have, in fact, through our organizational deficiency, marginalized ourselves. Without an NBL, football and baseball and basketball -- even golf -- will continue to monopolize my time on "Around the Horn."

    Golf! Is there any better reason to get our act together?

    Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and the host of the show "Around The Horn."

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