Tris Dixon: George Kambosos Jr-Maxi Hughes travesty just the latest symptom of a broken sport

A broken sport breaks another heart


We keep saying it needs to stop, but it’s never ending. We keep saying boxing needs to get its house in order but it remains a dishevelled wreck unfit for purpose – there’s no logical structure, haphazard governance, and the majority choosing to water their own gardens rather than work for the greater good.

Boxing, frankly, is on a disastrous run and remains on the slipperiest of slopes – and I realise I’m writing that at the start of what could be a fabulous week, involving Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue and Errol Spence-Terence Crawford.

There are many among us who can see that boxing is reeling and it’s hard to know where to start.

We have allowed an organised crime kingpin and alleged narcoterrorist to call many of the biggest shots in boxing over the past several years. We have tried to shoehorn someone who has failed two drug tests into a fight in Abu Dhabi before due process could be initiated, let alone completed. Most recently we have denied a hard-working, honest professional from the north of England the chance to change his life.

Maxi Hughes deserved to beat George Kambosos Jr in Oklahoma last night, but one judge scored for the Australian by seven rounds.

It’s overdue, and possibly – at some stage – might become unavoidable, but we need looking after because we can’t be trusted.

We deserve some kind of federal oversight, because we sure as hell can’t look after ourselves and we can’t be trusted to do the right thing.

In boxing, the lines are too blurred between reality and reality TV. The lines between influencer boxing and actual boxing are too fine. Are we a sport or are we a pantomime? Have we become part-sport and part-sports entertainment? Have we changed permanently, or is there still time to get our house in order?

Anyone who enjoys or appreciates boxing at its most basic level is being condemned – written off – as a traditionalist dinosaur, and those who like and encourage all of the other stuff are the edgy new hipsters, apparently looking for ways to improve and bring on the sport.

There is a fine line between pushing the boundaries and looking to new horizons, and ripping up history, and nostalgia, and neglecting the greatness of what the sport truly is and can be. Boxing has become a parody of itself, more than anything else like a sick social media experiment, and it cannot any longer be taken seriously by those inside or outside of it. It also can’t get out of its own way. 

Too often, we predict these sort of things, as we witnessed in Oklahoma. “Robbery” is an all-too familiar word. We know they’re going to happen before they actually do so. It’s a set-up, on repeat, almost on a weekly basis. Why should we tolerate it? Why should we let the honest dreams of a fighter be the latest casualty of a seemingly endless – and losing – war on quality control and decency? Why is the right thing to do almost an impossible task, and why is boxing so apparently free from conscience and without the ability to separate right from wrong? Why are so many satisfied living on a loop of shame? Why do so many thrive off of it?

Many of those calling outrage today have probably been part of the problem by allowing their own ways of lunacy to create a new reality; by championing bouts between MMA stars and boxers, and by speculating about “dream” fights for boxers who need to clear their name. Others talk known drug cheats into vast ready-made paydays by calling for fights like Anthony Joshua-Jarrell Miller, when anyone with an iota of decency knows Miller doesn’t merit that payday. “Oh, but think of the build-up…”

There are also those who give oxygen to the influencer bullshit that finds its way on to legitimate feeds and supposedly legitimate outlets. Do they realise that by covering it – even in a tweet – they encourage it, and endorse it?

As for those covering the sport, stop making your entire interviews a mission to get your subjects to slate other just for the clickbait. Dig deep. Find the stories. Build the characters. Build the business. Stop trying to destroy it while taking out others as collateral damage. Stop hurting the sport.

Today, some are flirting with Amir Khan fighting Manny Pacquiao. Both need protection from themselves and one is serving a drug ban. But somehow it’s good enough to be headline news for some. 

Tris Dixon: Kambosos Jr-Hughes travesty just the latest symptom of a broken sport

photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

The bar has been lowered and lowered and lowered, and it’s all part of a broader epidemic. Yes, we have had problems for years, but the whole scene and the whole flavour of the sport has undergone a sea change. Those tainted by the influence of organised crime and money from Dubai and the lack of morals from top to toe are equally culpable, whether they are broadcasters, journalists, or on the frontline on fight night. If so many of those were willing to get into bed with one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives, what does that say about the sport’s moral compass and the direction they want it to take? How can we call upon them for any kind of due process, transparency or fairness? And how can we get to the bottom of anything like this when so many of those so-called journalists covering the sport simply want to talk to people to sling mud at others rather than exhibit any kind of desire to find out why the sport is seemingly so broken? Perhaps we are all part of the problem. Perhaps some of us are a bigger part of the problem than others.

What is the desperation for those to be involved with influencer boxing? Does it make them influencers? Is it a quick buck? A chance to flirt with fame? When influencers get together to play a football match, you do not see football journalists lining up to cover matches far short of the standards they are paid to cover most Saturdays.

Some in boxing not only relish covering it, but several sadly key players have become involved and sullied their reputations with this toxic thing that bares no more importance than a white collar evening and has no sporting relevance – or should have no relevance – on where boxing’s needle actually moves.

What happened to Maxi Hughes is not the lowest ebb – we’ve had too many of those – but it’s yet another low blow for all of those who want honesty, integrity and fairness at every level in the sport, and for the type of transparency and care for the fighters we can feel proud of rather than ashamed.

Week after week there’s a sickly aftertaste, but one that is promptly replaced by something equally pungent.

It’s okay to say that change is needed. It’s okay to spitball a few ideas about what might happen. Do we need more judges or do we need an overall worldwide commission? Judges rewarded and graded for the quality of their work, and penalised when they're bad?

Now is the time for leadership in the sport – self-appointed, or otherwise. The IBF should give Hughes a rematch with Kambosos Jr in a final eliminator. The heads of influential commissions and sanctioning bodies – anyone prepared to put the greater good ahead of their own short-term agendas – should unite to get ahead of these problems, including aftercare for fighters, before it is taken away from them, and centralised. The lack of governance has set such disastrously low standards in boxing that when things like what happened in Oklahoma happen they are just allowed to be.

There’s 24 hours of outrage. The L next to Hughes’ name solidifies and the wheels turn again. 

Let’s take a moment to praise the fighter who paid money out of his own pocket to make sure he left nothing to chance in Oklahoma by going out there early – a fighter who has been short-changed twice in two weeks. There is a greater good in this sport we supposedly all love, but it’s the fighters who suffer the most. Hughes had a dream but a broken sport was permitted to break yet another heart.

“I’m speechless…” he posted on social media, either at the fallout or the scorecards. “Just want to thank everybody for their support.”

Too often we are left with the cliché of poor scoring being down to corruption or ineptitude, but it’s more than that because there are systemic failures almost week in, week out.

Close fight; hide behind stats. None of it detracts from the point that Hughes had earned the right to a career-best victory that would have propelled him in to a fight for life-changing money. Instead, he gets to talk about how, when his big night came, the judges let him down.

There were enough scorecards in agreement from good judges and sane minds that those in the minority who did not think it was a robbery should question their own marks. I’ve been in that position.

What happened to Hughes was not fair, but it was boxing, and sadly he will know that.

“That’s boxing” will remain the case when there is no stringent entrance procedure with its apparently endless open-door policy. Whether you are unqualified – have spent more time behind bars than outside – have lied, cheated, stolen or abused, you can get in. You can get famous. You can rub shoulders with giants. You can help yourself and leave when you’ve had your fill. Leave it to the lifers to wade through the muck that has been left behind. Sadly, too many of those lifers can do nothing more but shrug any longer. 

That’s boxing. That’s what it was years ago. That’s what it is now.

It hasn’t changed. It might not change. 

But – my god – it needs to.