Boxing's inconsistent drug policies have thus far deprived us of the fight everyone wants. But a German TV station has taken the initiative and mandated that all of its fights will use the strictest testing standards. Could this work here?
ARD, Germany's public television network, signed a five year deal with Sauerland Boxing, one of the largest promoters in the country. As part of the deal, all fighters will undergo Olympic style drug testing before and after every bout. It's a brilliantly simple concept: boxing can't survive without someone broadcasting the fights, so the media can dictate a standard the sport would never impose on itself.
Unfortunately, it would never fly here. Never mind that nationwide standards are impossible to enforce across the board, when every state has its own boxing commission. The labyrinthine tangle of contracts among fighters, promoters and networks ensures that Pacquiao and Mayweather are going to have to come to a compromise on their own.
First off, it's not so simple as a promoter having a contract with a TV network, as it is in Germany. Sure, Top Rank had weekly fights on ESPN for so long, and sure, Bob Arum does most of his big deals with HBO; but those deals were never exclusive. The contracts are most often for single matches. Last night's fight was on HBO PPV, but if HBO instituted a drug testing standard, there's nothing to stop Arum from taking his business elsewhere.
That second problem is the most intractable. ARD is a public station, with a nationwide monopoly. Our television doesn't work that way. Most fights are on Showtime and HBO, private companies. They're not beholden to any common good, and they're in direct competition with one another.
Let's say HBO did require Olympic drug testing for its fighters. And let's say, for whatever reason, Manny Pacquiao balked. Showtime would swoop in, offering the same deal minus the stringent testing standards, and HBO gets nothing. That's not a sound business decision, and HBO would never do it.
It's the blessing and curse of the free market. The people want their megafights more than they want to be sure their boxers are clean. If one outlet can't promise that, another will. TV can't force reform, and boxing won't. Nothing will change until public opinion demands Olympic testing, and the laws themselves are changed.