De La Hoya fights the good fight

Amateur boxing was once such a significant sporting event in the U.S. that major international competitions were common fare on network television. The country's finest sports writers chronicled the events.

These days, network television pays next to no attention to boxing of any kind and the country's finest sports writers have plenty of better things to do than write about a fight.

It doesn't say much for the future of the sport.

America's best athletes rarely choose boxing. They're going to football or baseball or basketball, chasing a dream of a college scholarship and a rich professional career. If you're a teenager, you have a better chance to win the lottery than you do to make it into the NBA or NFL, but that doesn't stop any of them from trying.

Parents hire private coaches and personal trainers for their children at frighteningly young ages with the hope that their child may be the chosen one.

Few parents choose to enroll their children in a boxing club, though, and the number who do is dwindling each year.

With Little League baseball and Pop Warner football and summer league basketball so firmly established – not to mention youth soccer – there's scant hope that boxing can ever regularly attract quality American talent again.

That is told in the declining medal numbers won by U.S. Olympic boxers. In the past six Olympiads, Americans have won 23 medals, including five gold medals. However, 16 of those 23 medals and four of the five golds came in 1988, 1992 and 1996. In this decade, the U.S. has just seven medals, including only one gold, at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Worse, the only medal at all off the 2008 team was the bronze won by Deontay Wilder.

Unless that changes, that means that the quality of professional boxing is going to decline precipitously in the next 10 years. Already, the lack of quality trainers is evident and that is only going to get worse, as budgets are cut for youth boxing programs and fewer volunteer their time to teach the sport.

Golden Boy Promotions president Oscar De La Hoya, who won a gold medal in 1992 and used his Olympic success to become one of the most popular fighters in the history of the game, said in a recent column with that his company was going to invest in the amateur program.

But unless there is a dramatic turnaround of some sort, it's only going to be pouring dollars down the drain. The American amateur boxing program is riddled with corruption and incompetence and it would take a miracle to turn it around.

However, give De La Hoya and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer credit for trying to find alternate ways to improve the caliber of those who have chosen to box.

Golden Boy has partnered with AEG to host a "Fight Night Club" at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles. The cards are filled with young fighters who are put into competitive fights.

In the last two decades, promoters have been very reluctant to put even their finest young prospects into difficult bouts, because the significance of a loss has increased substantially.

They won't admit it, but unbeaten records and high knockout percentages are very important as marketing tools for television executives. The reality is that those records often mean little because the fighters are so undermatched it's frightening.

Yet, it makes a fight look a lot more attractive on the marquee when it's between a guy who is 16-0 with 14 knockouts and another who is 17-1 with 15 knockouts.

Golden Boy has decided not to try to protect any of its fighters who are involved in the Fight Night series and allow them to develop. Schaefer also said he wants to expand the series outside of Los Angeles and have fighters compete in their home regions in an effort to help them develop a strong fan following.

If they stick to that and don't get lured into protecting fighters they think could develop into stars, it will have a long-term positive influence upon the sport. Golden Boy has most favored nation status with HBO and their fighters regularly show up on the network.

If Golden Boy truly puts these young fighters into difficult matches on a regular basis, by the time they're ready to graduate to HBO-level fights, they'll actually be able to fight.

Better, by having fought regularly in front of a hometown crowd, the better ones will presumably have picked up a following. That will only make them more attractive for television and ultimately create better and more exciting fights.

The bottom line is that, in more cases than not, professional fighters are learning how to box after they begin fighting for a paycheck. That wasn't the case 20 years ago, when amateurs graduated to the professional ranks having already been schooled for years over hundreds of fights in what it takes to be a professional.

The Fight Night Club is a sort of on-the-job training for the fighters.

Done regularly, and run honestly, this concept figures to be one of the best things to hit pro boxing since De La Hoya himself turned professional.