If boxing's powers that be steal Vince McMahon's WrestleMania idea, it could be huge
A&E is airing a series of biographies on "WWE Legends" that are particularly well done. The one about The Iron Sheik is far and away the best, but I'm biased and that's a story for another day.
But the recent episode about WrestleMania 1 and its impact on the overall wrestling business was extremely well done. Former WWE Co-CEO Stephanie McMahon revealed that her father, Vince, risked everything the family had to put on the show. WWE — then the WWF — could have gone bankrupt. Instead, it was a huge success and changed professional wrestling for the better. Nearly four decades later, WrestleMania remains a huge moneymaker and generates excellent television ratings, and not just for WWE shows. AEW has become a major player.
Vince McMahon took a calculated risk. He'd bought the company from his father, Vincent J. McMahon, and could have run it successfully for years. But he didn't want to be confined by the regional boundaries that existed in wrestling at the time and thought not only of taking his business national, but also international.
The greatest stars on the WWE roster in 1985 competed on the same card. Hulk Hogan. Roddy Piper. Andre the Giant. Big John Studd. Ricky Steamboat. Tito Santana. The Iron Sheik. Paul Orndorff. And there were more.
It would be like boxing having Canelo Alvarez, Gervonta Davis, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder fight on the same card.
But McMahon didn't stop with just those big stars. Muhammad Ali was the guest referee in the main event. Mr. T teamed up with Hogan against Piper and Orndorff. Former New York Yankees manager Billy Martin was the guest ring announcer. Liberace was the guest timekeeper. Cindy Lauper was part of the card. So were The Rockettes.
It was crazy, over the top and wildly successful. The professional wrestling business wouldn't be what it is today were it not for McMahon's chutzpah in risking his family fortune to produce WrestleMania on March 31, 1985.
That leads us to the talk, however serious, of a super card in Saudi Arabia in December. Talks are ongoing to pit former heavyweight champions Joshua and Wilder against each other on that show, promoter Eddie Hearn has confirmed. Hearn has also floated the idea that Fury and Usyk may meet for the undisputed heavyweight title on the same card.
Since we've been talking wrestling a bit here, I should note that, to steal the words of the great Gorilla Monsoon, such a card is "highly unlikely."
That said, it's worth thinking about. Boxing isn't dead, nor close to it. But it muddles along in this place where it's not really mainstream in the U.S. and most of its best fighters are largely unknown to the outside world. Every now and then, a fight pops up that captures the public's imagination and hits a big home run.
That's what happened April 22. Davis fought Ryan Garcia in a fight that wouldn't have been made had Garcia not first called for it and then both fighters insisted to their promoters, managers and TV networks that it get done. It was hugely successful, with reported PPV sales of 1.2 million and a paid gate of $22.8 million.
The sport as a whole gains no momentum from that, though. The promoters and the TV networks don't work together to produce the best fights. Many managers still protect their fighters and try to artificially build their records. There are quality boxers who talk big but behind the scenes are allowed to pick lesser opponents.
Imagine, though, how the sport would look if the major promoters in the U.S. — Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions, Premier Boxing Champions and Matchroom — worked together regularly to stage the best fights possible.
People love boxing when it's done right, when it's two guys who are highly talented, deliver action and risk their record, their title and their reputation to face each other.
The boxers have to take ownership and promote themselves better than they do, as Garcia proved in getting the Davis fight and then teaming with Davis to sell it brilliantly. It's not enough for fighters to just show up. Look at the greatest stars of the last 50 years: Ali. Mike Tyson. Oscar De La Hoya. Floyd Mayweather. Manny Pacquiao. Sugar Ray Leonard. In addition to being elite fighters, they were compelling personalities who used all means at their disposal to promote.
In a world where Top Rank, Golden Boy, PBC and Matchroom agree to co-promote with each other and where broadcasters like ESPN, Showtime and DAZN don't stand in the way of fights happening, a boxing version of WrestleMania is possible.
Something in the Middle East is not sustainable, particularly not for the U.S. The time zone makes it impossible to put fights from the Middle East on TV in the U.S. at a time that would maximize viewership and revenue.
But it's not a bad idea for boxing promoters to work together to attempt to create a special night that focuses the eyes of the world on the sport. There are a lot of extraordinarily talented fighters coming into the sport now. Much good is happening. The public in the U.S., though, isn't aware of much of it.
A boxing WrestleMania would be a great start.
The point really is that those who run boxing have to push old thinking and rivalries aside and embrace new ways of doing business.
What better way to do that than to steal Vince McMahon's 40-year-old idea and put it to work for the betterment, growth and enrichment of a sport so many of us have loved for so long?
It's worth a try, for sure.