Does Size Matter?

By Caryn A. Tate on September 7, 2017
Does Size Matter?
The “no one wants to see you” excuse is exactly that: an excuse. (Hogan Photos/K2)

What do these fighters all have in common? It’s something none of them have any control over—and something that doesn’t matter whatsoever…

Consider, for a moment, the average purse of some of the top male boxers in the world. Recently Andre Ward earned approximately $7 million when he fought Sergey Kovalev in June 2017; Gennady Golovkin received $2.5 million against Daniel Jacobs this past March; Terence Crawford made $1.5 million when he fought John Molina in December 2016; Vasyl Lomachenko, in only his eighth fight, received $1 million versus Nicholas Walters in November 2016. Several of the men listed here are actually among the lower earners out of the top male fighters in the world (Manny Pacquiao and Canelo Alvarez, for example, generally make much more than this).

Now consider the fact that Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, considered the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world for a couple of years by a majority of pundits and fans, has made no more than a fraction of even the lower paydays listed above. In his first fight on network giant HBO in May 2015 versus Edgar Sosa, he made $200,000—a career high at the time. Soon after that was when HBO’s Jim Lampley proclaimed Gonzalez the #1 fighter in the world, and nearly all other media outlets followed.

Yet Roman’s meager paydays continued. In his next fight against Brian Viloria in October 2015, he made only $50,000 more than he had in his previous fight. Viloria, a former world champion himself, pulled in $100,000 for the fight. In April 2016, Gonzalez made upwards progress when he made $300,000 versus solid contender McWilliams Arroyo, who made $75,000. Headlining that card was Gennady Golovkin, middleweight champion, who made $2 million for facing his mandatory (yet largely unheard-of) contender Dominic Wade. Wade made $500,000—$200,000 more than “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who was widely lauded as the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the entire sport.

When “Chocolatito” moved up in weight to face then-champion Carlos Cuadras in September 2016, Gonzalez made $400,000 and Cuadras only pulled in $250,000. Understandably, Cuadras was irked that he made less money than Gonzalez, considering Carlos was the incoming champion and had defended and held the title for two years. But the bottom line is that both fighters are top level, world class, elite fighters who made far less money than they should have. If they’d been thirty pounds heavier, or more, there is no doubt whatsoever that they would have made millions apiece. Instead, they sacrificed time away from their families, wear-and-tear on their bodies and minds as they prepared, and, most importantly, risked their lives in that ring for $250,000 and $400,000. After American taxes and payouts to their teams, each man came away with much, much less.

By comparison, in the light heavyweight division, when Andre Ward moved up to face incoming champion Sergey Kovalev in November 2016, Ward made more than the champion: he made $5 million, while Kovalev made $2 million. Of course the champion is always going to be upset if they make less than their challenger, but the disparity between these millions pulled in by the larger fighters in this example versus what Gonzalez and Cuadras made is scandalous.

Similarly, when popular Filipino American fighter Nonito Donaire fought at lower weights before moving his way up the scale. Despite his impressive amateur career, when Nonito started out as a pro in 2001, he signed with promoter Jackie Kallen for a monthly salary of $1,500—particularly troubling considering how frequently a fledgling pro fighter typically gets in the ring. Not surprisingly, Donaire left Kallen after only four fights.

Nonito fought Toshiaki Nishioka at featherweight in 2012, at the height of his popularity. For that bout, the champion Donaire made $750,000 while Nishioka made $100,000. In his next fight, Donaire finally hit the $1 million mark when he faced the famous and popular Jorge Arce, who was paid $800,000. Donaire wasn’t paid over $1 million until he faced the great Guillermo Rigondeaux in his following fight, when he made a reported $1.3 million. But he lost that fight, and since then he’s been battling to get back to that level. So, as a result, the money hasn’t been the same either.

What do these fighters all have in common? It’s not notoriety. It’s not talent level. It’s something none of them have any control over—and something that, quite frankly, doesn’t matter whatsoever.

Their size.

People in boxing often say that the heavyweight division is where the most interest lies. Historically, that has generally been true. Yet there are many exceptions to this. Some of the best, most popular fighters throughout history have been much smaller fighters. Leonard, Duran, Armstrong, Pep, Robinson, Tapia, Barrera, Morales, Mayweather, Pacquiao, and many, many more made their bones at or below welterweight (the supposedly “uninteresting” weight divisions).

What’s more, many fans are vocal in their desire for more action and more knockouts. In fact, smaller fighters are well known for throwing more punches and displaying more activity in general than larger fighters.

As for knockouts, this Saturday, September 9, HBO will broadcast arguably the best card in boxing in quite some time: Super Fly, taking place at Stub Hub Center in Carson, California (which always, for some odd reason, seems to consistently deliver high action fights). On the televised card are Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Roman Gonzalez; Carlos Cuadras vs. Juan Francisco Estrada; and Naoya Inoue vs. Antonio Nieves. One thing almost all of these top-billed fighters have in common are high knockout percentages: Sor Rungvisai has an 81% KO ratio, Gonzalez has 81%, Cuadras has 71%, Estrada has 68%, and Inoue has the highest at 85%. And these boxers have maintained these higher-than-average knockout ratios against top shelf opposition, which is truly a rarity in modern boxing.

That goes to show that—aside the fact that paying these lighter boxers what they deserve is the right thing to do (we all know most people just aren’t motivated by that, unfortunately)—these fighters also deliver when it comes to skill, action, excitement, and knockouts. All things that all of us who enjoy watching boxing claim to love and want more of.

When promoters and networks refuse to pay smaller fighters more money, they typically back it up by claiming it’s because American audiences don’t want to see the small fighters as much as they do heavier fighters. But based on the historical fighters listed above, plus the boxers who are fighting on Saturday’s impressive card and their typically very good view rates in the US, Mexico, and Japan, all signs point to the “no one wants to see you” excuse as being just that: an excuse. It’s easier to pay these fighters less if there’s a claim supposedly backed up by history, and easier still if these small fighters are continually shoehorned onto someone else’s undercard. The outwardly stated rationale for this is that the networks and promoters are trying to build the smaller fighter’s profile in the US, but in reality it looks more like it’s easier to pay the smaller fighter less money because the majority of the event’s purse is paid to the heavier fighters on the card. So, if the small fighters want to fight (which of course they do), they must reluctantly agree to the smaller purses and lower billing. Again and again.

But that isn’t what’s happening September 9.

This Saturday’s Super Fly card, co-promoted by K2 Promotions, Teiken Promotions, Promociones Zanfer, and Salita Promotions, is the perfect opportunity for boxing fans stand up and support the smaller fighters in the sport by tuning in via HBO or buying tickets to the event if possible. This event is the first in quite a while where the promoters and network have taken a chance on building an entire card comprised of lighter-weight fighters. But more importantly, all of the fighters on HBO’s card embody everything we all claim to love most about the sport: skill, heart, action, knockouts, and the very possible promise of a tournament of sorts between all of them. Do them and yourself a favor and don’t miss it.

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  1. Gayle Falkenthal 06:37pm, 09/07/2017

    Caryn, it is a mystery to me why the smaller weight divisions fight for attention and respect. It’s far more exciting to me to see these powerhouses of speed and strength go at it. They have tremendous skills. After you watch a great super flyweight or bantamweight bout, the big guys look slow and boring! Thank you for such a well written, well argued, and well expressed article.

  2. Kid Blast 01:46pm, 09/07/2017

    Those who argue that the lower weight divisions are neglected don’t know what they are talking about. Serious fans always appreciate the little guys because of their speed, technique and power blended into an Atomic Cocktail. IF not, then who are the fans following? I say from super middleweights down is where the real action is.

    If not, then where? Heavyweights? Big Baby Miller? Light heavyweights?

  3. Desert Fox 11:00am, 09/07/2017

    Traditionally the light heavyweight division has always been one of boxing’s most neglected weight divisions. The cruiserweight division has been even more ignored since its inception in 1979. Seems like they can’t even decide what the weight limit should be on a “cruiserweight.” LaMotta starved himself to compete in the more glamorous middleweight division rather than fight at light heavy. However, the smaller classes just aren’t going to appeal to the non-hardcore fan. While the little guys are often far more skillful and provide much more action, the average American adult male isn’t going to relate to a couple boxers that aren’t much larger than the average 12 year old American boy. Even though a world champion featherweight boxer could probably wreck a good portion of the untrained population, holding the featherweight title of the world doesn’t impress that many non-boxing fans. Of the traditional 8, I would say that light heavyweight has been ignored just as much as some of the smaller weight classes. And a shame, when you consider that division has produced some great fighters.

  4. Kid Blast 08:44am, 09/07/2017

    Ask Horn if it matters.

    Nice work here Caryn.

  5. Alfonso Bedoya 08:20am, 09/07/2017

    This is a really great reporting! Pity the poor Mini-Flyweights! They probably have to pay the promoters in order to get on a card! Chocolatito is P4P and should be paid accordingly….period!...who gives a shit if he’s been in some tough fights lately as he moved up or that he bleeds when he is head butted!

  6. Koolz 07:47am, 09/07/2017

    you forgot about the Heavy Weight Division. 

    light weights are by far the most exciting and top fighters in that weight class should be paid more that means better promotion and awareness from the promoters to the public.

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