By Terence Dooley
I am a child of the 1980s. Some of you may have been born either before or after that decade yet one thing we all have in common is being handed a bit of money (for example 16p for a Mars bar in 1980, more on that later) to nip out to the shop for a bar of chocolate — a Mars bar or a Yorkie, ideally — and rushing home with the comforting weight of that piece of confectionery in either our hand (careful, they melt) or pocket (wrappers on, please, in order to avoid lint).
However, in the mid-to-late 1990’s and noughties the confectionery makers started surreptitiously reducing the size of their products: Yorkies lost a piece, from six to five, and shrunk by 20%, Wagon Wheels were hit with a 12% loss of mass, from 79mm to 74mm, and you are now lucky if you get more than a handful of crisps in a packet.
When confronted with the truth, these Willy Wonkers cum Dick Turpins tried to argue that the move to downsize came in the wake of the national obesity crisis engulfing various countries and they had been forced to reduce sizes to ensure that single serving snack items come in below the recommended 250 calories. They tried this spiel last year when once again revealing that they will downsize our chocolate bars to make them “even healthier”.
In reality, the not so incredible shrinking confectioneries were not a concerted attempt to make us healthier and were simply endemic of the modern world, a world awash with consumers who are desperate to buy and to be seen to buying to keep up with the Joneses on social media.
Manufacturers of any type recognise this desperation so they can get away with pretty much anything. It has now reached the point were we will bear witness to the rise of the £1 Mars bar, possibly within the next year or two. A Mars would set you back 0.06p in 1974; by 2014 they had risen to 0.79p, an increase of 1317%.
Still, we will continue to consume them despite the inherent unfairness of what the powers-that-be have done to our confectionery. In that twilight, maddening time between lunch and leaving work many of us experience an ache, a need to fill a gap, and we head to the nearest shop or vending machine to purchase our overpriced, undersized bars of chocolate.
You may get a deal in the shop, you may pay 0.80p for a double Mars bar, which in reality is only a gram smaller than the old King size ones — the ones they outlawed for being too big — but the vending machines won’t give up anything. In fact, they are there to steal your soul and will do this by charging you between 0.60-70p for a Mars Bar — I have also seen with my own eyes a Galaxy that was priced at 0.80p.
Despite all this we will continue to consume confectionery. In the song (well, it is not so much a song as an eerie opener to their debut album) Wolves by Dead Prez, a narrator, Omali Yeshitela of the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement, talks about an Arctic hunting technique in which a sword is placed into the ice and some blood is left on the blade. A wolf approaches it, thinks it is eating a meal after licking the blood, slices its own tongue to pieces and bleeds to death — all the while thinking it is eating a nice meal.
The story is told as a metaphor for America’s crack epidemic in the 1980/90s, but boxing is far more important than crack, and more addictive — although I hear that that particular drug is quite moreish — so the track could be flipped to reference the average boxing fan, so-called hardcore and casual alike, or the sport itself. We all need a fix, just like we need a Yorkie or a bit of crack to help us through our long working day before being forced to pay tax on our earnings.
You get a taste for something, in some cases the sport itself, or you may see someone like Anthony Joshua achieve some sporting success, think, ‘Wow, a British sportsman doing well — I will watch his fights’, and do something as heinous as paying to watch him on Sky Sports PPV. This creates an upsurge in viewing figures; with the knock on effect of fans latching on to other PPV “grudge” events, and PPV once again proves itself to be “economically viable.”
This is not a polemic on the right or wrongs of PPVs — nor is it a solution, because there isn’t one. It is, returning to Yorkies, a theme of the world in which we live in, one in which we need to ensure we have sufficient content on our huge TV screens to justify the money we shell out on at least two of them per household.
With the rising price of alcohol in pubs and the subsequent drop in the number of real pubs, not bars, it is no surprise that more people seem to be willing to pay more for more PPVs than ever before and argue that they are a cheaper option than going to watch a fight at a bar or casino.
Or, given the price we pay for concert tickets and whatnot, events featuring one-sided blowouts mixed with one or two, usually one, genuinely even fights will do big numbers for the main event while featuring a number of empty seats during the undercards.
Therefore we have seen undercards go the way of Yorkies, they can fill a gap between lunch and dinner, but they are not the beasts that they once were, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Roll back to 1996, the first time that Sky Sports hit us with a PPV in the U.K., and you had a telecast that featured the previous night’s Night Of The Young Heavies bill, followed by a genuinely interesting heavyweight title fight, and all for £9.95.
There can never be a true golden age when you are paying topspin on what should be a basic service, but that bill led to a run of mammoth shows that started in the U.K. quite early in the evening before switching to a live U.S. feed.
Indeed, when Tyson met Evander Holyfield in 1996 one broadsheet writer complained that there had been too much boxing the previous night, that it was overkill to switch from Frank Warren’s “The Eyes Of The Tigers” show to the U.S. telecast.
Yet for many British fans this era was akin to the “Golden” Ali-Frazier-Foreman-Norton era when it comes to measuring PPVs. A time when you would kick off with a Paul “Scrap Iron” Ryan fight down the pub, which is probably now either derelict or has been turned into gentrified housing, before making it back in time for pizza and the crossover to the U.S. Nights when grown men and women would forget etiquette and by 5-6am they would be sat with their belts undone, bellies protruding, and the black lights of tiredness playing across the corners of their eyes.
Those days are behind us, just like the days of Mars bars that could stop a bullet and proper Yorkies, let alone a return to the likes of the Don King-promoted epics such as the streamlined, by his standards, “The Crown Affair”, which featured Larry Holmes's WBC heavyweight title defence against Tim Witherspoon, Michael Dokes's brilliant rematch with Mike Weaver for the WBA belt, and Greg Page's WBC title eliminator against Renaldo Snipes. With Ossie Ocasio defending his WBA cruiserweight title against Randy Stephens as part of the undercard.
In the current market, Dillian Whyte’s PPV meeting with former WBO holder Joseph Parker is the exemplar, rather than a nadir, and the standard bearer for modern day Sky Box Office events with Whyte himself now seen as a viable PPV option despite remaining a very much British-level fighter with a world-class promotional machine behind him. Kell Brook is the chief support on an undercard that is the very definition of a modern day supporting bill. It doesn't stand out sufficiently to garner either censure or praise, it is just there. Indeed, when it comes to modern PPVs you can pretty much say “It is what it isn't” and leave it at that.
Markets change, buying remains and, like the chocolate bar providers who claim that the change is down to the increased demand for cocoa coupled with diminishing supplies, boxing promoters will happily whip out the violins to make a sad song even sadder when talking about putting a show together. I half-expect one of them to argue that they are reluctant to put on fifty-fifty fights because the increase of two-way action could result in even more injuries or fatalities.
This song will remain the same and as this is my third iteration when it comes to talking PPV I expect there to be many more of them in years to come even if core boxing fans stop paying for them, as some have.
The success of a band such as Queen did not rely on the 20 or people who saw their first live show, it was down to the many, many people who bought their records once they became a “thing”. Like it or not, boxing is now a “thing”, a night out or night in that seems relatively cheap to some, exorbitant to others and there doesn’t seem to be a change on the horizon.
So how do we fix it? To answer a question with a question: What if this is something that, like politics, cannot be fixed and merely needs to pointed out? Can we really expect boxing, that most unromantic of sports when you peel back the layers to buck a societal trend? No. As the late, great Ennis Delmar said: “If you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it.” Or take a step back. The choice is yours, and some would say that choice is the only thing that is free, or seen to be, in the modern world — ah well, that’s rampant consumerism for you.
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