Through greats like Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano, America has dominated the heavyweight boxing division like no other country since the introduction of the Marquess of Queensbury rules in the late 19th century. Some champions like Max Schmelling, Primo Carnera and Ingemar Johansson provided a European flavour to proceedings in the first half of the 20th century but were largely the exception to American supremacy.
The American dominance of the division was at a high point between the 1960's and 1980's, with a new era of greats becoming household names. These included Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Spinks, Holmes and, of course, Mike Tyson. Today however, American Heavyweight boxing is a shadow of its former self.
Some boxing purists look at the knockout of Mike Tyson by James Buster Douglas in February 1990 as a watershed moment, with this fight spelling the end of the Heavyweight Divisions glory days but data collected on the Pay Per View numbers and gate receipts of the most successful PPV Heavyweights fights would suggest otherwise.
While I couldn’t acquire a full dataset on gate receipts the table below indicates the popularity of the division during the 1990’s. This is in no small part due to the presence of American fighters in all of the top ten fights by PPV numbers.
Americans still accounted for the lions share of top ten contenders for the Heavyweight crown but it was a Brit, Lennox Lewis, who began to dominate the division by the late 1990’s and into the 2000’s.
By September 2002 Hasim Rahman had stunned Lewis and Chris Byrd won a version of the title against Evander Holyfield in December of the same year. America's fall from grace continued as Shannon Briggs became the last American to hold world champion status when he lost to Russian Sultan Ibragimov in June 2007.
American success in the division meant that historically the audience predominately came from that side of the Atlantic. It would be interesting to see the most recent data and ask whether the disappearance of this success has led to a fall in interest from its traditional target audience, the American public? By the mid 2000’s the main broadcaster of PPV boxing in the states,HBO, had at certain times refused to show the Klitschko brothers fights. HBO sports President Ross Greenburg cited a largely disinterested American public, poor quality opponents and the fact the fights were in Europe and would not fit into prime time scheduling (if not time delayed) as reasons for the move. HBO and Showtime have showed some of the Klitschko brothers fights but not on PPV, hinting at the lack of confidence they may have in sales of the fights.
This was a guest contribution by Gary Burns - Gary holds a degree in economics and has made various contributions both to print and online media on Boxing