A long time ago, someone used his or her hand to punch someone else for the first time. Did it feel good? Well, we have been doing it again and again throughout history. It probably got a little out of hand, so somewhere along the way violence had to be prohibited.
But this does not apply to sports, especially boxing, where the sole aim is to knock your opponent unconscious. While the origin of the sport is unknown, it has always been for the toughest of the tough, the ultimate test of ability and endurance. There is something raw, mesmerizing, and very real about boxing.
Just thinking of Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, or Mike Tyson might give you goosebumps. Sure enough, boxers are a more modern form of gladiators; they have always been cultural icons, and highly respected people. Consider Muhammad Ali, viewed by many as the greatest sports figure of all time. Bigger than boxing, bigger than life.
Many of us are too young to remember the golden days of boxing, the days of the Ali-Frazier-Foreman triumvirate, the Thrilla in Manila, or The Rumble in the Jungle. Maybe our fathers remember, or our grandfathers. People approaching 40 barely remember the (better) days of Mike Tyson, arguably the last great heavyweight.
The Mayweather conundrum
When Tyson tumbled, he left a hole behind that the dominant Klitschko brothers could not help fill. By numbers alone, welterweight Floyd Mayweather stepped into the limelight to finish his career as the greatest boxer of all time, going 50 and 0. But … in a way, he was also the one who led boxing to a downward spiral.
Unlike Tyson or Ali, Mayweather was not known for heavy punching; often referred to as the best defensive boxer in history, he might have been the greatest counter-attacking athlete to ever grace the ring. He was tactical and efficient, but not a gung-ho, all-guns-blazing gladiator.
Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao on May 2nd, 2015, was billed as the Fight of the Century and is listed as the most lucrative boxing match of all time, generating almost half a billion dollars from pay-per-view. Unfortunately, the fight between two all-time greats happened when both of them were way past their prime, probably around five years too late. But at least it was still a professional boxing match.
Mayweather then dispatched of Andre Berto and retired, only to return two years later to be a part of the second most lucrative boxing match of all time … against a guy who usually could also use his feet to knock opponents out. Mixed martial artist and UFC legend Conor McGregor.
A new direction
News of the match was met with mostly negative receptions, with many calling it an exhibition born out of greed or a circus act. But it turned out to be a marketing masterstroke which everyone wanted a piece of. The fight garnered almost as much pay-per-view revenue as the one v Pacquiao, and sure, Mayweather would come out on top against a much less experienced opponent.
Looking at a list of the ten highest-grossing boxing matches of all time, those two bouts earned almost more than double of the third-placed match (Mayweather v Canelo Alvarez); Mayweather features five times on that list, also at No. 4 and No. 9. The only other boxer with multiple (four) entries is Mike Tyson. But more on that later.
While this points to a lack of personalities in boxing, it also means Mayweather’s retirement left a void. In this day and age, and encouraged by the pull of McGregor, influencers solved the riddle: if people want gladiators, can anyone famous and loud enough be one? As it turned out, yes they can.
It all started with Logan and Jake Paul, brothers first famous from Vine and then YouTube. Another YouTuber KSI – known for gaming commentary videos of the FIFA game – also became a boxer suddenly. A list of celebrity fighters now includes former NBA point guard Nate Robinson, MMA legend Anderson Silva, and reality TV personality Tommy Fury.
Walk the talk
Hardcore boxing enthusiasts frown upon seeing the influencers in action, but to be fair, many of them have exceeded expectations. Now everyone wants a piece; even the retired Mayweather has had exhibition bouts against several YouTubers and MMA artists. And where there is money, weird things can happen.
Take the tenth highest-grossing boxing match of all time. On November 29th, 2020, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. met, both regarded as best of the best … only they were respectively 54 and 51 at the time. Tyson had been out of the game for 15 years while the once untouchable Jones had become a journeyman who stayed in the ring for way too long. Oh, and of course it was a split draw in the end.
When Logan Paul fights Dillon Danis and KSI goes up against Tommy Fury this weekend, take a deep breath and enjoy it for what it is – two people going head to head with the intention of knocking the other one out. Sure, they are not the toughest gladiators of our time, but with major boxing matches few and far between, this is what we get.
We may see the long-awaited decider for the undisputed heavyweight title later this year, but first, WBC title holder Tyson Fury will fight former UFC champ Francis Ngannou. Even Fury’s outspoken persona and a strong mix of heavyweights (him, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Oleksandr Usyk) has not revived boxing.
In the TOP 10 of gross, there is just one match between active fighters, a 2023 bout between lightweights Gervonta Davis (28-0, 26 KO) and Ryan Garcia (23-0, 19 KO). That was almost an outlier – two fighters in their prime, both undefeated, going head to head. More of that to bring back the good ol’ days, please.