Modern boxing — beloved pastime or hype machine?

Boxing is one of, if not the most,  popular combat sports that everyone has heard of. Outside of enjoying the technical aspects of the sport, I’d think most would agree that there is an appeal in watching two people try to punch each other’s lights out for a few three-minute rounds. From brutal wars where hands fly until one hits the canvas to chess matches where the fighters break each other down until the last second, boxing offers some of the best spectacles in sport. Although for those who make this sport their livelihood and understand the history and risks associated with the sport, watching some young YouTuber make millions knocking out the human equivalent of a bag of mayonnaise will likely take away from some of the dignity of the sport. 

Having watched the Jake Paul and Ben Askren fight this past weekend,  where the only nice thing about the fight was hearing Snoop Dogg say that Ben Askren was built “like a bag of milk,” I’ve found myself disappointed at what brings people to watch boxing. Whether you actually paid to watch that atrocity or not, it was still not worth any bit of time spent. From watching horrible, no-audience concerts to awful undercard fights, it felt that this show was taking away from the sport of boxing. Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Jake Paul get smacked around, but retired and newly concussed Ben Askren was never the guy to do so. With the fight ended in the first round with Askren getting dropped by a jab cross and then a questionable stoppage, it is easy to feel that the whole event was just a massive cash grab. The pay-per-view (PPV) numbers speak for themselves at 1.5 million PPV sold, generating 75 million dollars. Askren himself said the biggest motivation for him fighting was the money of which he received half a million dollars guaranteed. I would gladly fight Jake Paul for that much money, personally. Now I can’t fully fault someone for using a working formula to generate a bunch of money, but there is a possible detrimental effect on the sport of boxing from these types of events, but there also may be a bright side to these hyped-up money fights at the same time. 

Many perceive these types of fights to be disrespectful to the sport of boxing. To those who put years of their life into this sport while simultaneously taking years off of their lives with often little to show for it in terms of the massive fight purses generated in their smaller fights, it’s easy to see why some would find it harmful to the sport. Mexican boxing superstar Canelo Álvarez, who currently holds multiple world championships, has openly spoken out against these fights. Canelo has stated, when asked if he himself would ever take one of these fights that, “I truly believe that it’s a lack of respect. It’s all based on money. It’s all for money”, which gives the feeling that he doesn’t take too kindly to these events in the sport that he has dominated for years now. On Mike Tyson’s podcast, Canelo did credit the Paul brothers for stepping in the ring with the general respect for putting themselves on the line in the risky sport. But Canelo did share concern for Nate Robinson, one of Jake Paul’s prior opponents who he knocked unconscious in their fight late last year. Canelo said that Nate had no need to become a professional boxer just be thrown in the ring with minimal training and left half dead at the end of the fight. For anyone who knows anything about brain trauma, boxing is not too kind to those who routinely get punched in the head and especially those who get knocked unconscious,  whether once or multiple times. Each person has a limit to the punishment they can endure, and each clean punch will take time off their life. Since committing to this sport requires an investment of a fighter’s time now and later in life, it is easier to see why boxers like Canelo might take these money fights as offensive to the sport and those in it. 

There may be a bright side for boxing at the end of the day if you are able to withstand the awful displays of boxing at these events. Legendary heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson has shown some kindness to the money fights, probably since his bout with Roy Jones Jr. late last year bagged him a pretty paycheck. After that fight, Tyson stated that “Boxing was pretty much a dying sport… boxing is going back thanks to the YouTube boxers.” Tyson highlights an issue that has recently faced the sport of boxing, which is the presence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and mixed martial arts (MMA.) With the UFC rolling out entertaining fight cards week after week, it seems that boxing only comes out when big names like Canelo, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are on the main event. Trying to ignoree my own MMA bias, the only boxing event I remember being excited about in recent memory was the rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder which was all the way in February of last year. The hyped-up money fights tend to draw a lot of attention from people who are not into boxing, but who want to see young YouTubers possibly get knocked out — or are just fans of whoever is trying their hand at boxing and is willing to buy an overpriced PPV. The fights get views, and that’s what’s important for boxing at the moment, as any publicity is good publicity–even if it’s on Jake Paul’s coattails. Hopefully, the benefit of these fights is the introduction of the sport to a new and young audience that will keep boxing in competition with the UFC or other combat sport promotions.