Boxing has been around as a formal sport since the 23rd Olympiad in 688 BC, but has existed across many cultures in less formally recorded manners. The sport usually involves strikes with wrapped or unwrapped fists and a set of rules that will decide the victor. But I am assuming most already know the general gist of how boxing works so I will not waste time explaining that two fighters must beat each other up until one wins by knockout or decision. I want to spend my time making the case for boxing in a contemporary perspective with the ever-evolving combat sports world.
Boxing is a blood sport with the aim of beating your opponent into submission. Most people enjoy some form of blood sport, otherwise it would not be so prevalent across all of history and in the modern day. But the intrigue of the sport comes not only from the entertainment of seeing people bludgeoned with fists, but also from the display of skill and at times the narratives associated with certain fights. Boxing is more of a pure martial art as it is strictly restricted to the use of only the hands, but with limitation comes creativity as the sport is still evolving even with the use of only two weapons. With such a limiting array of strikes to possibly throw, fighters are forced to utilize much more pressure, feints, footwork, endurance, and creativity to win their fights. It is through this requirement of skill that boxing establishes itself as one of the hardest sports in the world and through this skill and toughness the fighter shows a part of himself unable to be shown any other way.
Fighting can tell a story through violence as it displays not only the dedication of the fighters involved, but also the heart and will to win that is present in all who step into the ring. Being able to witness a fight is witnessing all that that fighter has to give for the sport he loves, bringing you into his story they win or lose. Fighting elevates the stakes of sport unlike any other as the athletes risk life and limb to be victorious, making every single fight a fight to decide the fate of the athlete.
Boxing not only tells the story of the fighter, but also where they are from, garnering immense pride from the people in those areas. The sport of boxing permeates every culture in the world to this day. Certain cultures have amazing boxing legacies from Mexicans to Russians and Italians to Cubans, you would be hard pressed to find one country from which there is not at least one boxer that still inspires the younger generations of their country to this day. Boxing influences across cultures as well with people all around the world being inspired by a boxer from Philadelphia in the Rocky movies or from kids (probably now your parents) all over the world being inspired by Muhammed Ali’s unprecedented talent and showmanship. Boxing is able to share the story of the individual and their story across cultures and to future generations, inspiring new fans, and new fighters.
Boxing in today’s world is a money-filled prize fighting profession where just as in every other historic iteration of boxing, fighters strive for glory, honor, wealth or survival. I consider modern boxing to be an old-money sport such as baseball or football, where a lot of the wealth generated is likely due to the legacy that boxing has built over the last century, but unlike the two sports prior, boxing is a lot more entertaining, in my very correct opinion. The sport of boxing has not been doing too well in terms of the superstardom it used to display and the competition it has with newer MMA promotions. Big names such as Canelo Alvarez and Tyson Fury, although wealthy beyond their means, seem to pale in comparison to former greats such Mike Tyson or Muhammed Ali. Granted, of course, there are arguable differences in skill levels across those fighters, it is still hard to find anyone in recent memory that draws the same level of attention other than the now retired Floyd Mayweather. It seems to be only the superstars of the sport that garner the attention of the masses, but those masses seem to only be people who are fans of the sport to begin with (which is still a lot of people). Now, a lot of money and popularity has been generated on celebrity fights, where needless drama is stirred up to bring attention to a clear cash grab of a fight. Not to be a horrible boxing purist and complain about these fights since I did take the time to watch all of them, but the fights do not do too much for the integrity of sport.
The other issue boxing seems to be facing is competition with mixed martial arts. MMA competes with viewership of boxing matches, often having headline fights on the same exact day, but it seems that MMA promotions are outshining those of boxing, especially since the UFC can pack cards with talent whereas boxing cards rely solely on their main event to draw attention to a relatively unknown undercard. There could also be a case to be made that a new fighting sport could outcompete boxing for talent acquisition. Many MMA fighters could have probably been great boxers and the same likely goes the other way. Many such MMA fighters include former two division champion Conor McGregor who even fought Mayweather, or current UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou whose first interest was boxing. The boxing pool of talent is not fully depleted due to MMA, but the pool diminishes as both sports require such a high-level of specialization that it is impossible to participate in and focus on both at an elite level. As a fan of both, I find it hard to split focus between the two and often find myself paying more attention to the MMA world as boxing promotions often fail to adequately promote smaller to medium sized cards and lower tier fighters as well as the UFC does. I still tune in to many high-level boxing fights whenever I am able to hear about them, but the lack of promotion relative to the UFC does a disservice to the sport.
But, to not end on a negative note about boxing, it can be said that the sport itself is too great to die off. The sport has survived since even beyond the Greeks to this day and likely will not die off soon. even if outcompeted by new combat sports in the mainstream consumption of blood sport, boxing will continue to exist in some form or another as a pure martial art. Boxing has earned itself an immortal legacy through the fights it has put on, the stories it has been able to tell, and the people it has inspired.