The business of boxing is not a meritocracy

Whether he truly plans to stay ‘retired’ is another matter entirely, writes George Gigney

AS WE entered fight week for the highly-anticipated rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, it was Tyson Fury who had grabbed the headlines. The undefeated Mancunian took to social media to “officially” announce that he is “retired” from boxing. Four days prior he had claimed he would continue fighting and that longtime friend and gym-mate Isaac Lowe would be training him.

So rather than celebrating an outstanding career and considering what could have been, the boxing world has mainly reacted with an understandable cynical “we’ll see.” Fury is no stranger to announcing his retirement only to then go back on his word.

What has added some apparent legitimacy to his retirement is the fact that he vacated the [i]Ring magazine[i] heavyweight title he had been bestowed. It’s not a particularly meaningful decision but, considering they took much longer to strip him when he was out of action following his 2015 win over Wladimir Klitschko, this could be viewed as the first sign of any legitimacy regarding Fury’s latest outburst.

The WBC, whose title Fury still holds, announced that they had been made aware of Fury’s retirement but essentially don’t believe him right now so have given him some time to think about it. He must decide whether he will keep the title and continue fighting or vacate it by August 26.

That date falls conveniently a few days after Usyk and Joshua will have resumed hostilities this weekend, giving Fury and his team time to see how things play out and whether or not it’s worth pursuing a fight with the winner. The consensus among fans and pundits is that Fury would be far less interested in a fight with Usyk over one with Joshua, and for good reason. Fury-Joshua for all the heavyweight marbles would be the biggest fight in British boxing history by some distance.

If Fury has in fact now retired it adds more intrigue to Usyk-Joshua, as the winner would be the clear number one at heavyweight right now. Unfortunately, with Fury, you just never know. At this point it seems we all just want him to make a decision one way or the other and stick to it.

The promotion for Usyk-Joshua II will move into top gear this week and so far it has been fairly muted; neither man has been in the media much and there remains confusion over broadcasters for some territories. Some European countries like the Netherlands still do not know how they can legally watch the fight. In fact until only a few days ago it wasn’t clear where the fight would be broadcast in the US, though it’s since been confirmed that it’ll be live on DAZN.

That aside, the fight doesn’t need many bells and whistles on it as it sells itself. It will be fascinating to see how the two protagonists interact with each other – and the media – over these coming days.

We recently got confirmation of the biggest all-female boxing card in history this past week. Despite some claiming it to be the first ever card to exclusively feature female boxers, this has happened a couple of times in the past.

Regardless, this one is outstanding. Topping the bill will be the grudge match between old amateur rivals Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall, while a terrific chief support sees Mikaela Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner square off. The undercard will feature the likes of Caroline Dubois and Lauren Price.

While there isn’t an inherent [i]need[i] for all-female fight cards, and this rightfully won’t be the norm moving forward, shows like this one highlight just how much women’s boxing has to offer. Though it’s unfortunate that female fighter purses pale in comparison to that of male boxers, at this stage in the growth of women’s boxing it allows for blockbuster cards like this, so long as promoters and broadcasters are willing to stump up the funds. In this case it’s the likes of Sky Sports, BOXXER, Top Rank, Salita Promotions, Hennessy Sports and more.

Broadcasts

So the catchweight bout between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn was officially announced – and it’ll be PPV on DAZN. It joins a slate of PPV shows that are clogging up the end-of-year schedule across numerous broadcasters. There’s already four confirmed between now and the end of 2022 – five if you include YouTuber KSI’s contest against rapper Swarmz, though that’s closer to a WWE event than a boxing one.

What’s more, three of those (again including the KSI show) will be on DAZN, a platform which entered the market with an explicitly anti-PPV agenda.

There could be more to come as well; it’s being reported that Terence Crawford and Errol Spence are close to finalising a deal to fight one another. Anthony Joshua also intends to fight in December regardless of the outcome from his rematch with Usyk. If Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall agree to a rematch there’s every chance that could come at a premium, too.

The underlying point here is that boxing fans will once again have to dig deep into their pockets if they want to watch all of these fights. The fact we’re experiencing a cost of living crisis in the UK makes that even more difficult.
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What’s worse is that there’s no clear solution to this. We’ve had this debate a thousand times. The fact that the KSI show will cost more on DAZN than the trilogy bout between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin speaks volumes. You also can’t fault that from a business perspective; more of the general public in the UK will know who KSI is than either Canelo or ‘GGG’.

Complain as boxing fans might, the demand for these shows and fights is there and that’s why they can be aired behind a paywall. The business of boxing is not a meritocracy, it’s a popularity contest. One that is costing more and more to follow.

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