Boxing has suffered from something of an identity crisis so far in 2021. The sport often proudly places itself in a privileged position compared to its combat sports peers, highlighting its so-called ‘sweet science’ and a storied lineage of pugilists and prizefighters dating back more than a century.
But while the predominant narrative over the years has been centered around the sport’s in-built meritocracy, that has incongruously given way to a naked pursuit of pay-per-view buys as boxing hitched itself to social media sensations like Jake Paul, or presented nostalgia-laden callbacks to the careers of Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr or Evander Holyfield.
A glance at this year’s pay-per-view numbers confirms this hypothesis. The exhibition match between Floyd Mayweather and Logan Paul is thought to have generated in excess of 1 million buys – for a fight between a retired champion and a boxing day-tripper who remains without victory in any of his outings in the ring thus far.
Paul’s younger brother Jake has similarly tapped into this revenue stream, drawing absurd numbers for a pair of boxing matches against former UFC fighters Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley. These fights, though, weren’t characterized in the lead-in by an analysis of their respective skills – but rather by questions as to whether the event’s featured characters could box at all.
The answer, for the record, and as it relates to Jake Paul anyway, is “kinda“.
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But after this extended period which has arguably seen boxing’s glitz eclipse its actual product, Saturday night’s classic world title heavyweight fight between Fury and Wilder was another breath of fresh air, and a reminder that there is no substitute for top-level boxing regardless of the promotional narratives hurled towards the sport’s followers recently.
The fight had everything: a testy build-up between two genuine rivals before a back-and-forth battle during which both men kissed the canvas more than once.
In the end it was Fury who was best able to raise his hulking frame from the mat to deliver the fight-ending blow in the eleventh, tilting their three-fight rivalry further in his favor and establishing himself as without question the best heavyweight fighter in the world.