Declarations that boxing is swirling the drain are nothing new. The doom-mongers have prophesied the death of the sport for well over a century. Back in 1895, heavyweight champion ‘Gentleman’ Jim Corbett even claimed, “it has no future… pugilism will not last.”
Yet, here we are. 128 years on from that fatalistic forecast and boxing is still thriving, watched with dedication by millions around the world, gobbling up headlines, column inches, and conjuring an intrigue that no other sport comes close to matching. Boxing is far from dead and it will be here, alive and kicking, long after we’re gone.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need a shot of adrenaline plunged directly into its beating heart from time to time. Despite its immortality, the sweet science is clearly going through a rough patch - that much is undeniable to even the most optimistic of its disciples.
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Many might turn to the rise of the influencer within the confines of the squared circle as proof that the sport is firmly on its rear end. The increase in popularity among the YouTube and TikTok generation has been met with fierce resistance by boxing’s so-called hardcore elite.
But while the likes of KSI, his merry band of Misfits, and Jake Paul can often turn boxing into a sideshow that would make P. T. Barnum weak at the knees, there’s been little to no actual damage caused by their antics. If anything, they’ve only brought new fans to the sport which can only be viewed as a resounding success.
Boxing’s current ailment has been self-inflicted. The inability to make the biggest fights happen has been nothing short of catastrophic this year. We’ve already seen an undisputed heavyweight world title showdown between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk collapse, a potential British classic between Conor Benn and Chris Eubank Jr reduced to rubble courtesy of a doping scandal, while a generation defining battle between Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford seems further away than ever.
Thank the heavens then that the boxing gods gifted us a mouth-watering lightweight spectacle to look forward to in May. It was announced on Tuesday night that Devin Haney will put his undisputed WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO lightweight titles on the line against the great Vasyl Lomachenko, himself a three weight world champion, in one of the year’s most tantalising bouts.
The lightweight division seems to have been given the unenviable task of carrying the entire sport on its slender shoulders in recent times, with several of boxing’s biggest names plying their trade at 135lbs. Haney-Lomachenko is just the latest example of this.
Gervonta Davis’s clash with Ryan Garcia at the end of April is already the year’s most anticipated showdown, a true battle between power and speed that could be the most aesthetically pleasing encounter in recent memory.
Then there’s Shakur Stevenson, already a two-weight champion and future superstar, who makes his debut in the weight class next weekend against Shuichiro Yoshino. Should he win that, a bounty of options would open up to the Olympic silver medallist, not least the winners of the fights mentioned above. Either would result in another lucrative and groundbreaking lightweight contest.
George Kambosos Jr, Isaac Cruz, William Zepeda, Denys Berinchyk, Frank Martin… this is a division stacked with quality and should be seen as a guiding beacon for the rest of the sport.
Boxing’s sketchy reputation could be repaired in a heartbeat if it took a leaf from the lightweight book. Many of the other weight-classes are rich in quality like the lightweights - the heavyweights, the most maligned of all divisions right now, is full to the brim with talent. Their giant statures however seem to be matched with even bigger egos.
The lightweights leave theirs at the door, allowing the best to fight the best regularly. If the rest of boxing followed suit, then we might be able to put this ‘boxing is dead’ tripe to bed for good… or at least for a few months anyway.