"It has no future... pugilism will not last."
Heavyweight champion "Gentleman" Jim Corbett speaking on January 8 1895.
Given how many times the sport has “died” over the last century and a bit, boxing must have more lives than Grigori Rasputin in Tsarist Russia.
“The people and the press are against it and in a year or two all there will be left of it will be an occasional encounter in a barn for a thousand dollars a side,” Corbett lamented as the 19th century drew to a close.
“These accidents have done it, for they were accidents. It is not possible to hit a man with your fist and kill him. It is the contact with the floor that is fatal.”
Hindsight, of course, is a beautiful thing - we know boxing survived the Victorian era but 124 years ago the sport’s future looked even bleaker than the smog enveloping London at the time.
Fast-forward to 2019 and boxing is, according to some, stumbling around the ring, punch-drunk and in desperate need for someone to throw in the towel. The prospect of this weekend’s fight between YouTube sensations KSI and Logan Paul in Los Angeles has had many trotting out the tired old line that the end is nigh. But is it, really?
Yes, it’s far from perfect. There’s an obscene number of governing bodies and belts confusing matters, and the very real issue surrounding doping has also been slowly hurting boxing for decades now, but fight fans needn’t sound the alarms just yet - history has proven this wonderful sport will survive.
It survived way back in 1895 when pockets of society condemned ‘Gentleman’ Jim and boxing’s bloody brutality (an issue that lingers to this day), it survived again in the post-Joe Louis era of the 1940s, when one of its most popular champions retired and the heavyweight title was bandied around by a number of less-endearing champions.
It survived the American Mafia’s almost iron-clad grip over the sport in the forties and fifties, it survived the post-Muhammad Ali blues of the eighties, it survived the shift from 15 rounds to 12 and it will, barring global annihilation, still be here in another 100 years.
There’s no question that boxing has seen a sharp decline since the latter half of the previous century - for a long time boxing was one of the world’s premier sports and, in the USA, it edged out baseball and horse-racing as the nation’s favourite pastime.
This weekend, Youtube sensations KSI and Logan Paul go head-to-head in a rematch of their 2018 bout, although as professionals this time around.
Unsurprisingly, the fight between these two social media stars has drawn the ire of some within boxing’s hardcore faithful and, once again, that same old conversation on boxing’s supposedly limited shelf life coming to an end is creeping in again.
Does the introduction of two men to prizefighting, who traditionally wouldn’t step anywhere near a boxing ring, spell the end of professional pugilism? No, of course not, otherwise the sport would have died the night Muhammad Ali took on a Japanese wrestler in 1976 or when ‘Big’ George Foreman fought five hapless souls in one hour a year prior - sideshow attractions have been part and parcel of boxing throughout its history, the only difference this time is the majority of its core fans don’t know who the competitors are.
Some have scoffed at the numbers this millenial melee will produce but the stats don’t lie - a whopping 2 million tuned into the first fight online and that figure can only be expected to rise in the rematch.
The fight is also introducing boxing to a new generation of millions - hate it or love it, you can’t deny the power it holds over the next wave of fight fans.
You can’t even argue the fight has no place in professional boxing given the number of great boxing brains within each of the YouTubers’ camps. Former world champion Jeff Mayweather, uncle of a certain Floyd Mayweather, sits in KSI’s corner alongside legendary cutman ‘Stitch’ Duran, while Paul can enjoy the experience of former heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs and legendary trainer Milton LaCroix, who has over 20 years of coaching experience and trained no less than 50 Golden Gloves champions.
That’s not to say these YouTube fights will one day reign supreme over traditional boxing. The mega-fights might be few and far between these days thanks to the aforementioned fractured governing bodies, but when two of boxing’s bonafide giants step inside the ring the numbers are still huge.
Tyson Fury’s valiant draw with American heavyweight Deontay Wilder drew in 4.4m PPV buys globally earlier this year. It’s not all about the numbers though, as even outside of boxing’s A-listers, the sport can still capture the imagination like no other. Just this week, the spectacle on offer between Japan’s Naoya Inoue and Filipino veteran Nonito Donaire at bantamweight level was nothing short of thrilling.
Boxing has its flaws. It did in 1895 and it almost certainly will in 2095, but the sport will always have a place in the hearts of hundreds of millions of us from all corners of the globe. The idea of getting knocked down and getting back up resonates with all of us in our day-to-day lives, and no sport can mirror that as perfectly as this one.
So don’t let the naysayers getting worked up over this weekend’s blockbuster fight tell you otherwise - boxing is as alive as ever.