Dec 8, 2020 - Sports

Boxing's rapid evolution

Illustration of an upward trending bar graph made of boxing bags

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The sport of boxing could be in serious trouble, but the business is booming.

The big picture: The rise of celebrity matches and narrative-driven exhibitions has paved the way for a new era in boxing.

  • The Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. bout drew 1.6 million pay-per-view buys — the seventh-most in boxing history.
  • YouTuber Jake Paul's knockout of former NBA player Nate Robinson — the primary undercard to the Tyson-Jones exhibition — was shocking, quick and highly meme-able.
  • In 2017, Floyd Mayweather fought MMA champion Conor McGregor in a highly-lucrative boxing match that also netted the second-most PPV buys ever (4.3 million).
  • Now it appears Paul's brother, Logan (who's fought twice before) will face off against none other than Mayweather in February.

Between the lines: The combination of a celebrity-laden card and Snoop Dogg's hilarious live commentary provided Twitter gold the night of Tyson-Jones/Paul-Robinson. It also set the stage for the obvious move that came next.

  • The Fight Club is a new boxing league launched by Snoop and Triller (the social app that sponsored the event), which will feature five to eight events per year that focus on musical performances and celebrities stepping in the ring together.
  • Sports consumption has shifted from live viewing on television to more multi-tasking-friendly bites, particularly among Gen Z. The Fight Club looks tailor-made to fit that trend.

The bottom line: If this were 10 or 20 years ago, the boxing story right now would be the possibility of a unified welterweight title bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, both coming off big wins.

  • Yes, but: They fight under different outfits, and boxing promoters are famously finicky about "bridging [that] stubborn divide," as NYT's Morgan Campbell writes.
  • When leagues like The Fight Club can spring up and likely start printing money immediately, it calls into question the sustainability of a system that relies on a smaller pool of world-class athletes and a select few stubborn promoters.
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