Is Boxing in Danger of Losing its Prestige?

Oliver Donaldson reflects on Mayweather’s humiliation of Nasukawa

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Mayweather mid-fight
Source: Wikipedia

Floyd Mayweather took on the Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa on the 31st of December in an exhibition match in Tokyo. This was a farcical end to what has been an incredible year of boxing, with Mayweather laughing throughout the contest and his 20-year-old opponent left weeping after failing to throw a single punch inside the first 30 seconds, falling to the canvas three times inside the first two minutes and throwing in the towel after just 136 seconds.

The difference in presence in the ring was palpable as a boxing rookie was dismantled by a man considered to be one of the best boxers of all time. Despite the ludicrous nature of the bout, Mayweather claimed that he made $9,000,000 from the encounter. This fight, another brash promotion by Mayweather and his team, has galled many boxing purists who have denounced the bout as a ridicule of the sport.

Indeed, Mayweather came into the fight ten pounds heavier and four inches taller than Nasukawa, this was significant considering that the 20-year-old professional kickboxer had never previously competed in a straight boxing match.

“It was all about entertainment – we had a lot of fun,” Mayweather said after the fight, confirming that this was a completely insignificant non-event. One can therefore understand that people within the fight game are unhappy. This mismatch and the money and attention it generated seemed insulting to those who have dedicated their lives to becoming boxers, just like it would be a mockery to kickboxing if Mayweather entered such a sport.

For boxing purists, the boxer should focus on their profession and the kickboxer should stay in their own lane. These are two completely different sports – like hockey and rugby. People in the fight see this as a hoax because the (paying) viewing public are sucked in by the hype of the bout, even though the conclusion is practically foregone, and millions of pounds is generated by a contest that is of alarmingly low quality.

Yet the question has to be asked: if the quality of a contest is inevitably going to be so poor, why are we still transfixed by it? It is simply because this is a boxing match after all, and the phrase “a puncher’s chance” exists for a reason.

If we look back to the commercial success of the white-collar amateur boxing match between the Youtubers KSI and Logan Paul in August 2018, another significant boxing event which took place much to the ire of boxing purists, it is clear that the technical and competitive quality of a contest is not at the forefront of the average viewer’s mind.

After the success of the 2017 McGregor-Mayweather fight, Mayweather and his team have learned to tap into this casual boxing audience by focusing on the crossover appeal – athletes highly regarded in different combat disciplines challenging Mayweather’s unbeaten boxing record.

Although this is not strictly boxing in its purest form, it has never been dressed up to be. People seem to forget that, at the age of 41, Mayweather has officially retired from boxing and is therefore at the stage in his career where he will only make fight comebacks for matches which offer him sufficient financial incentive and little threat to his unblemished record.

His bout with Nasukawa, a threeround exhibition match without judges, for which Mayweather didn’t really have to train, is blatantly for show and “entertainment”. It is all too evident that these kind of events aren’t even pretending to be sports anymore.

This may be an extravaganza, but it is also a business model and a commercial project. Being a boxing purist and a businessman are entirely different and that is the reality of the boxing profession today.

The hype is taking over the boxing – and for those who have worked their entire lives to make a living in the sport, that must feel like the biggest gut-punch of all.

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