THE surest way to find yourself on the Missing Persons list in a sport like boxing is to become so good at your craft nobody wants to (a) fight you or (b) watch you perform. Achieve this and you have reached not only the pinnacle of your profession but also, and perhaps without knowing it, condemned yourself to long periods of inactivity, during which inept promoters will tell the world, “Yeah, he’s good, but the thing is, nobody knows who he is.”
This thought returned to me last month in Las Vegas, where, as I watched Terence Crawford produce the performance of the year against Errol Spence, I remembered how, the year before, Russia’s Dmitry Bivol had done something similar against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. In both instances those fortunate enough to be in attendance witnessed near-perfection in the ring and in both instances, too, we were told this would be the start of something great; a launchpad of sorts for both. This could still very well be true of Crawford, of course, whose flirtation with stardom has arrived late at the age of 35, yet for Bivol there is now a strong argument to be made that his breakout win over Alvarez was somehow both the best and worst thing to happen to him in his professional career.
Because since that night in May 2022, Bivol has fought just once; beating Gilberto Ramirez, a former WBO super-middleweight belt-holder, comprehensively over 12 rounds in Abu Dhabi. Weirdly, rather than a launchpad, then, that Alvarez win appears to have cruelly stalled Bivol’s progress and, not only that, so clean and dominant was the Russian in the aforementioned fights he has created a kind of apathetic shrug whenever his name is now brought up. Opponents couldn’t care less about fighting him and there is a sense as well that many fans, some of whom would have been dazzled by his skills against Alvarez and Ramirez, are in no particular rush to watch him perform again, either.
One could even argue that John Ryder, Alvarez’s last opponent, stands to receive more opportunities in the future by virtue of him gallantly losing against Alvarez than Bivol does having thoroughly beaten the Mexican. That’s just the way it goes in boxing, it seems, which is why Crawford, although delivering a performance for the ages in July, will have to now hope he hasn’t inadvertently shut off avenues to future superfights. One of those, let’s not forget, was to be a rematch against Spence in December, but that, given the one-sided nature of their first encounter, is an option Crawford, by being so good, may have accidentally brushed from his own plate. Similarly, one wonders who will fancy meeting Crawford at super-welterweight, the division he next looks to dominate, in light of the fact he is, despite his talent, not a star in the category of, say, Canelo Alvarez or Floyd Mayweather. Indeed, the truth is, the only reason opponents lined up to fight those two Las Vegas darlings year upon year was because they knew they would be well compensated for their defeat and become briefly famous in the process.
Alas, with Crawford there are no such guarantees. Worse than that, because the reward system in boxing has become so skewed in recent years, there is every chance fighters like Crawford and Bivol, two men as gifted as we have seen in the modern era, will be ignored until their expiration date has passed. They will be ignored by peers and then, as a result, ignored by fans, those who will only pay heed to talents like Crawford and Bivol if Crawford and Bivol are in the ring with men like Spence and Alvarez on a more regular basis.
Suffice it to say, it would be a shame if Crawford, someone I have no doubt would have flourished in the era of the “Four Kings”, is robbed of being mentioned alongside those legendary names on account of the fact he for so long withered in obscurity and was appreciated only by a small legion of fans. Yet there is an increasing danger of this becoming a reality, not just with Crawford and Bivol but with future champions, simply because no sport welcomes, embraces and celebrates mediocrity quite like boxing.
Mediocrity, in fact, these days has mass appeal. It’s easier to understand and it’s easier to digest. It’s why Rita Ora and Ed Sheeran are famous pop stars, and why Maya Jama and James Corden are famous TV presenters, and it’s also why boxing promoters have been so keen to promote “fights” involving influencers and YouTubers. They know as well as we do that talent is overrated in this day and age. They know as well as we do that the most popular version of anything is never the best; be it TV show, film, book, food, or boxer.
To appreciate the best, after all, requires a level of intelligence and understanding the majority don’t possess. Jake Paul, for example, is a language considerably easier for the masses to understand than that of either Terence Crawford or Dmitry Bivol. It requires no more than a knowledge of his name and his face and that’s about it. To follow him you don’t need to have any grasp of boxing fundamentals or an appreciation of what any of it means. You don’t even have to care for stances, rankings or titles, for in the carefully choreographed world of Jake Paul such things hold no relevance or importance.
If anything, you might say this world of his has been built to specification, with its target demographic the lowest common denominator: boxing fans. These are not the discerning boxing fans who read this publication, one must stress, but are instead the new breed of boxing fan, the kind aroused by mediocrity and unnerved, or simply bored, by any display of artistry. Ask them, for instance, “Where’s Dmitry?” and you should fully expect them to say “Who is Dmitry?”. If not that, they may start looking for him only to then stop when feeling a vibration against their thigh, at which point you know they’ve become distracted; distracted by either a Tyson Fury retirement tweet, a video of Johnny Fisher’s dad ordering a Chinese takeaway, or Eddie Hearn and Simon Jordan teaching each other new words. “Sorry. Who is it I am looking for again?”