LONG before Oleksandr Usyk called Tyson Fury “greedy belly” and summed up both the reason why a fight between them would never happen and why the heavyweight division is on its knees, Edward Abbey, author and environmentalist, told the world, “A house built on greed cannot long endure.”
In boxing, we see sadly evidence of this year upon year. We see boxers, primarily male ones, boxing less and less and in turn normalising the idea that one or two fights a year is perfectly fine. We also see big fights between well-matched stars of the sport no longer materialising on account of there not being enough money in the pot, or no sheikhs involved, or one of them wanting to walk to the ring last, or one of them wanting to be branded the “A-side” as if such a thing matters.
As always, it stems from greed, this issue. Not only that, it is a greed the promoters involved in the sport have carelessly encouraged, often allowing their fighters to delude themselves into thinking they are worth more than they are, as well as forever dangling before them the carrot of a money-spinning pay-per-view headline date. This, as a result, has warped the minds of many of these boxers. It has convinced them they are superstars long before they have done anything in the ring to suggest that is the case. It has them believing the world revolves around them and that the world, because of this, will one day deliver everything they apparently deserve. Worst of all, success nowadays, both in boxing and more general terms, has become so malevolently entwined with wealth and numbers and status and clicks, there is nothing, not even legacy or pride, that can challenge this gluttony.
The only antidote at this stage, in fact, appears to be what is going on in the women’s game. There, in stark contrast to the men, we are seeing the best in the world get busy, achieve things, and also fight each other at the right time; both when it appeals to the fans and when it makes sense, in competition and financial terms, for the women. In truth, women’s boxing is right now everything men’s boxing prevents itself from being. No longer as jaded, or as morose, or as selfish as its big brother, it strolls through life with an air of positivity and blissful ignorance, the kind typically found in a young person preparing to set foot on a university campus for the first time.
Chances are, it will eventually have this positivity beaten out of it, either by the demands of life, the demands of the profession, or indeed its own greed. But, for now, we must embrace what the women’s game has done to a sport in danger of grinding to a halt because some of its key participants are more consumed with counting zeros than actually fighting.
It’s this reluctance that has inadvertently opened doors for the females, though never in a way anyone would consider chivalrous. Now we find them headlining big events to fill schedules for various broadcasters, as well as filling undercards not as novelty acts but as a usually compelling part of the bill. Sometimes, you will find two or three female fights on a major show. Sometimes, as we saw last October, you will even find they comprise an entire bill.
The reasons for this development are manifold. On the one hand, the movement reflects a welcome change in wider society, which, with good reason, is the bedtime story the sport wants us to hear. However, the en masse introduction of women to fight cards, and the creation of titles for these women, also allows promoters to deliver more headliners and “world title” fights to broadcasters and allows sanctioning bodies to take money from yet more boxers eager to have a belt attached to their body.
Because there are seemingly no fighters more grateful than women – whether that’s for attention, adulation or, simply, an opportunity – and there are, in the eyes of promoters, no fighters more affordable, particularly at world level. That’s not to say these women are content to do things on the cheap, or can be easily bought, but clearly, by virtue of them being new to the sport at this level and being so desperate for their deserved chance, it is only natural they will be less willing to haggle than the men; who, conversely, are nowadays drowning in their own greed, complacency, and self-importance. We should therefore treat the idea that boxing has suddenly grown up and become tolerant with a pinch of salt and instead try to just appreciate the women’s game for what it is: an idealistic take on what boxing should be and can be if principles are placed above personalities and competition weighs more than cash.
As for the future, one only hopes the work of these inspirational women – the ones who can truly fight and have been doing so for years – isn’t later undone by the same thing that pollutes the men’s game: money, greed, ego, the thirst for attention and clicks. It could happen, too. Quickly. Easily. Unwittingly. In fact, these days, thanks to the vital service provided by boxing’s YouTube channels and videographers, it is hard to now navigate the already soul-destroying world of social media without encountering clips of females (influencers, gamers, porn stars) calling themselves “boxers” and each other “c***s”, all the while wearing only the look of disappointment they saw on their father’s face at Christmas that one time.
Admittedly, this is not and should never be confused with “women’s boxing”. What it is, though, is a group of women for one night being treated like boxers by self-serving promoters, broadcasters and content creators keen to exploit female desperation for attention. Whatever its actual name, or purpose, the optics, which are provided by the very fans with benefits who demand to be taken seriously, are not exactly great.
Now, of course, I understand, due to some recent education on the matter, that this coverage is important as far as both the growth of these channels and the sport itself – which, by all accounts, is something the “media” are meant to “promote”– but still it pushes a worrying agenda, especially in the context of women’s boxing. It suggests, after all, that despite the class and humility of Katie Taylor, the grit and charisma of Claressa Shields, and the sheer perseverance of someone like Natasha Jonas, it is, in a world like ours, where inanity is preferable to insight and selfies trump self-respect, still easier to drag women down to the level of men than elevate them as examples – or, better yet, allow them to raise the bar.