When YouTube figures devoid of boxing skills grab attention with pay-per-view fights, the ominous message is clear. Boxing has an identity problem.
Although boxing rebounded from the extended hiatus of 2020 with significant fights and emerging champions, the sport lacked a consistent presence throughout the year.
And gaining new generations of followers cannot be reached when novice brothers and boxers Jake and Logan Paul, known for their social media platforms instead of their ringing abilities, land matches that make the headlines. Unfortunately, their event buys exceed large fights featuring elite fighters.
The circus atmosphere created by the Paul brothers in 2021 casts a huge cloud over sport. If their lucrative gigs continue, deserving top-level fighters will continue to yearn for attention.
Paul’s spotlight-hogging power play notwithstanding, boxing has a short list of popular attractions that have successfully crossed the threshold into pay-per-view.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is boxing’s most popular fighter and in 2021 the Mexican native achieved his goal of becoming the undisputed super middleweight champion.
Alvarez’s successful year began in South Florida, where he retained both of his sanctioning belts with a third round TKO from Avni Yildirim on February 27 at Hard Rock Stadium. In May, Alvarez scored an eighth round knockout against Billy Joe Saunders to win a third title. Alvarez captured his fourth and final belt with an 11th round knockout against Caleb Plant on November 6, joining welterweight title holder Josh Taylor as the sport’s only undisputed champions.
Many boxing experts consider Alvarez the best fighter pound for pound. But welterweight champion Terence Crawford pleaded for the high place in his ring appearance of the year. Crawford went undefeated with a 10th round TKO against Shawn Porter on November 20. The stoppage was Crawford’s fifth in a row since becoming the welterweight titleholder. Crawford also reigned over the lightweight and welterweight title before moving up to 147 pounds.
The heavyweight class has always been seen as the engine that drives the sport forward. In defending champion Tyson Fury, the division currently features a talented and charismatic personality whose appeal transcends the hard core of boxing.
Hailing from England, Fury retained his seat belt with an 11th round knockout against former champion Deontay Wilder on October 9. The third game between the rivals has become one of the most exciting heavyweight fights of the past 20 years. Fury knocked down Wilder in the third round to absorb two knockdowns in the next round. The ebb and flow action continued until Fury dropped Wilder again in the 10th and then finished him off with a third knockdown in the 11th.
Plans for a title unification fight between Fury and fellow Englishman Anthony Joshua have been scuttled by Oleksandr Usyk. The former cruiserweight champion dethroned Joshua with a unanimous decision victory on September 25.
The year also featured up-and-coming artists.
A world title these days does not guarantee instant recognition. Part-time Miami resident Yordenis Ugas holds one of the welterweight belts, but his profile grew after the Cuba native won a convincing decision against Manny Pacquiao on August 21.
Ugas belatedly replaced Errol Spence Jr., who withdrew as Pacquiao’s initial opponent due to an eye injury. The heightened attention that comes with dealing with an in-ring legend and a la carte attraction like Pacquiao hasn’t fazed Ugas. Instead, Ugas dictated the conditions for most of the fight and his performance prompted the eight division champion to retire shortly after the fight.
Another fighter who took advantage of his opportunity, but not before undergoing patience tests, was George Kambosos. The Australian native has become the mandatory challenger to lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez, who was looking to continue expanding his star power following a victory over Vasyl Lomachenko in October 2020.
The Lopez-Kambosos fight was marred by multiple postponements and changes of location. When they finally got into a fight on November 27, Kambosos, who trains at Davie’s Sweatbox Gym, ended Lopez’s reign with a split decision victory.
Boxing continues to be plagued by elite fighters who don’t face each other in their prime. Conflicting promotional interests often delay matches requested by fans.
No better example is the still-to-be-imagined fight between undefeated welterweight title holders Crawford and Spence.
However, Fury and Wilder resisted the disturbing trend. Super flies Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez also defied boxing politics with their fight on March 13. They traded combinations at a breakneck pace before Estrada retained their title with a split decision victory on March 13.
Lomachenko, two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-division professional champion, overcame the loss to Lopez with a decisive victory over former champion Richard Commey in his return bout on December 11.
The local boxing scene was busy with shows. The Miami Dade and Broward sites were used for 25 cards.
The Alvarez-Yildirim fight headlined the first show at a South Florida football stadium since Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello played their memorable welterweight title game at the Orange. Bowl in 1982.
Hard Rock Stadium was also the setting for the eight-round exhibition between retired five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Logan Paul on June 5.
One victim of the exposure was the Lopez-Kambosos fight. Originally slated for June 4 at LoanDepot Park, promoters moved the date to avoid a conflict with Mayweather and Paul on the same weekend and market. Rescheduled for June 19, the fight was again moved and out of South Florida after Lopez tested positive for COVID-19.