A drought has set in over the summer of 2021. The wildfires of oblivion have waited patiently for an opportunity to rush in and consume the few remaining structures supporting potentially meaningful boxing matches, with Canelo struggling to finalize a deal with Plant, Fury unable to make a deal with Joshua, and then the pandemic-related delays to Teofimo Lopez-George Kambosos and Fury-Wilder III. It’s left fans with a barren, charred landscape for their sport in the remainder of this season. I hope you’re all fans of Olympic-style competition, because it’s the best we’re going to see for a while.
That being said, Keyshawn Davis is proving to be a prospect worth watching as one of the first professional boxers to make a big impact in the Games. Fighting out of Nofolk, VA, Davis obviously has my support as a native Virginian. The problem for me, as a viewer, is that boxing is rarely featured on a prime time broadcast slot (or at all), so I’m relegated to the vast database of streaming events, which makes it very difficult to locate a specific fight. They are usually bloated to several hours long with lengthy sections of dead air between fights, and very little meaningful commentary (not to mention watching the same commercial for the 17th time during every break between rounds). If you’re able to click the progress bar and find an action-packed fight segment, you’ve just won the lottery–it doesn’t happen often.
On top of these obstacles to entertainment, some of the fights currently on the schedule are nothing more than promotional scams perpetrated by fringe celebrities and former athletes. In September, Oscar De La Hoya will be facing an ostensibly worthy opponent in former UFC star Vitor Belfort. Again, my appreciation for UFC competition has increased since watching the collection of “greatest fights” released on Hulu (along with Anderson Silva’s dominant performance over JCC Jr.), but it’s also given me an idea of the limits to these athletes’ abilities in boxing. Granted, Silva is a far sight from Ben Askren, but the upcoming bout between De La Hoya and Belfort is specious at best. Belfort’s career has been very successful in MMA in terms of wins and losses, but there have been multiple interruptions, last-minute opponent substitutions, and a hell of a lot of weight fluctuation. He’s the larger man in the fight, but the last time he tried to compete at the UFC middleweight designation (up 185 pounds, the same limit set for this bout) he fainted and then had seizures from his unhealthy weight-cutting practices.
This is yet another example that demonstrates the incompatibility or at least the incongruence of UFC and boxing career records. Boxing, even with the precipitous ascent in UFCs popularity over the last 20 years, is such a better established sport with such a longer, richer history and superior metrics for determining champions, that the two are almost impossible to compare. Without getting into specifics again, this disparity makes it difficult to judge not only the outcome of some of these fights, but their significance in the sport as well. Silva looked incredible against the consistently lazy, undisciplined JCC Jr., but will Oscar De La Hoya put in a similar performance? If we’re judging by conditioning and age (four years his opponent’s senior), there’s a strong possibility he will perform just as abysmally as his Mexican compatriot.
Oscar is coming in thirty pounds heavier than he did in his fight against Mayweather, forty pounds heavier than his dehydrated fight weight (for which he blamed his loss) against Pacquiao. That, combined with his age, ought to mean that no legitimate athlete (with a two inch height–and presumably similar reach–advantage) trained in boxing could lose to De La Hoya. As we’ve already seen, though, MMA fighters in boxing are harder to predict than normal fighters. They don’t stick as closely to technique and their conditioning is never close to their boxing counterparts. They all seem to have the idea that eventually they’ll have an opportunity for a takedown or that their opponent will become so winded, there will be a gap in their defenses big enough for an easy knockout. Neither of those situations should arise in this fight, but Oscar’s physical condition makes anything possible.
Of all the fighters to return to the ring for these social media fueled affairs, Oscar seems the least sincere about the effort. Roy Jones Jr. was basically an active fighter until 5 years ago, Tyson was in good condition and took his time returning to the ring. Mayweather has lost several steps, but has stayed active enough to be more than adequate for the amateurs he’s made matches with recently. De La Hoya’s reign came after Tyson and Jones debuted, but he wasn’t far behind either of them, and while they stayed relatively close to fighting shape in between training for fights, Oscar has had nothing like their recent ring activity. It’s just been announced that the fight will be a sanctioned boxing match rather than an exhibition, but it’s hard to know what to expect other than a flabby shell of the former Golden Boy. One thing is for sure (or as close as you can get in boxing), which is that this will not be a “good fight.” There will be no supreme talent or athletic ability on display, and we have to hope neither of these old guys is pushed to prove his heart.
Hopefully, this firestorm of frivolous fights will burn out the dead wood boxing fans have been subjected to for too long. There are at least three unusually competitive and exciting divisions in the sport right now, but we’re not getting any of the benefits; none of the fights are being made. While pandemic restrictions account for some of the delays, the sport’s promoters and matchmakers have shown desperation in their attempt to capitalize on every opportunity, from WWE soap-opera crossovers to fake celebrity YouTube “stars” and former MMA competitors with nearly as many losses as wins. As the dust settles, perhaps fans will be treated to a new generation of green, untested fighters, some of whom might rise from the ashes like a phoenix from the ruins of our former monoliths. This time, we hope, they’ll be comprised of fighters who want to practice the art of boxing, rather than athletes who want to make some money and increase their Twitter following by fighting on TV.