We say goodbye to 2019. What an extraordinary year, just like every year. But was it, though? Is one extraordinary year in boxing after a decade (lifetime?) of extraordinary years really just an ordinary year? Perhaps we will remember last year as one where everything and nothing at all has changed.
As usual, the highs of the boxing calendar have once again been punctuated by scandal, tragedy and corruption that through sheer repetition are becoming less scandalous, less tragic, less corrupt, and it appears that this trend is set to continue and steepen.
Four professional fighters lost their lives in the ring in 2019, as many as the previous two years combined. Maxim Dadashev, Hugo Alfredo Santillian, Boris Stanchov and Patrick Day were all reminders of how dangerous a sport this is. Reminders that feel increasingly hollow as outraged journalists shake their fists at the sky demanding that “something must be done” without having any real idea of what that something is. Calls for lifetime bans for drug cheats are repeated and ignored. Rehydration clauses and enforced weigh-in schedules are suggested but aren’t implemented. So, feeling indignant and self-righteous but not enough to hold anyone to account, we return to ringside to watch more fighting, and to wait for the next disaster.
We have even more belts to look forward to. The WBC now have Franchise champions, who used to be their world champions, but are now something else. In turn, their Interim champions are now world champions, and Silver champions are elevated to Interim champions (or maybe vice-versa – I lose track of which is better).
The WBA, pioneers of the multi-belt fiasco through their ‘regular’ and ‘super’ world champion status, have made good on their promise to reduce the number of titles by creating a new title – the brand new ‘Gold’ belts. These are in addition to their other titles, and apparently are quite desirable – 10 boxers throughout the weight classes lay claim to them. You too can add your name to the history books when you spend £40 or more at your local Tesco – your WBA title will be sent out to you within 7 days. Great as a gift, terms and conditions apply.
Drugs. Still here, still rife in the sport, still bringing disgrace to fighters and their team, even when fighters haven’t taken them. The circumstances surrounding Dillian Whyte and his supposedly failed drug test before the Oscar Rivas fight were farcical. The “results”, leaked to the world by over-eager journalists, have thrown his career into possibly permanent suspicion. A statement from VADA relieving Whyte of any wrongdoing will likely count for nothing amongst already sceptical fans. It has certainly counted for nothing in the eyes of the WBC who, having stripped him of his mandatory world title challenger status (which he held for just under two years without being granted a title shot), have reinstated him, but warned the Brit that he wouldn’t be eligible to fight the WBC world champion until February 2021. Whyte’s wait, and the WBC circus, look set to continue.
A professional debut for two men earned them record paydays. Last year, a 6 round white-collar fight in Manchester Arena between YouTube sensations KSL and Logan Paul reportedly generated £150 million (around £80 million for each of them). The rematch, a Box Office contest in Los Angeles last November, will have earned the pair of them untold riches when all the extras are added on. Contrast this against Reymundo Beltran and Isaac Dogboe, who on the same evening as KSI versusLogan Paul 1 earned around $200,000 and $65,000 respectively for successfully defending their world titles, and tell yourself there is justice in the numbers.
We were spared the comeback of 55 year old Nigel Benn, who withdrew from facing former super-middleweight champion Sakio Bika earlier this year due to injury. Oliver McCall, however, is still going at 54. He started his career in the mid 80’s, caused THAT upset over Lennox Lewis to enjoy a stint as world champion in the mid 90’s, and recently won an 8 rounder in Mexico, after which he called out Andy Ruiz.
There are a few late-forties fighters who are still grinding on. Roman Krakic (48), Ray Austin (49), Roberto White (49) and Sherman Williams (47) are still going (each with varying degrees of success, but First Arslan (49) is shockingly on a bit of a roll. He hasn’t lost since 2014, and contests the IBO world cruiserweight title next month.
This year will be full of more fantastic fights. But there will also be more of all this. It wouldn’t be boxing without it. I’d tell you to sit back and enjoy it, but I don’t know if I can. I don’t really know how you would.
Here’s to 2020.