Are Exhibition Boxing Matches Becoming More Popular?

Boxing is definitely a sport with an interesting history. From the countless professional fights with everyone from Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to Frank Bruno and others, the sport is one that has created plenty of legends. As a result of this, it’s no surprise that exhibition fights began happening in a bid for legends to partake in fights that would draw and please the crowds.

Exhibition boxing matches, it must be said, do have some intriguing origins. They first started at the back end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, with English fighters such as Jimmy Wilde and Tommy Farr fighting in what was known then as boxing booths, but it was elsewhere in Europe where the idea of fights not including boxers became reality. The Russian aristocrat Mikhail Kister, during the 1890s, became noted for performing at exhibition fights throughout Russia and the surrounding nations, including Kazakhstan.

As the twentieth century wore on, the practice made its way over to the United States, where boxing had become an immensely popular sport. For example, the Dempsey vs. Tunney fight of 1927 brought in 50 million listeners. Jack Dempsey was the eventual loser of the so-called ‘Long Count’ fight in which he knocked down Gene Tunney in round seven. However, the count was delayed due to the fact that Jack Dempsey wouldn’t go back to a neutral corner.

As boxing continued to be popular and the sport bred more personalities such as Muhammad Ali, George Forman and later Mike Tyson, exhibition fights became even more prominent and popular. George Forman was noted for fighting in six of them in one afternoon in Toronto, some six months after Muhammad Ali had beaten him for the world heavyweight title in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire in 1974.

The aforementioned Mike Tyson would also go on his own run of exhibition fights in the early 2000s where he set out to make a tour of them. However, due to poor ticket sales, they were cancelled after the first one where Tyson faced his old sparring partner Corey Sanders. More recently, however, Tyson faced Roy Jones in November 2020 and Floyd Mayweather faced kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in his first fight following the smash-hit and much-hyped Mayweather vs. McGregor fight in Las Vegas.

However, whilst those big-ticket exhibition bouts have occurred, it is worth noting that the proper bouts for titles and records are indeed still the main source of crowds and buy-ins. As time has gone on, both exhibition fights and actual title fights seem to have increased in size, scale and regularity. It has, more importantly, though, also seen a noted rise in fights involving the heavy-hitters with world title fights seeming more common by the month, with everything now set to come to a head in August in an undisputed title match between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury that is set to take place in Saudi Arabia.

The winner of this fight will become the first undisputed titleholder for twenty years since Lennox Lewis from 1999 to 2000, and judging by boxing betting odds for Joshua vs. Fury, things look to be nicely poised. Tyson Fury, as the essential challenger, despite holding the WBC belt, has actually been picked out as the bookies’ favourite with odds of 8/15 up against Anthony Joshua’s 11/8. That's despite the fact Joshua has only suffered one career loss, against Andy Ruiz Jr. who defeated Joshua in 2019 to win the WBA, IBO and WBO titles, before the Brit easily gained them back in a rematch.

Regardless of whether the fights that take place are exhibition bouts or properly sanctioned matchups, there’s no real denying that boxing has been a sport on the rise for decades and has reached a new peak. Those exhibition fights have helped you take it to a new level as they bring out old favourite fighters for some intriguing matchups that are guaranteed to bring in the crowds.

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