On Saturday, March 14, Murphys Boxing was scheduled to host its fifth annual St. Patrick’s Day boxing card at the House of Blues in Boston. Perhaps more than any other time of year, that particular weekend is synonymous with club shows in boxing—think all-Irish showdowns, shows in bars, green beer spilling ringside. Unfortunately, this year it fell on the same weekend when the realities of COVID-19 became apparent in the United States, and the many local fighters on the Murphys show and elsewhere in the country were out of a paycheck that night and for the foreseeable future.
Promoter Ken Casey’s band The Dropkick Murphys played a live steamed concert while everyone remained home, where we all remain today.
Chris Jay, the director of communications for Murphys, decided he needed to do something. As a boxing lifer who has worked corners, called fights, handled publicity and more for fighters of all levels, he was attuned to the plight of the club fighter. One of the many things the COVID-19 crisis has revealed is the vulnerability of the W-9 contract worker, a category boxers fall into. Most undercard fighters either live paycheck to paycheck through boxing, or use their fight checks to meaningfully supplement piecemeal work they do outside of the ring. For many, no fights mean no income, with little savings to fall back on.
Jay helped set up the Fighting For Fighters Fund with Contenders Clothing CEO Jonathan Snyder to help provide relief for boxers financially affected by the ongoing pandemic. The company has created a “Going The (Social) Distance” t-shirt and will donate 100% of the proceeds from it to fighters, along with 10% of the company’s overall sales. All fighters need to do is sign up on the company’s website, and the total amount will be divided equally amongst eligible boxers and paid out the first week of May.
“Although Contenders is really well known with our affiliation with Tyson Fury, the truth is, that's not how we were put on the map--it was club fighters. Guys started embracing the company and started wearing our stuff to the weigh ins. We made friends with all these fighters, but the off-TV guys, guys that supplement their income, and in some cases make their entire income from professional fighting. And when this all happened, we just saw how devastating it was. It dawned on me and Jonathan that a lot of fighters are in a real bad place,” said Jay. “They don't have the ability to get basic unemployment the way a normal W-2 worker would. Granted, there are some federal programs in development, but they're not in place yet in the United States. So we are literally watching guys who I know personally were counting on that money to pay rent in April, or to buy groceries. We just wanted to help. It’s a Band-Aid to a much bigger problem, but we wanted to put our money where our mouth is.”
The efforts from Contenders also highlights one of the issues facing boxers out of work right now, which is a near total lack of supplemental income for fighters. Contenders is one of only a handful of companies who make boxing and boxing-themed merchandise, focusing mainly on its licenses with Muhammad Ali and the Rocky film franchise. Its contemporary, Roots of Fight, has enjoyed cultural cache thanks to its retro designs of shirts for various Hall of Fame fighters as well. But when it comes to modern fighters, finding merchandise for your favorite boxer can be a pretty tough task.
“Boxers today need to take the Marvin Hagler approach when it comes to merchandise and marketing. The man had his own store, his own logo and put his name and likeness on literally everything you could think of. Just look at some of the old advertisements in magazines,” said Aris Pina, boxing historian and CompuBox operator who likely owns one of the most impressive collections of boxing t-shirts. “Now, there’s some that do it today like GGG whose gear sells out instantly and Lomachenko who I notice always has a ton of stuff for sale as well. But boxers in general should start making their own shirts and gear for sale the way wrestlers do because there is a demand for it.”
Pina points out the parallel between boxers and independent professional wrestlers, both athletes who are contractors in an identical position at the moment. The wrestling marketplace, similar to the music marketplace, is flooded with merchandise, and for the performers themselves, that merchandise money can often exceed what they make for going in the ring. Ryan Barkan, founder and CEO of ProWrestlingTees, says that some wrestlers can make $10,000 a month on shirt sales alone.
“As long as a boxer has fans and is willing to promote on social media, there’s no reason why a boxer can’t sell shirts, it’s super easy,” said Barkan, who has started to expand his site to include MMA fighters as well. ProWrestlingTees and its parent company OneHourTees uses a direct-to-garment model, meaning shirts are only printed once ordered, taking away all overhead cost outside of the cost of the design, which can be made in house or provided by the seller.
Many wrestlers are able to survive during this time based off of merchandise sales. Unfortunately, that market hasn’t yet been tapped into by boxers, but it’s one companies like Contenders have an interest in creating if fighters are interested in taking that step for boxers of all levels.
“Shame on some of these managers for not being on top of it and seeing that there's other ways fighters can make money. Everybody waits either for the check from the promoter or for the local car company to put a patch on their trunks,” said Jay. “A fighter needs to know wait, I can literally make my own design, I could go to a screen printer and make them myself and make extra money? Yes you could, and it's guys like me who would buy those shirts.”
If you are an active professional fighter based in the United States whose income has been affected by the Covid-19 crisis please sign up at:
If you'd like to purchase the Go the Social Distance t-shirt and have all proceeds go to the Fighting for Fighters Fund, please head to: