It’s getting increasingly difficult to make the argument that the best don’t fight the best in professional boxing today.
There are of course glaring omissions, such as the turbulent road we’ve travelled down in waiting for Errol Spence and Terence Crawford to face one another, but the sweeping assessment that today’s top fighters are not interested in fighting one another is kneecapped not only by the quality of fights that have already taken place, but the forthcoming schedule in 2023.
Already on the calendar are: Gervonta Davis-Ryan Garcia, Naoya Inoue-Stephen Fulton, Caleb Plant-David Benavidez and Kenshiro Teraji-Jonathan Gonzalez. Expected to be added imminently are Devin Haney-Vasiliy Lomachenko and Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk. In between that are all-action scraps such as Vergil Ortiz-Eimantas Stanionis, Joe Joyce-Zhilei Zhang, Joe Cordina-Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, and some cursory appearances from the sport’s top draws as well, as Anthony Joshua faces Jermaine Franklin and Canelo Alvarez appears set to meet John Ryder.
The sport’s best fighters are active, and by and large they are seeking their best contemporaries out. As of this weekend, we can add another fight to the A-tier as well, as Katie Taylor will battle Chantelle Cameron for the undisputed super lightweight championship on May 20 in Dublin, Ireland.
It’s an example not only of the best fighting the best, but the best relinquishing the privilege that the sport’s audience expects top-level champions to wield with regards to negotiation and notice. Taylor was originally expected to face Amanda Serrano in a rematch of their 2022 classic, but once Serrano was forced to pull out of the bout, Taylor’s long-awaited homecoming was assumed to be postponed. Shortly after the news about Serrano broke, Cameron posted a fantasy fight poster on her Twitter account advertising a bout against Taylor, saying that it "would be an honour to share the ring with the very best in boxing and challenge myself. Unfortunately, it ain’t happening next for me, but what a fight it would be!" Shortly thereafter, she posted the same image on Instagram, this time a tad more hopefully, adding “like you, I only want to fight the best. I’m not difficult to deal with, so this fight can be signed, sealed and delivered in 24 hours!”
Before long, Taylor replied as politely as ever with her own Instagram post, writing “Let’s get it done, Eddie Hearn, this homecoming has waited long enough!” Taylor even scouted out and suggested an open venue in her post, the 3Arena in Dublin.
It wasn’t quite 24 hours, but eight days after those posts went live, the fight was formally announced. An undisputed champion stepping in on short notice to face one of the sport’s very best.
From Taylor’s perspective, it’s one of the sport’s true national heroes and pound-for-pound greats accepting an undisputed champion from a heavier weight class as a replacement opponent. Neither fighter would have been maligned for passing on the opportunity because the circumstances weren’t ideal, but instead they went above and beyond the expectations of even the most curmudgeonly of home matchmakers.
“Once Serrano pulled out, this was the natural fight to make,” Taylor said in a press release. “It’s two undefeated, reigning undisputed world champions going up against each other and I believe that’s the first time that’s ever happened in the modern era of the sport."
In fairness to the skeptics, Cameron herself once had the same feelings about the sport’s mechanisms getting in the way of her ultimate goal of facing Taylor. In fact, she reimagined the path of her career entirely and moved up from 135 to 140, a major reason for that being her disbelief in the possibility of a matchup against Taylor.
“It feels surreal that the fight is actually happening,” said Cameron. “It feels like my whole professional career has been based around this fight and I never imagined it would actually happen for one reason or another."
In bemoaning the current state of the sport, previous eras and their stars are inevitably brought up as an example of how boxing could be, how its fighters could conduct their careers. It is true that boxing will never see fighters in action as frequency as we once did. The reasoning for this is likely not a generational “softening” of combatants, but circumstances that are drastically different than they were 30 years ago, let alone 50 years ago during the era of The Four Kings. The financial realities of fighters are much different—fights pay more than they ever have, so there is no need for taking weekday tune-ups at catchweights just to keep regular checks coming in. But perhaps more importantly, it’s become more and more apparent to those in the sport that doing so also wouldn’t be medically advisable. The physical risks of the sport are better understood.
However, that understanding may be manifesting in a way that is both more profitable for the fighters and more pleasing to the fans. Younger fighters like Davis and Garcia have either tacitly or directly suggested that they don’t intend to hang around the sport too long. Garcia once said he would retire by the age of 26, a promise he’s since retracted, but the spirit of the suggestion seems to still remain, that he wants to maximize a short period of time. Davis has suggested that the Garcia bout is part of a three-step plan towards retirement. “I ain't going to lie. I ain't really trying to be in this too much longer. So that's the answer right there for you," Davis told Morning Kombat hosts Brian Campbell and Luke Thomas last week. "Once I get them guys out of there, I'm gone.”
More and more, fighters seem to be latching on to this type of career arc. Fight less frequently than the fighters of yesteryear, sure, but make as many of the significant bouts and as much of the commensurate money as possible before getting out with your faculties intact.
If that continues to be the case, it’s something to be celebrated, not lamented.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman
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