THE IDEA THAT boxing is dying has always been a tired notion. Yes, it's fair to point out that the sport has a confusing alphabet soup of title belts, or that greedy promoters have too often refused to pit the best against the best, or that mainstream media has mostly lost interest. Those are boxing's problems. What they're not is boxing's cause of death.
The notion of boxing's demise always begins with a faulty premise: that America is the only meaningful barometer of the sport's strength. Instead, boxing's popularity has shifted, with fanaticism growing in recent decades in England, Europe and even China.
Most sports fans may not have noticed, but since the anticlimactic Floyd Mayweather--Manny Pacquiao fight in May 2015—after six years of negotiations the bout failed to match the massive hype of its buildup and did little to spark interest in the sport—boxing has shifted in the right direction. There have been better fights, more captivating story lines, the emergence of new stars and a slate of bouts this spring and summer that is as intriguing as anything in years.
Take Anthony Joshua's epic heavyweight title fight with Wladimir Klitschko on April 29. Both fighters were knocked down, but Joshua rallied to stop Klitschko in the 11th round. On May 20, Mexican-born Ray Beltrán beat Jonathan Maicelo with a left hook to the jaw that is a candidate for knockout of the year. He also became the No. 1 lightweight contender, thus bolstering his case for "extraordinary athlete" status, which would allow American immigration authorities to let him stay in the U.S.
The next weekend Errol Spence Jr. (above), one of boxing's stars-in-waiting, fought Kell Brook in a welterweight bout in Sheffield, England. Spence is rangy and strong and moves with precision. Those gifts birthed the legends of his sparring sessions, when he wobbled and stopped former world champion Adrien Broner and reportedly blackened Mayweather's eye.
On May 27, Spence scored an 11th-round knockout to improve to 22--0 and win the IBF title. This had been a step-up fight for Spence, against an elite boxer, and it highlighted not just boxing's future but also its present. "Boxing is getting back to where it's supposed to be," Spence said three days before the bout. "The top guys are fighting each other. Everybody is trying to unify. It feels like the old days."
He's right, and there's more to come. Light heavyweights Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev will reprise their close, excellent fight from last fall (Ward won by decision) on Saturday. Knockout artist Gennady (GGG) Golovkin, arguably the top pound-for-pound boxer in the world, will meet Canelo Alvarez in a middleweight bout on Sept. 16. Featherweight Vasyl Lomachenko—whom promoter Bob Arum describes as his best technical fighter since Muhammad Ali—is expected to fight Orlando Salido, the only man to have beaten him, this summer. Lomachenko is 29, as are perpetual welterweight champions Danny García and Shawn Porter. Keith Thurman, who beat both of them, is 28. Spence, Joshua and Broner are 27. Alvarez is 26. "It's a hotbed right now," Spence says.
The attention is starting to catch up to the quality of action. When Thurman defeated García on March 5 on CBS, a peak of 5.1 million viewers tuned in, the largest audience for a prime-time boxing match since 1998. Joshua vs. Klitschko drew 90,000 fans to Wembley Stadium and was broadcast in 150 countries. If this is a "dead" sport, then 2017 has been quite the posthumous performance.
As the sport enters its next era, perhaps we can finally dispense with all this boxing-is-dying nonsense. What sports fans should see now is what's next, and what's next brims with possibility.
"Boxing's getting back to where it's supposed to be," says Spence. "It feels like the old days."