In the USA, the frequency at which professional sports fixtures are scheduled ranges from hardly ever, like the 17 games a season played by every NFL franchise, to a bone-shattering constant, such as the 82 outings each NBA team will make during a campaign. It’s the same in Europe, where the typical elite football league will enforce around 30-40 games for each of its member clubs every season.
Anthony Joshua vs Oleksandr Usyk
Boxing, however, is different. At the highest levels of the sport, the average heavyweight fighter will commit to just a single match per year. While there are many reasons why this barren calendar has become the norm for boxing, it’s debatable as to whether it works for the good of the sport. After all, matches don’t always go the distance and a 12-month wait for another three-round spectacle has a way of diminishing overall returns if the marketing isn’t done right.
September’s upcoming bout between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk is a good example of the rare heavyweight boxing fixture. The two pugilists haven’t fought professionally since December and October of 2020, respectively. Currently, Joshua is the favourite for the win at 4/11 according to the Usyk vs Joshua odds, with pundits predicting that the Brit will likely overcome his Ukrainian opponent in round seven or eight, with odds of 12/1. Some boxing predictions, however, foresee a win in as early as rounds one-three, with odds of 20/1 for round three.
In the months since Joshua last fought, the 6-ft-6-in boxer has arguably become a different fighter, both in terms of his style and physique. This wide gulf between events makes calling the outcome a frustrating exercise for the average fan. Add in the fact that Usyk has reportedly gained 14lbs of muscle to Joshua’s 10lb reduction and the Watford man’s expected domination over the Ukrainian starts to seem unlikely.
The frequency at which a boxer climbs into a ring has a lot to do with what stage in their career they are at. Over 2013-2014, Joshua’s first year as a professional, he fought eight times, an average of one bout every 45 days. Of course, only one of those battles lasted longer than two rounds, against Germany’s Konstantin Airich in September 2014. With just 14 rounds fought in a year, Joshua took very little punishment.
Opponents get tougher though. The difference in average rounds fought by Joshua pre and post-Dillian Whyte (December 2015) is 1.8 to 7.8. Obviously, after long fights with more powerful boxers, recovery periods are extended. Interference from outside of the ring can influence just how often a boxer pulls on his or her gloves, too. Every promoter wants to make the most of their newest, most saleable asset, after all.
Marketing, as always, is behind much of the shift in heavyweight boxing towards rare exhibitions rather than regular matches. Up-and-coming talent, like Joshua in 2014 for example, benefits from frequent showings, but the likes of Tyson Fury and Floyd Mayweather in the present day attract more ravenous audiences if the fanbase is baited for a while.
Overall, with growing popularity and seniority, boxers spend less time in the ring. It might not be an ideal scenario for fans, but it definitely helps fighters prolong their careers at the highest level.