Boxing is in the best position it has been for decades. We have a country to thank for that and 5 years ago it was one we would never have expected, Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore we have a man specifically to thank for this in Turki Alalshikh as well as the Saudi General Entertainment Authority that have turned a pet project and a blank chequebook into the most exciting period the sport has seen.

His magic (i.e., money) has turned the deadliest of enemies, Frank Warren and Eddie Hearn, into co-promoters and best buds; it has delivered us the first undisputed heavyweight champion for 30 years; it has produced stacked cards, great action, and they are even venturing out of Saudi Arabia to promote fights in America and likely beyond.

What I am most excited about is the reignited heavyweight division and the fights we are seeing come to fruition. This is the way to make boxing big again, keep the casual fans engaged, and get the sport back where it belongs.

Like the title suggests, the type of fight I am talking about is not undisputed, nor pound-for-pound battles; it’s the likes of Jared Anderson v Martin Bakole on August 3rd on the Terence Crawford undercard. Over time, these are the types of fights that will make boxing great again.

Saudi Project

Saudi Arabia didn’t come with a mission to save boxing, but I am glad they chose our sport. Their mission has been to alter public opinion about them as a nation. They have always had money through oil, but like a rich prisoner, what do they have to spend it on?

The stereotype was that they have little ethics regarding humanity, and anyone from the outside would only go there to make some oil money and get out. They want to change all that, they want more favour in the western world, they want tourism, they wanted to change the public perception of them.

It isn’t only boxing they have ventured into, they signed Cristiano Ronaldo and many football superstars followed. They want eyes on them for the right reasons. Fortunately, Boxing was on the agenda for turning favor.

Anthony Joshua fought his rematch with Ruiz in 2019, and I, for one, thought that would be that. 5 years later, they are putting on top cards almost every single week. Have they changed public opinion? In all honesty, this is not my concern, but what I do know is that the image of boxing has much improved.

I know the bars and pubs were packed for Tyson Fury v Oleksandr Usyk rather than the UFC. I know that if this was a normal year, the same story of Ryan Garcia’s drug test would still be the biggest news agenda, but since then, we have had heavyweight undisputed and 5v5, so we are constantly moving forward, rather than a couple of big events per year we are seeing 1 a month. The future of the Sport is in great shape.

August 3rd Card

Getting back to my original point. It’s all about the heavyweights. I looked at the Crawford vs. Madrimov card, and I’m definitely most excited about Anderson v Bakole. It almost passed me by.

In the past, if a fight like Tszyu v Ortiz (original undercard) was canceled, they would either just remove it or put Ortiz in with some more fodder, but His Excellency has replaced it with the #7 (Anderson) v #11 (Bakole) heavyweights on Boxrec.

This doesn’t happen. When Crawford was promoted by Arum, we might have seen this main event, but the undercard would be nonexistent. He would be too worried about overpaying Crawford that Madrmov, although highly skilled, wasn’t well known, so he wouldn’t spend big on the card.

I get it; it’s about the bottom line, risk v reward. Fortunately, this Saudi venture is not about making money. It’s about showing what they can do.

The best way to stack an undercard is with heavyweights, and that is why we will see the sport thrive. The heavyweight division is the head of the snake; the sport needs it to operate.

The 70s and 90s

The reason I’m so excited about Jared Anderson v Martin Bakole is because it is a throwback to fights in the best eras in heavyweight boxing in the 1970s and 1990s. Of course, those eras are the greatest because of Muhammad Ali, his trilogies with Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, and his upset over Foreman.

The 90s, The Tyson the wrecking machine, the upsets against Douglas and Holyfield, the Bowe trilogy, and the emergence of Lennox Lewis, but as a true boxing fan, it was the supporting cast that made these eras great. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise couldn’t make a top film on their own and neither could Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson do it either.

In the 70s, there was a top fight on every other week. The era wouldn’t be what it was without the character of Oscar Bonavena, the toughness of Jerry Quarry, the power of Earnie Shavers, the enigmatic Jimmy Young, and the wars of Ron Lyle.

Foreman v Lyle was one of the greatest fight fights of all time, Lyle v Shavers not far behind. With Shavers, he could be getting stopped by Jerry Quarry in 1 round, then blasting Jimmy Ellis out in the same round a few months later. Ken Norton vs. Jerry Quarry was a great scrap, and Floyd Patterson, the veteran, played a role in beating the likes of Bonavena, who also knocked down Joe Frazier twice.

In the ’90s, the scariest knockout of the era didn’t involve Mike Tyson. It had to be Ray Mercer showing he was ‘Merciless’ against Tommy Morrison or Razor Ruddock folding Mike Dokes.

The best fights probably involved Bert Cooper almost upsetting Evander Holyfield or his war defeat with Michael Moorer. Galota was a Bond Villain character, and then there was Ike Ibeabuchi, the split personality but great talent. Tommy Morrison had an epic war with Razor Ruddock and showed his fragility against Michael Bentt. There probably isn’t a greater story in sports than George Foreman winning a heavyweight title at age 45.

In the last year, thanks to Saudi, we have seen Agit Kabayel come out of the shadows. I lost count of how many times Kabayel gave up the European title to pursue bigger fights, only twice, not get one and win the belt back again.

A battle with Zhang and Wilder, who would never have fought each other after a loss. Joseph Parker has been given the chance to flourish again when he looked finished only 18 months ago, a rejuvenated Daniel Dubois and an expose of Makhmudov and Frank Sanchez that we may not have seen until they got to the world title level.

Jared Anderson and Martin Bakole represent the next stage in this era’s evolution. These are fights that wouldn’t happened previously; nobody wanted to touch Bakole.

Will it be remembered like Fury v Usyk, of course not but we may have another Lyle v Shavers on our hands whether or not they ever win a world title is irrelevant. In boxing, the risks always outweigh the rewards, but Alalshikh has made it clear that the rewards are bigger, so the risks are worth it.

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