Why stars like Tyson Fury, Canelo Alvarez need to stop wasting time with potential crossover celebrity fights

It was late 2016 when retired boxing pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather first uttered the seemingly preposterous statement that he had become the biggest name in all of MMA.

To Mayweather’s credit, there was so much buzz and hype surrounding the idea of him coming out of retirement to box defending UFC champion Conor McGregor, in a 2017 megafight that would go on to break numerous financial records and become a pop culture event, that the statement could be categorized as partially true. 

Each time Mayweather spoke McGregor’s name, whether in a positive or negative light, it became front-page news across both combat sports. 

The problem is, that was seven years ago, long before the current crossover trend of circus boxing events became played out. And, yes, even though there still exists in 2023 a decently viable market for YouTube influencer boxing, one-off attraction fights like August’s Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz pay-per-view, or even former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s hunt for a legitimate boxing challenge against an active heavyweight with a name, fans aren’t necessarily clamoring for such events to actually take place.

White whales like Mayweather-McGregor worked because of timing and the unique star factor at play. It also presented the allure of a potentially competitive fight given that Mayweather was 40 and two years removed from active competition when he took on a prime McGregor. 

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If the fight launched the possibility of a bubble for freak fights, meant to serve as garnish for the real blockbuster boxing events that have become increasingly harder to make in the modern era, it has only lasted because of the pandemic and the marketing skills of entertainers like Jake and Logan Paul, and their rival-turned-business partner KSI. There were also big-time financial investors like Triller, who came and went, and even grim attraction offerings like Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. coming out of retirement in 2020 to take a competitive victory lap in a safe-ish exhibition. 

Those days appear to be over, however, at least from the standpoint of attracting legitimate fights fans to care or even publicly campaign for more. Somehow, that hasn’t stopped current active boxing stars from allowing their names to become embroiled in endless chatter for fights that will never take place nor have any business doing so.

It’s a sad, wasteful reminder of this era of combat sports journalism, where throwaway comments on social media continue to dominate the lazily aggregated headlines in ways in which Mayweather once did strategically but has now become the default norm in an echo chamber of superficial nonsense. 

Freak fights have always had a place in combat sports, dating back to seminal events like the peculiar Muhammad Ali-Antonio Inoki exhibition in 1976, which may or may not have served as a blueprint for the launch of mixed martial arts nearly 20 years later. Ali, like many heavyweight champions before him, was no stranger to such events, whether it be against pro wrestlers or ex-NFL stars, yet they all came at a time when it appeared Ali was in the twilight — both commercially and competitively — of his great career in his late 30s.    

So it came with much groaning this week when Canelo Alvarez, still boxing’s undisputed super middleweight king who, at 32, is not far removed from also being the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter, saw himself embroiled in a public war of words for a boxing match against McGregor, which wouldn’t be nearly as competitive as his Mayweather fight and isn’t even possible given his current UFC contract status. 

To Alvarez’s credit, he largely dismissed the callout — just like he did when former UFC champion Kamaru Usman tried the same thing in recent years — by saying he would defeat McGregor with one hand. But the same, unfortunately, can’t be said for unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. 

Alvarez (59-2-2, 39 KOs), still the biggest single star in the sport, simply has too many legitimate big-fight options within boxing to need to entertain any kind of superficial event that no one is actually asking for. Tasked with the hefty decision of who to return against in September, Alvarez must decide whether to seek an ambitious rematch of his 2022 loss to light heavyweight titleholder Dmitry Bivol or to defend within his own weight class, where rising stars like David Benavidez reside within the potential of a can’t-miss fight. 

Fury, 34, has spent much of 2023 spinning his wheels despite the fact that nothing appeared to stand in his way of making an undisputed title fight against fellow unbeaten Oleksandr Usyk, who owns three of four recognized titles and is fresh off a pair of high-profile wins over Anthony Joshua. Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs), who took an unnecessary stay-busy last December in a trilogy win over a faded Derek Chisora, publicly blamed Usyk for ducking him despite it being clear to educated fans that it simply wasn’t true. 

Now, with Usyk (20-0, 13 KOs) headed toward an upcoming mandatory title defense against Daniel Dubois, Fury suddenly appears to want back in on the superfight, if his recent social media videos are any indication. He also appears to be interested in a fight with Joshua, just the same. On any given day, that focus can also shift towards retirement, or at least the threat of, or revisiting talks with Ngannou, who Fury brought into the ring with him for a faceoff after knocking out Dillian Whyte last year, although the matchup never came to fruition.

The most distressing part of Fury’s flip-flopping public persona, however, is his recent threat of wasting headline space by clapping back to statements previously made by UFC commentator Joe Rogan and playing up the idea of an MMA fight against Jon Jones, which is a notion just as disingenuous as the ones Mayweather once made in 2016 about fighting McGregor in an Octagon, which was never part of his plans and only employed to churn headlines. 

Fury continued the tired act days later by stating an MMA fight is out of the question but that he would be more than happy to box Jones, despite there being nothing real at all about the idea. 

The fear, in this case, is that the typically game Fury is using the public’s perceived appetite for such preposterous matchmaking to take attention off of the fact that he’s either delaying or outright ducking the defining fight of his incredible pro career. Should Fury want to channel Ali and close his career with nothing but spectacle fights, not dissimilar to his own 2019 boondoggle with WWE (despite how cringe his performance actually was), more power to him. But there’s too much history at stake right now to avoid the rare opportunity for boxing to have one name and one face atop its glamor division within an era so rife with splintered titles and paper champions. 

Fury’s public persona has bordered upon becoming constant fake news of late yet it works against his claims of not only being the best heavyweight of this renaissance era but also the opportunity to one day make a claim at being highly ranked among the top fighters in the division’s decorated history. 

With his 6-foot-9 frame and the speed and footwork of a middleweight, Fury is already a nightmare for any great heavyweight when it comes to the idea of mythical matchmaking given how unique his physical attributes are. But you simply can’t make a claim to being one of the best in history if you haven’t first cleaned out the era in which you compete in.

Fury’s true legacy has long been hurt by the many years he has either been removed from active competition or the soft matchmaking in between big fights he has employed to stay busy. Yet, the fact that he is such a physical puzzle and that he can fight any style, including mauling and brawling like he did in his exciting 2021 trilogy win over Deontay Wilder, means Fury would be favored to beat anyone in his era, including Usyk. 

If Fury is just delaying in the inevitable Usyk fight while hoping to first bank the can’t-miss payday of an all-England showdown with Joshua, it’s understandable. But his disingenuous ways of communicating continue to scream he might not be interested in the fight at all, especially when he wastes our time building up crossover fights that no one wants, needs or is even talking about. 

Mayweather once set a blueprint on how to manipulate both the media and an entire fanbase of a new sport to get the attention he desires and eventually land the type of “remember where you were” event like the one he had with McGregor in 2017. But all these years later, it’s a tired act to try and recreate.

Fury, like Alvarez, simply has too much invested into his own career and active prime, to waste our time by doing anything but attempting to maximize his potential greatness inside the ring with fights that fans want to see and history demands. 

Freak fights will come and go, just as history has taught us. But Fury’s time is now at the tail end of his physical prime, where his dragging his feet on a fight against Usyk screams he’s either waiting for the 36-year-old to get older or he’s hoping the constant use of smoke and mirrors might dissuade boxing’s fan base from being interested in seeing the fight. 

The thing is, you can’t gorge on dessert until you’ve finished the full meal set before you. It’s time to stop entertaining the allure of vanity and fluff in favor of finalizing a legacy that will stand the test of time. 

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