As a boxing fan, it may be a bit confusing as to why some boxers only fight a couple of times a year, when others seem to have a fight every month. There are a lot of factors that play into the decision of how often a boxer fights. They may fight more often to earn more money in the year, or less often in concern for their safety. So exactly how often does the typical pro boxer fight?
Newer boxers may fight very often as they attempt to gain recognition and a good record. It is not uncommon for these prospects to have fights lined up every month. As boxers gain more popularity, they earn more money per fight, and the most popular may limit their fights to 1-3 times per year. This is because they can earn more, and build excitement in between fights by stretching them out. Additionally, fights become longer and opposition becomes harder the further a boxer advances in their career.
Now obviously, this is not a one size fits all type of question. As mentioned before, many factors come into play for a boxer deciding the number of fights they should have. I will explain these factors (as well as how they affect the boxer) in detail in the rest of the post.
As an up and coming boxer, you naturally want to build your record and gain recognition. The obvious way to do this is to fight frequently. A prospect can afford to fight frequently for a few reasons.
The first would be that their skills are very good, to the point that they outclass the competition at the bottom of the professional spectrum, as newer pros will often be pitted against journeymen boxers. Being better than the opposition by a large margin allows the prospect to end fights quickly and emerge victorious without sustaining damage.
Rising star Ryan Garcia (left) fought seven times during 2016, his first year as a pro.
Another reason prospects can fight more often is because of fight length. As a newer pro, boxers will usually have fights of 4-8 rounds, each round being 3 minutes in length. A fighter will naturally take less damage in a shorter fight.
As they gain recognition and fight for titles, 10 and 12 round fights become more common. The shorter rounds are a reason for young fighters to accept fights frequently, but there is another factor that plays the biggest role…
…and that’s money. Boxing stars such as Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez are infamous for their multi-million dollar purses. However at the lower end of the spectrum, the pay is just the opposite. It is not unheard of for boxers to be paid $1,000 for a pro debut.
With such a small fight purse, these fighters have to compete as often as they can in order to support themselves. Not only that, but boxers have to pay for their camp, training, their cornermen, supplements, and any other expenses involved with their career. These expenses drastically diminish the potential earnings of a rising star, which forces boxers to fight more often as the solution.
Due to factors mentioned above, the typical rising prospect will fight from 5-10 times per year, although there are exceptions. These factors also apply to boxers who do not have much popularity, and those who have a losing record. Now we will look at the other end of the spectrum: boxing’s superstars that fight once or twice a year.
As I mentioned earlier, as you get more popular, you fight less often. The best way to verify this, is to look at the most popular figures in the sport. Floyd Mayweather, one of the biggest stars in boxing today, has only fought 29 times from 1999 to 2015. This means than in the span of 16 years, his average was only 1.81 fights per year.
This is in stark contrast to his first 20 fights, all of which he fought in a span of only 3 years! This brings his average fights per year in his first 3 years up to 6.7 fights. And these calculations aren’t considering the comebacks Mayweather has had after ‘retiring’ several times.
The turning point in his fight per year average came in 1999, after which he only fought less than 3 times a year. This is because in late 1998, Mayweather won the lineal and WBC super featherweight titles. Since that point, he became a target for boxers in his weight class.
Upon winning a major title, it is favorable for the titleholder to prolong their time in between fights. This is because prolonging a title defense means more time to promote the fight, more time for the fighter to prepare, and a better payday due to increased viewership and interest.
Canelo Alvarez (left) has only fought an average of 2.4 fights a year since winning the WBC Light Middleweight title in 2011.
There is also the question of risk. Why fight more than twice a year, if you can make the same amount of money? More frequent fights make less sense the closer a boxer is to championship-level. Plus, the risk of injury is greater at championship-level due to the increased skill of the competition, making every fight increasingly more difficult.
Because of the factors mentioned above, championship level boxers typically fight less than 4 times a year.
As you probably know, there are a lot of health risks involved in professional boxing. The major concern for boxers is brain trauma, as this type of injury does not usually heal, and the chance of injury increases with every previously sustained injury. This is another reason why boxers may take fewer fights as they further their careers.
Their objective is to earn a major world title, and then drastically reduce their number of fights for increased earnings and limited injury. Also, pretty much every fight at the championship level will be twelve rounds long, making the toll on the brain a very high one with each fight, especially as the opposition becomes tougher.
If you want to know more about Boxing safety in regards to sparring and fighting, I have written a post called How Many Times A Week Should You Spar? where I cover fighter safety and brain trauma in detail.
So far this post has only covered the frequency of fights by professional boxers, but I haven’t talked about amateurs yet. Just as superstars fight once or twice a year, amateurs are on the other end of the spectrum. It is not unheard of for boxers to have 300 amateur fights before turning pro. As with rising prospects, there are several reasons why one would fight this often.
Lightweight and featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko after winning gold at the Olympics. He has had close to 400 amateur fights.
For one, having a good amateur record is a sure way to prepare for professional boxing, as an undefeated record is extremely valuable as a professional. Fighting as an amateur is a good way to get real fighting experience while learning and correcting mistakes, especially since these mistakes can be very costly at the professional level.
For an amateur fighter who has the potential to be a contender one day, their amateur career is prolonged so as to get the most experience they can without tarnishing their professional record. A good example of this is Vasyl Lomachenko, who has an astonishing amateur record of 397 fights, with only one loss.
Because of his amateur record, Lomachenko was considered one of the most dangerous featherweights in the world even before making his pro debut. This paid off for him monetarily, as he reportedly earned $631,000 in only his second pro fight (which was also for the WBO featherweight title). It is unclear how many fights are typical for an amateur boxer, but it seems that most have more than 30 fights a year.
In conclusion, the answer to the question depends on how far along the boxer is in their professional career. On the high end, boxers fight around 7 times a year, while on the lower end, it is about 2 times per year. Of course there are exceptions, but these figures apply to most of the prominent figures in boxing. Thanks for reading!