ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Will the struggling sport of boxing get a boost from all the heavyweight hype?
Saturday night's unusual matchup between undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and mixed martial artist Conor McGregor, was seen as one of the most-anticipated fights in years.
Mayweather beat McGregor by TKO in the 10th round.
“It’s not your average event," said St. Petersburg-based boxing trainer Dan Birmingham. "You have one guy at the top of the game in boxing, you have another who is at the top of the game in MMA."
Posters cover the walls of Birmingham's St. Pete Boxing Club in Gulfport, which he's owned for nearly 30 years. Some of the posters are of his idol, the champion who guided him, Muhammad Ali. While others are of the fighters he helped train into becoming champions themselves: Jeff Lacey, Keith Thurman and former World Light Middleweight Champion Winky Wright.
For Birmingham, the notion the sport is down for the count—that interest is waning—is something for which he quickly offers a counterpunch.
"If you come here at 5:00 our gym is absolutely packed with young kids who want to be just like Keith Thurman, or Winky Wright or Jeff Lacey," he told 10News.
"They emulate these guys, they idolize these guys. I think boxing is still alive.
But since the late 1990s boxing has declined in popularity. Blame has included a myriad of factors: More sports entertainment options, the popular rise of alternatives like mixed martial arts and UFC amongst a younger demographic and the lack of a U.S. Heavyweight world champion.
Saturday night's fight between a MMA champion and the man who many consider to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in history had insiders hoping for a one-two punch.
Paydays for both men are estimated in the tens of millions. While ticket sales were lower than expected, pay-per-view sales were on pace to be the largest ever surpassing Mayweather's 2015 bout with Manny Pacquiao, which earned more than $400 million, CBS reports.
"This fight is huge for boxing," Birmingham said. "It shows that boxing is still one of the number one sports in the world and you got to have big fights every now and then just like this so the kids can look and say I want to be just like him someday.”
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