In boxing, everything has its price: it’s not called prize fighting for nothing. Leaving aside the amateurs, boxing has always been about people fighting for money. But where does it all come from?
The fight game’s first source of funds was gambling. In its simplicity, a boxing match almost cries out to be bet on. History does not relate whether the Sumerians were throwing down a few clay tokens on their favourite fighters, but I’d wager they were. What’s certain is that gambling was present at the start of boxing’s modern history in 18th-century London. In fact, it’s not all that much of a stretch to suggest that fist fighting was codified as a sport because the workers who flooded into the English capital from the countryside didn’t have space for traditional rural amusements and needed something new to bet on.
In the financial, as in the physical, side of the sport, John L. Sullivan, the first gloved champion, was a bridge from the bare-knuckle era to something that more closely resembles modern boxing. "The Boston Strong Boy", one of America’s first true celebrities, pioneered moneymaking strategies still familiar today, including endorsements -- Sullivan backed everything from beef stock to boxing gloves -- and acting. Even more significantly, he helped move the sport out of the literal backwoods and into the electrically lit arenas of modern cities, close to its natural fan base, the industrial working class.