Boxing matches tend to be organized into one of three types: professional, amateur, or exhibition. But what is the difference between them?
Generally speaking, most of the ‘big’ fights, including title fights, are professional fights, while exhibition contests are the ones that are organized with a greater focus on the audience and entertainment. Most professional fighters have an amateur career before turning pro, and Olympic fights count as amateur fights.
For example, Anthony Joshua’s 2012 Olympic gold medal was part of his amateur career. Meanwhile, his heavyweight title fights with Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022 were professional fights. Elsewhere, Floyd Mayweather’s recent matches against YouTubers Logan Paul and Deji were showcases.
All fights (professional, amateur, and exhibition) must be sanctioned by a commission (for example, fights in Las Vegas are regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission), but exhibition fights do not need to be sanctioned by a body. rector. In contrast, the World Boxing Council (WBC) sanctioned all three of Tyson Fury’s fights with Deontay Wilder, as the WBC heavyweight title was on the line.
Professional fights need not be title fights, but they do tend to have an effect on the rankings in the weight class in which they are held, as established by the governing body that sanctions the fight. That is to say, Andy Ruiz Jr is the number 1 fighter in the World Boxing Organization (WBO) below its champions, while Wilder ranks sixth. If Wilder were to fight and beat Ruiz Jr, Wilder would likely pass the Mexican-American in the rankings.
Also, the rules are more flexible in exhibition fights. For example, a world title fight in men’s boxing, a professional fight, will always be scheduled for 12 three-minute rounds; and a women’s world title fight will always be scheduled in 12 two-minute rounds. By contrast, an exhibition fight might be set to six three-minute rounds or eight two-minute rounds (these are random examples).
Of course, fights can end sooner if there is a knockout/TKO (technical knockout, where the action is stopped by the referee or a ringside medic, or a towel is thrown in), but such results are less frequent in exhibition bouts, where wins and losses do not count towards a wrestler’s record, and often no winner is declared. For example, former multiple-weight world champion Mayweather retired undefeated in 2017 with a 50-0 professional record, and has since fought in five exhibitions. While the 46-year-old has been somewhat aggressive in beating three of his exhibition opponents by TKO, two of his exhibition fights went the full number of rounds and he was not declared a winner.
Sometimes, however, fights that one would expect to be exhibition fights are, in fact, professional contests. For example, YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul has boxed six times professionally, facing former mixed martial arts champions Anderson Silva, Tyron Woodley (twice), and Ben Askren, as well as former NBA star Nate Robinson and to YouTuber AnEsonGib. Readers may expect such fights to be exhibitions, but in fact they have been staged as professional fights, meaning Paul has a 6-0 (4 KO) record.