For Gold or Glory? Money as Motivation in Boxing

Over at boxingscene.com today, Sergei Kovalev's trainer John David Jackson mused about this weekend's biggest fight between Bernard Hopkins and Beibut Shumenov.

Jackson suggested that Shumenov's vast personal fortune (or at least his families fortune) would be a negative factor coming in to his attempt to unify the Light Heavyweight titles in Washington against the Methuselah-esque Hopkins. Jackson said:

I give Bernard the edge . . . I think this kid will fall into the same trap everybody else does. He will fall into Bernard's trap, and play Bernard's game. They say this kid's rich beyond his wildest dreams. He's got money, so that means he's not hungry. They say he's a super-rich kid. So, how hungry is he really? He cares, but does he really care?

Jackson makes plenty of other more astute points as to why he think Hopkins will be too much for the inexperienced Shumenov, but let's delve a little deeper into the issues of fiscal motivation.

Why do fighters do all the insane road work, spar the extra rounds, fight on with closing eyes and broken bones, or climb from the canvas on jellied legs to face an inevitable pummeling into unconsciousness?

For the money? It's called prizefighting after all. 

In the LA Times last year, Shumenov's Vegas lifestyle was described in detail. Bill Dwyre wrote:

He lives in a 9,654-square-foot house on Coast Line Drive in northwest Las Vegas. The address is strange for a city in a desert, until you realize the property is on a man-made lake with expensive boats docked out back.

Shumenov's house has a gym with equipment that took eight men to carry down the stairs — that was just one piece. There is a film room, an elevator, a huge garage with cabinets stuffed with almost every kind of boxing equipment that exists — gloves, headgear and the like.

There is also a 10-foot-by-10-foot refrigerator in the kitchen.

Shumenov starts his day at 5 a.m. by going to his hyperbaric chamber. That's in his house too. He does a full workout in his gym, then after lunch goes to another gym for running and swimming and still another for training and sparring.

It appears that Shumenov's outrageous wealth could have afforded him many things he desired in life, and yet, he chose to be a fighter. His financial advantages can just as easily be attributed as the source of his success, given the facilities and focus it allows him to have on honing his craft.

Shumenov is not like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. skipping training in favor of sauntering around in his underwear, munching cereal before he moves the couches around in his living room for a quick sparring session. Did childhood privilege encumber him with such laziness?

Nor is Shumenov like the recently de-throned champion Ricky Burns, who still works part time in retail in a well known sports shop. Has the lack of financial reward from multiple title defenses prevented him from giving his all in the ring?

He fought for nearly half an hour with a broken jaw against Raymundo Beltran. Was it the hope of future wealth that quelled the pain?

If you watch the full undercard of a major pay-per-view, you'll see numerous bouts. They're usually streamed on the internet these days, for the hardcore fans who care to tune in for that sort of thing. These bouts can be snooze fests, or they can be wars, in the same way that the headline fights can be tremendous display of courage and guts, or a snooze-fest.

Boxers fight each other in front of entirely empty rows of stadium seating, in a voluminous room void of atmosphere. The proverbial pin drop however, would not be heard, as it would be drowned out by the noise of leather thumping repeatedly against human flesh.