With Muhammad Ali's recent passing, the world said goodbye to the greatest boxing legend, and arguably greatest sportsman – of all-time. Ali was accomplished both in and out of the ring, and if you never got to see him fight in person, it's worth the time to look up footage of his fights.
However, when it comes to amassing lots of money through boxing purses, Ali is nowhere near the highest earner of all-time, largely due to the fact boxing prize money has exploded over the past few decades. In total, Ali earned around $20 million in boxing purses during his career. But despite what you might assume, Ali was not the first boxer to take home a massive purse. Below is a detailed history of notable boxing purses over the last 100 years…
More than 100 years ago, a title fight was still a big deal, but the money paid out pales in comparison to today. Defending heavyweight champion Tommy Burns lost to Jack Johnson, and made a meager $30,000 in the process.
Back in 1921, Jack Dempsey defended his title and took home $300,000 in prize money. Six years later, in 1927, Dempsey lost to Gene Tunney, who made $990,000 for the fight. Allegedly, Tunney sent promoter Tex Rickard a check for $10,000 so Tunney's prize check would be for an even million dollars. That looks so much cooler, anyway.
Tunney's record lasted for 44 years, before both Ali and Joe Frazier each earned $2.5 million for participating in the "Fight of the Century," the first time two undefeated boxers fought each other for the heavyweight title. That prize money jumped by more than double in just three years, during the infamous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight. Ali made $5.45 million during the victory, while George Foreman got $5 million despite losing.
Evander Holyfield beat Mike Tyson at the end of 1996, and their 1997 rematch had a ton of buzz surrounding it. Fans today refer to the match as the "Bite Fight," due to Tyson biting Holyfield's ear on two separate occasions; the first time he did it, an inch-thick piece of cartilage came off of Holyfield's ear. Tyson was suspended from boxing and had to pay a $3 million fine, and Holyfield took home $33 million to try and help ease the pain of having part of his ear bitten off.
One of Mayweather's most anticipated fights was against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 for the light middleweight belt. De La Hoya surrendered his belt, but received $52 million in the process. The fight sold 2.5 million pay-per-view subscriptions, then a record for most ever.
In 2013, Mayweather earned another $80 million in his victory against Canelo Alvarez, and again proved he's a huge pay-per-view draw – the fight drew $150 million in PPV sales.
Not surprisingly, last year's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather resulted in the largest purses of all time. When it was all added up, the fight had a total purse of $380 million, with $230 million going to the victor, Mayweather and $150 million going to the loser, Pacquiao.
The Evolution Of Enormous Boxing Purses:
1908 – $30,000 earned by Jack Dempsey
1910 – $120,000 earned by Jack Johnson defending his title against James J. Jeffries
1921 – $300,000 earned by Jack Dempsey
1927 – $1 million earned by Gene Tunney fighting Jack Dempsey
1971 – $2.5 million earned by Ali and Frazier in their heavyweight title match
1974 – $5.45 million earned by George Foreman ($5 million by Ali) at the Rumble in the Jungle
1980 – $7.5 million earned by Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran
1980 – $8 million earned by Duran in the infamous "no mas" fight
1988 – $13.5 million earned by Michael Spinks fighting Mike Tyson
1995 – $25 million earned by Mike Tyson for his fight against Peter McNeeley
1996 – $30 million earned by Mike Tyson when he faced off against Frank Bruno
1997 – $30 million earned by Evander Holyfield for a rematch against Mike Tyson
2007 – $52 million earned by Oscar De La Hoya when he lost to Floyd Mayweather
2013 – $80 million earned by Floyd Mayweather against Canelo Alvarez
2015 – $230 million earned by Floyd Mayweather fighting Manny Pacquiao (who earned $150 million)
Mayweather has generated more than $1.3 billion in PPV sales over his career. And seeing how his purses continue to grow to astronomical levels don't be surprised if he takes to the ring one more time before calling it quits.