Boxing matches tend to be staged as one of three types: professional, amateur, or exhibition. But what is the difference between them?
In general, most of the “major” fights, including title fights, are professional bouts, while exhibition contests are those staged with more focus on audiences and entertainment. Most professional fighters have an amateur career before turning pro, and Olympic fights count as amateur bouts.
For example, Anthony Joshua’s 2012 Olympic gold medal victory was part of his amateur career. Meanwhile, his heavyweight title fights with Oleksandr Usyk in 2021 and 2022 were professional bouts. Elsewhere, Floyd Mayweather’s recent matches against YouTubers Logan Paul and Deji have been performances.
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 bouts need not be sanctioned by a governing body. Conversely, the World Boxing Council (WBC) sanctioned Tyson Fury’s three fights with Deontay Wilder, as the WBC heavyweight title was at stake.
Professional fights need not be title fights, but they do tend to have an effect on rankings in the weight class in which they are held, as seeded by the governing body sanctioning the fight. That is, Andy Ruiz Jr is the World Boxing Organization (WBO) No. 1 fighter under its champions, while Wilder ranks sixth. If Wilder were to fight and beat Ruiz Jr, Wilder would likely surpass the Mexican-American in the standings.
Also, the rules are more flexible in exhibition fights. For example, a world title fight in men’s boxing—a professional bout—will always be scheduled for 12 three-minute rounds; and a women’s world title fight will always be scheduled for 12 two-minute rounds. Conversely, an exhibition fight might be set to six three-minute rounds or eight two-minute rounds (these are random examples).
Fights can of course end earlier if there is a knockout/TKO (technical knockout, where the referee or ringside doctor interrupts the action, or a towel is thrown), but such outcomes are less frequent in exhibition bouts , where wins and losses do not count towards a fighter’s record and often no winner is declared. For example, former multiweight world champion Mayweather retired undefeated in 2017 with a 50-0 professional record, and has fought in five shows since. While the 46-year-old was quite aggressive in beating three of his exhibition opponents via TKO, two of his exhibition fights lasted the full number of rounds and no winners were declared.
Sometimes, however, fights that one would expect to be exhibition bouts are actually 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 YouTuber AnEsonGib. Readers might expect such fights to be exhibition fights, but they were actually staged as professional bouts, meaning Paul has a record of 6-0 (4 KOs).