Hobby Outposts from the North: Boxers Wanted(?) – When sports card history looks back at 2020, it will naturally see the resurgence of the hobby, with one of the key aspects being the growth not only of population, but licenses as well.
Of late, the PGA announced its return to card shops while Formula 1 has its first-ever agreement in place. There are constant rumors swirling that other licenses will be announced, possibly before the end of the year. There are still some sports and entertainment properties out there that don’t have a card pact yet. Tennis is a key example of this and, without ANY insider knowledge, I would bet that this will be the next signed.
The one that has not been talked about, yet could very easily have a product come together rather quickly, is boxing. In fact, if you look at the annals of trading card history, there has been very little dedicated product to the sport in the modern era – from the mid-1980s forward. Yes, boxing has a very rich, steeped heritage when you go back to tobacciana and continue forward to the “Chewing Gum Era” of the 40s and 50s; but since then, very few sets have been produced.
Let’s start our look in those 1950s. The most well-known set of the era was 1951 Topps Ringside, which featured the likes of Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano; however, it was also the last major release for decades. It wasn’t until the 1980s that another set came about in North America – Brown’s Boxing Cards, issued first in 1985. Brown’s ran through 1988 but in all honesty, its look was exceedingly dated with black-and-white photography.
Brown’s returned in 1990, but when it did, it came back to a different era. This was the Boom Era with so many producers going gaga. 1991 saw All World produce a set, as well as Kayo (which mysteriously had a kangaroo as its mascot) and Players International which issued Ringlords. There was also an odd-sized set from Victoria Gallery which boasted painted renderings, but the less said about that set the better.
No sets seem to have been produced in 1992, but Brown’s was back at it in 1993, as was Sporting Profiles who created a set dedicated to Muhammad Ali. It took another three years following this for another set to hit – 1996 Ringside, which isn’t much different in design than Signature Rookies (which I will cover in a future column), and Brown’s again produced in 1997, still without color photography. From then through the end of the decade, cards were very hard to come by, though it looked like Futera was going to take the plunge in 1998 and there is evidence of a Brown’s set in 1999 (that finally had color pictures!); but the major boxing cards were done.
The 2000s were more of a dead period for most cards and boxing wasn’t excepted. Another Muhammad Ali tribute set was issued by Upper Deck in 2000 and you got the occasional include in sets like Allen and Ginter, but the dedicated series time was over. Things got a little better in the 2010s with Leaf going the Ali route a couple times and In The Game reviving the Ringside moniker, but for all intents and purposes, dedicated boxing products were pretty much extinct.
Here’s the interesting thing – over the last number of years, boxing cards have been produced by the major manufacturers, yet none have taken the plunge and gone all out with a set.
Topps has been the most recent company. As recently as pre-pandemic 2020, Tyson Fury and others were featured in Topps Now and On-Demand cards, and even has a couple signatures from the company; and yet, by standard definition, he does not have a rookie card. Elsewhere, everyone from Mike Tyson to Joe Frazier have been part of the aforementioned A&G products over the years, while Floyd Mayweather was included in several series, including 2017’s Transcendent Baseball release.
Panini, meanwhile, incorporated boxing’s greats into the sports and entertainment product Golden Age. Names like Jack Dempsey, Michael Spinx and Tommy Hearns were part of this line that ran for a few years in the early 2010’s. Upper Deck has also favored pugilists in Goodwin and Legendary Cuts.
Yes, boxing’s popularity has been in decline, particularly compared to the upstart mixed martial arts, but it still has an audience. Tell me that you wouldn’t want an autograph of Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield (though perhaps not on the same card). Lennox Lewis anyone?
With so many other sports back in play, it’s time for someone to pull the trigger and get a license together for boxing. The value of some of these athletes is a lot bigger than they are given credit for.
Hobby Outposts from the North: Boxers Wanted(?) – Image Gallery
Hobby Outposts from the North: Boxers Wanted(?)
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