6 MIN READ
A new side of boxing has emerged lately; one which has divided opinions across the sport and generated legions of new followers.
Exhibition fights between legendary past champions, YouTubers, celebrities and other athletes have caused a widespread backlash along with a new audience. But at what point will it all go too far?
BOXRAW analyse both the positive and negative impacts YouTubers and exhibitions are having on boxing today and whether it’s time to embrace or ignore the chaos.
The Rise of A Boxing Phenomenon
It’s a phenomenon that quickly gained momentum and has continued to grow in a short space of time; 'sideshows' that have been outdrawing actual boxing fights and raging debates among those for and against the ongoing trend.
Many maintain a firm stance against the rise of YouTube and exhibition boxing, since its rise to the mainstream eye in 2018 when YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI faced off in the ring for a high-profile bout. This came off the back of KSI knocking out fellow YouTuber Joe Weller.
Following its success among their young supporters and a new generation of potential boxing fans, they followed it up with a rematch which was somehow officiated under professional rules and regulations.
People have steadily grown more enraged at the concept. Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. also capitalised on the exhibition trend to dust off their gloves and roll back the years live on Triller in 2020.
YouTuber Jake Paul knocked out former NBA star Nate Robinson on the undercard, causing a viral sensation. Paul took advantage of the popularity and eventually stopped former UFC fighter Ben Askren in another subsequent professional bout, with the previously unboxed social media figure now, incredibly, being one of the most lucrative and polarising names in boxing (whether people like or not).
Such was the swift rise and financial attractiveness of the latest boxing craze, mainly involving the Paul brothers, that even a retired all-time great such as Floyd Mayweather Jr. was lured back into the ring.
Boxing somehow found itself hosting an exhibition fight between Mayweather Jr, an undefeated five-division world champion with a 50-0 record, and Logan Paul, a YouTuber with 29+ million subscribers who had never tasted victory since stepping into the boxing ring against fellow social influencers.
Negatives of Boxing’s Latest Craze
It’s the negative backlash that has been at the forefront since the emergence of YouTube boxing and high-profile exhibition bouts.
The Paul brothers and other celebrities or social media figures have taken their ‘beefs’ into the squared-circle to settle differences (however petty they may be), while captivating their huge audience of followers and subscribers in the process.
While former heavyweight world champion Mike Tyson lauded such characters for bringing boxing "alive", the majority of those within the sport disagree with the sentiment.
Professional boxers who sacrifice their daily lives for boxing may have a right to feel grieved, as many struggle to make ends meet fight to fight, while others with no boxing backgrounds casually enter the fray and reap the rich rewards of doing so in front of a global audience.
There’s also the level of disrespect seemingly shown from those names earning millions from their ventures into a sport that demands respect. Flaunting wealth and luxuries obtained from such sloppy fights only pushes the purists further away from ever embracing the so-called ‘circus acts’.
Fighters who’ve been to the top level have cast doubts over the safety measures too. When asked about YouTube boxing, former cruiserweight world champion Tony Bellew stated:
"This is all good when they’re all making a few quid. But, understand: someone is going to get hurt doing this, and it’s going to come back on boxing."
Boxing takes dedication, extreme work ethic and a genuine passion to succeed in. If not taken seriously or the right mindset and approach isn’t invested, consequences can be dangerous.
As the popularity has gathered pace over the years, YouTube bouts have become otherwise known to serious fans as ‘the other boxing’; a disconnect between the elite level artistry and the entertainment aspect involving novices.
But as the two gel over time, with world champions fighting on the same high-profile cards as YouTubers and celebrities, is it really that much of a downfall for 'real boxing'?
Whether or not YouTubers or other non-boxers coming into the sport are being disrespectful, it’s still the sport we love at the centre of it all.
Regardless of which celebrity is putting on their gloves in front of millions of viewers and generating massive financial numbers; it’s still boxing, no matter what level.
Since the inception of such bouts, an influx of new younger fans and, people who had perhaps never watched a single fight in their lives, have now been brought into the sport. That’s more eyes on boxing in general and many people who could be inspired to take it up themselves, despite tuning in for the inferior skill sets that are on show.
The money is now being put on the table for proper fighters to seize on the undercards of some of these mammoth shows that are streamed or broadcasted live to unfamiliar new audiences. These new doors would not be possible if it wasn’t for the YouTubers promoting themselves outlandishly in front of the cameras.
On top of that, various new broadcasting networks have become involved in boxing. The Tyson-Jones Jr. exhibition was headlined on Triller, while Jake Paul captured the online audience to boost their numbers.
Meanwhile, the likes of Eddie Hearn and DAZN have dipped their toes into the strange world of YouTube boxing, with Sky Sports Box Office showcasing the Mayweather-Paul event live as well. Even veteran Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has previously worked with icons like Muhammad Ali, refused to play the craze down, stating:
"If there’s a market for it, they should do it."
Opportunities aren’t necessarily being taken away from the true dedicated prize-fighters of this generation either. Fights involving YouTubers are being shown on global networks but they aren’t stealing the opportunity directly from other genuine boxers.
A History of Boxing Exhibitions
There are those who have been quick to call the whole situation a ‘circus’ but all-time greats have been involved in bizarre trends in the past, years before the latest generation of YouTube boxers.
Heavyweight legend Ali took part in one of the most surreal ‘fights’ ever when he faced off with Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. What was billed as ‘The War of the Worlds’ proved to be a farcical event that ultimately caused riots and sparked a seismic negative backlash.
That occurred when Ali was still the reigning heavyweight champion, while today’s exhibition clashes involving actual boxers are those who have called time on their official ring careers. Both Tyson and Mayweather Jr. have also previously took to the WWE in typically dramatic fashion.
Even further back, boxing exhibitions have been taking place among the biggest and most prestigious names in the sport for the last century.
Iconic names such as Jimmy Wilde, Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey were known to have participated in such match-ups (on a lesser scale of overall appeal), while it’s easy to comprehend a business-first legend like Sugar Ray Robinson stepping into the ring in the same manner as Mayweather today - if the price was right.
The constant stream of events starring YouTube personalities and celebrities, that diehard boxing fans may have never actually heard of, are set to be around for the foreseeable future. True fans of the Sweet Science may choose to simply embrace the chaos while it lasts or continue focusing solely on the proper elite craft they enjoy.
As is the case in the ring, opportunities are there to be grasped and capitalised on; which social media figures will continue to do for as long as the marketability remains for this strange boxing phenomenon. It's perhaps not an entirely negative phenomenon, but a phenomenon nevertheless.
Header image: Showtime Boxing