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Friday, June 18, 2021

Are celebrity boxing matches ruining the sport?

As boxing events between personalities and celebrities continue to become more successful, the response to it has been mixed

In the weeks following the boxing match between YouTube sensation Jake Paul and Ben Askren, multiple-time world champion Floyd Mayweather announced that he would take on Jake’s brother, Logan Paul. Originally scheduled for February, the event will instead take place in Miami, Florida on June 6. It will be Mayweather’s return to the ring in the U.S., and although on other occasions fans would be glad to see a legend return, this has begun to make people question how far is too far.

During an event hosted on Triller, a social media startup, Jake Paul defeated Askren in the first round by way of knockout. Having already defeated former NBA player Nate Robinson back in November 2020, this was Paul’s second professional boxing match as well as his second win. Raking in over one million pay-per-view buys, the event was a success, and ended in a draw. That, however, has become the latest topic in a saga involving the sport of boxing and what the diehard fans have hated for a long time. 

Although celebrity matches between professional and nonprofessional boxers have been around for a long time, the most recent wave of bouts arguably holds the most “threat” to the sport of boxing. 

With social media platforms bigger than ever, influencers such as the Paul brothers have begun taking advantage of that to hold their own events. Whether people attribute this to Mayweather’s lucrative bout against Connor McGregor in August 2017 or Logan Paul’s match against fellow YouTuber KSI that sold out at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, boxing has become more of a spectacle than a sport. After Mayweather’s match against Logan Paul was announced, the criticism rained down even more, as one of boxing’s legendary stars was now taking part in these theatrics.

“As a big Floyd Mayweather fan, I’m not about to partake [in] this,” tweeted former athlete Giavanni Ruffin. “It’s a joke and a disrespect to the craft of people that really put [their] all into the sport of boxing. This is all a money ploy I get it, get to [the] bag but don’t tarnish [your] legacy with this scrub.” 

This sentiment was felt by many, who believe this is just a useless cash grab where boxing could only be negatively impacted. 

“Mayweather and Paul will exploit their celebrity [status] and get rich, but it will be boxing that takes the hit,” wrote long-time combat sports columnist Kevin Iole for Yahoo Sports. “This fight has nothing to do with boxing and everything to do with opportunism, but when the torrent of criticism arrives after the fight, it’s going to be this sport that takes the brunt of it.”

Although this match between Mayweather and Logan Paul will be an exhibition and not a professional fight, previous bouts between the Paul brothers and other stars have been officially sanctioned by state boxing commissions. Even though these celebrities are able to obtain their boxing licenses and fight as professionals would, a lot of the criticism is not only directed at those who are fighting, but also those in charge of sanctioning and giving licenses. 

“It’s an exhibition, just for making money,” said current boxing superstar Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. “They give the boxers licenses when they’re not a boxer. They could get them killed. Why do they give licenses to people who have never in their life even thrown a punch? If there’s a death, the commision will be responsible. Why? Because they issued the license for the fight.”

Others, however, view these fights in a different light. Rather than see them as hurting the sport, some believe that this is helping to gain attention for boxing.

“They help boxing so much,” said boxing Hall of Famer Mike Tyson, who had a criticized fight of his own against Roy Jones Jr. at 54 years old. “Boxing owes these YouTube boxers some kind of respect. They should give them some belts because these guys make boxing alive. Boxing was pretty much a dying sport. UFC was kicking our butt. Now we got these YouTube boxers, with 25 million views. Boxing is going back thanks to the YouTube boxers.”

“It’s amazing because it’s opening up boxing to a whole new market,” said professional boxer Dillian Whyte. “We’re in the age of streaming now, it’s all about YouTube. It’s a great time and it’s good that two guys can bring all these fans. Everyone’s complaining about it, I think it’s great, bringing new fans into the game, it’s great.”

Many will point to these spectacles as explanations for why boxing is no longer one of the premier sports in the world. What was once must-see television that attracted the casual fan has turned into a sport that only fans who follow the sport or know a bit about it watch. Many will point to these fights as the issue, but it may be a part of a bigger issue that boxing must solve. 

“I think some of the appetite for all of this may relate to the fact that people will always find other people’s fighting to be a great form of entertainment,” New York boxing promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN. “And when boxing is unable at the moment to deliver with regularity fights that cross over into event status, that’s creating an opening for these exhibitions and internet influencers and seniors tours.”

For a long time, experts have accused managers and promoters of contributing to the decline in boxing. Since almost all major fighters are represented by a promotion and a manager, it has become much more difficult to come to an agreement on a fight between boxing’s biggest stars, which is why we rarely hear about big main event title fights. For one reason or another, the big fights that fans want to see rarely get agreed upon, leaving a lot of the fans uninterested. Without these major title fights, it is hard to bring attention and grow these boxing stars into something big like we saw in decades past with the likes of Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Marvin Hagler and many more.

There is a lot of work left to be done by those in the boxing circles that goes beyond figuring out if these spectacle events are hurting boxing. Their outdated forms of promotion no longer works nowadays, which is why we have seen a rise in these celebrities and influencers taking advantage of the situation. While it could be true that these new events may be nothing more than a cash grab, it could also be true that there are more people who have watched boxing because of them. The argument could go either way, but regardless, those in charge of boxing and their handling of it in recent years may have led to the situation that is rising today.
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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