In recent years, there’s been something of a revival in the popularity of boxing. After several years of the heavyweight division being dominated by eastern European fighters, who struggled to attract large television audiences in the west, there are several British and American household names at the top of the card. When the heavyweight division is popular, the whole sport tends to be popular. That means more people tune in to fights than they did ten years ago, and the competitors involved in those fights get paid more than they did ten years ago, too.
Usually, when conditions are good, and everyone’s getting paid, the integrity of the sport is also healthy. There’s no need for boxers to resort to cheap tricks and gimmicks because if they’re good at what they do, they’ll command high prices whenever they step into the ring. Perhaps it’s a curse of the modern age, but that isn’t the case at the moment. We’ve already seen Mike Tyson come out of retirement to fight Roy Jones Jr to a farcical draw in a contest that seemed to entertain as many people as it appalled. That appears to have convinced another legendary old fighter to dust off his gloves and step back into the ring again, and this time there’s even less dignity to it than there was in seeing two men over-50 box in an exhibition match.
In case you missed the headlines over the weekend, the fighter we’re talking about is the all-time-great Floyd “Money” Mayweather, aged 43, who’s agreed to fight YouTube star Logan Paul on February 20th next year. For those who don’t keep up with such things, this won’t be Paul’s first time in a boxing ring. He’s battled fellow YouTuber KSI before, drawing one of those contests and losing the other. Apparently, a record of two fights and no wins is enough to land you a match against one of the best to ever do it. Nobody seems to know why this is happening. Unless Mayweather has made financial mistakes that haven’t been publicized, he doesn’t need the money. Logan Paul, as he’s shown in the past, will do anything for the sake of publicity, but that wouldn’t explain why Mayweather has agreed to get involved.
News of the fight has already drawn derision online from a variety of sporting figures. Dana White, the owner and promoter of UFC, has gone on record as saying that the booking of the fight speaks volumes about the current state of boxing. When a man who owns a company best known for its larger-than-life, WWE-style fight promotions involving Conor McGregor can mock you without looking hypocritical, there’s clearly a problem. He might have a point, though, and the point is that boxing shouldn’t be in a ‘state’ at the moment. The top of the sport is dominated by men like Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, and Deontay Wilder, all of whom are huge box office draws. GGG, Canela Alvarez, Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, and Errol Spence are all big draws outside the heavyweight division. It isn’t necessary to put celebrities or blown-up former stars in the ring to drive pay-per-view buys, but it’s happening anyway.
Part of the blame for this situation has to be put on promoters who exist only to make money. To some of them, boxing is less of a sport, and more akin to the equivalent of UK Slot Games, where the boxers are the symbols on the reels and the promoters act as the house. With online slots, players pay for the chance to see the symbols line up in a way that will win them money. If that doesn’t happen, the house wins, and the money stays with them. All an online slots website has to do in order to draw players in is convince them that they stand a realistic chance of winning. All a boxing promoter has to do in order to draw viewers in is convince them that they have a realistic chance of seeing something remarkable happen. It doesn’t matter that Mayweather versus Paul isn’t a realistic sporting contest – people will tune in purely because they want to see Mayweather knock Paul out. It might be just as effective a strategy as it is with casino websites, but somehow, online slots feel more honest.
The worst thing about this news is that if enough people buy the fight, more celebrity boxing matches will follow. Mayweather has already shown his willingness to get back in the ring for the right price regardless of the quality of his opponent by boxing Conor McGregor and kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa in recent years. Mike Tyson has already confirmed that he intends to ‘fight’ again. Even Logan Paul’s less-famous younger brother Jake Paul fancies himself as a boxer and recently knocked out former NBA star Nate Robinson on the undercard of the aforementioned Tyson versus Jones Jr fight. Conor McGregor is itching for another boxing contest, and KSI probably wouldn’t mind either. Apparently, you no longer need years of training and an impressive amateur track record to become a professional boxer. You just need a large social media following and a promoter who’s more interested in money than protecting the integrity of the sport they promote.
It’s impossible to imagine this happening in any other sport on a professional level. There will never be a point at which a basketball fan amasses so many social media followers that they’re offered the chance to play for the New York Knicks. No baseball bloggers will ever be offered the opportunity to turn out for the Boston Red Sox in a game that meant anything. Even in the NFL, which is no stranger to the occasional publicity stunt, celebrities and amateurs are confined to the stands. There’s something wrong with boxing when not only are promoters willing to put these fights together, but authorities and boards of control are willing to grant licenses for them. Contests like Floyd Mayweather versus Logan Paul aren’t good for the health of boxing, the sport’s reputation, or the fighters who spend years honing their skills before they try to make a name for themselves on the big stage. We won’t be buying it, and we implore you not to buy it either.