At this time, boxing has reached a greater level of popularity than it has in many years. But it’s not for the reasons you think.
Although the sport has its box office draws like Anthony Joshua (24-2, 22 KOs), Canelo Alvarez (57-1-2, 39 KOs) and Tyson Fury (31-0-1, 22 KOs), a lot of the traction that boxing receives is through outsiders, such as other athletes and celebrities. Specifically, former Cronulla Sharks skipper, Paul Gallen (12-1-1, 7 KOs) and YouTube sensation turned professional boxer, Jake Paul (5-0, 4 KOs) are two examples of the type of fighters garnering mainstream appeal.
A lot of hardcore fight fans loath their bouts, feeling that these fights water down boxing’s quality.
But when you look at what they are doing from a different perspective, you can see the ways that they are drawing a more casual audience to combat sports. It can also be argued that they are using their drawing power for the betterment of a majority of fighters.
Overall, it is abundantly clear that celebrities are brining more eyes to combat sports in a multitude of ways.
Box Office Records
When looking at the records for 2021, it is almost shocking to see that Jake Paul had the highest-grossing boxing Pay Per View event.
This came in his clash with former ONE FC and Bellator Welterweight MMA champion, Ben Askren (0-1 Boxing, 19-2-0-1 MMA) back in April of last year, reportedly amassing 1.5 million buys worldwide.
During the pre-fight press conference, Paul was asked about professional fighters that didn’t like his quick success.
“Haters will be haters. There’s a new young buck in the game and ruffling feathers, they’re gonna be upset,” he replied.
“But again, I’m just trying to bring more eyeballs to the sport and I’m having fun doing it and I’m just doing me.
“So why are people mad that I’m successful? Build your own skyscraper, there’s room for everyone to eat in this sport trust me.”
On the other hand, Paul Gallen has proven to have massive box office appeal in Australian.
When he fought Australian heavyweight champion Justin Huni (5-0, 4 KOs), the former NRL superstar had earned a reported $1.3 – 1.5-million purse.
After his most recent win against fellow rugby player Darcy Lussick (1-1, 1 KO), Gallen had told Sporting News Australia, that he gave all of his $20,000 dollar bonus purse to Aussie prospects Sam Goodman (10-0, 6 KOs) and Harry Garside (1-0, 1 KO) as a gesture aimed to help the sport.
“Giving some ($20,000 bonus purse) to Harry (Garside) and Sam Goodman,” Gallen said.
“I don’t like the way the boxing people treat the rugby league guys who get in there and have a crack, when they’re bringing exposure to the sport. Last night a former World champion (Andrew Moloney) had about 200 people show up to watch him.”
“I feel very sorry for the genuine boxers so I’m gonna put my hand in my pocket and help them out.”
The Undercard: Promoting Prospects
In every boxing show, the undercard usually builds up to the main event. Most recently however, boxing promoters have used this as an advantage as they book more world-class talent on the same card as a mainstream celebrity.
The justification for this is simple. It gives an opportunity for the casual fans to see a higher class of boxing and will hopefully make the audience take a mental note of a fighter and want to see more of them in the future.
On the most recent Paul Gallen card, the aforementioned Harry Garside and Sam Goodman were featured in hopes of garnering greater hype around their futures.
Jake Paul’s fight cards have also featured World title contenders in Liam Paro (22-0, 13 KOs), Daniel Dubois (17-1, 16 KOs) and Montana Love (17-0-1, 9 KOs), as well as multiple weight World Champion Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs).
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In the lead up to Harry Garside’s debut, 2018 Commonwealth games teammate Jason Whateley (9-0, 8 KOs) stated that there were positives.
“It’s a good and a bad thing. It would be nice for boxers like myself and career boxers to get the same recognition,” he told Yarra Valley FM.
“But in also saying that it brings new eyes to the sport.”
“Any publicity is good publicity for the sports. It’s going to attract new viewers and attract more fans.”
“It’s really good for someone like Harry Garside to be on that show as the main support fight [and] It’s only going to boost the numbers for him and get people looking at him.”
“It brings more eyes, which is what we need.”
Calling Out Fighters to Provoke a Reaction
Probably the most triggering aspect of these types of events, one that gets more rusted-on fans offside, is that some celebrity boxers tend to call out World champions for a fight.
Whether that be to bring in more headlines or just pure delusion, the result remains the same. More attention to celebrity boxing cards. Hardcore fans enraged by such outlandishness, will often tune in and pay money to hopefully watch the celebrity boxer lose.
As for casual fans, they will take interest in the fighter that the celebrities call out. Uttering of their name may lead to watching highlights on YouTube or even buying their fights themselves to come up with their own conclusion.
The most logical conclusion being that legitimate boxers will outclass the overmatched novice.
The most infamous example is Jake Paul’s call out of Canelo Alvarez. Of course, the fight will never happen but the positive side is that it will make unlearned fans curious about Alvarez, who will soon find out how great the Mexican truly is.
Jake Paul vs Dana White: Fighter pay
On the 25th of January, Paul announced that he would be investing in the stock of the UFC’s parent company, Endeavour, in hopes to help increase fighter pay. This has been one of the biggest criticisms the UFC, president Dana White and combat sports more generally, have faced.
As most sports fans know, UFC fighters are paid significantly less than other American athletes. After headlining UFC 270, Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (17-3 MMA) was reportedly paid $600,000 for his fight with Cyril Gane (10-1 MMA), according to ESPN. This is only $42,000 more than the lowest-paid NBA player.
To give a combat sports specific example, when Heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs) fought Luis Ortiz (33-2, 28 KOs) in their World title rematch in 2019, multiple sources had stated that the pay-per-view buys were estimated to be around 225,000 – 270,000.
This buy rate figure is around the same as UFC 270’s 200,000 buys, but the fighter payouts are even more staggering in comparison. Wilder took home $20 million and Ortiz $7 million according to reports.
Fighter pay has already been a major criticism of the UFC for many years, but the pressure has only increased recently. Paul’s investment in the company is his just his most recent move in a campaign to increase the revenues of the athletes, one that has seen him continuously call out the problems in pay structures.
A necessary evil?
In conclusion, the numbers don’t lie. When you look at how much attention these exhibition fights can draw, it is easy to see how those numbers can be used as opportunities and people like Jake Paul and Paul Gallen have taken full advantage of this.
Both fighters highlighted are trying to bring more eyeballs to the sport. Not only do they use their platform to give more attention to boxing’s prospects and world-class talent, they’re tackling major combat sports issues like fighter pay and overall health.
Whether you like it or hate it, influencer boxing is here to stay. Even though people are quick to air their distaste, we can easily see how brilliant marketing and smart business moves can attract new eyes to combat sports, whether that be from their own fans or mainstream media.
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