It’s hard to tell whether it’s pantomime or a canny marketing ploy as the YouTuber fighter’s brother steals the undefeated professional boxer’s hat and they get into a heated pre-press conference fight.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. versus Logan Paul looks like the ultimate mismatch, but it’s the latest in a number of lucrative exhibition fights featuring non-professional boxers and would seem to be indicative of boxing’s increasing bastardization.
Mayweather is worth hundreds of millions, with an undefeated professional boxing record of 50-0 and multiple world title belts to his name. Paul has no belts to his name, but plenty of YouTube views – almost six billion and counting. His tale of the tape is short; he’s lost his only professional fight against another YouTuber.
Previously, we’ve seen YouTubers fight YouTubers; we’ve seen boxers fight MMA stars; we’ve even seen Paul’s brother Jake – also a famous YouTuber – fight a former MMA fighter and a former NBA player and win both times.
But on June 6, the worlds of professional boxing and entertainment will collide in the ring.
The money men must be rubbing their hands with glee. When Jake Paul stole Mayweather’s hat before his brother’s press conference and the pair got tangled up in a melee, social media and news outlets exploded with videos and pictures of Mayweather looking furious.
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And during the final new conference in Miami Beach before Sunday’s fight, Mayweather stressed that Paul’s stepping into the unknown.
“There is a difference between YouTube boxing and elite boxing – you guys will see the difference,” Mayweather told Sky Sports.
“He’s banking on his height, he’s banking on his reach. So we’ll just see. I have a trained a little bit, here and there, not every day. But I don’t have to.”
For author and boxing historian Mike Silver, who has been a fan of the sport since 1959 and watched greats such as Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Sugar Ray Robinson in action, the rise of these money-making fights signals to him that the sport he grew up loving is “dead.”
“Boxing is a business and its business is show business,” said Silver, author of “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science.”
“Boxing is show business. And the only positive thing I can say is that these people make money. I feel like guys, great fighters like Archie Moore, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, they must be turning over in their graves.
“[Current fighters] made more in one fight than those fighters, great fighters, made in their entire professional boxing careers.
“But let’s be realistic. This is not boxing. Boxing as I knew it is dead,” he added.
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Positives and negatives
Exhibition fights are not unusual for boxing. There have been now infamous spectacles. Even the great Ali fought wrestler Antonio Inoki in 1976, an event Silver recalls as being “very disappointing.”
Since Paul and British YouTuber KSI faced off in the first professional boxing match between YouTubers, this offshoot of the fight game has grown rapidly.
According to Jake Paul, his first-round knockout of former UFC fighter Ben Askren in April pulled in 1.5 million pay-per-view buys. And with each one costing $50, the fight generated $75 million, though doubts have been cast over those figures.
Silver says he doesn’t begrudge anyone making money where they can. However, he says the idea of Jake Paul – the “Kim Kardashian of boxing,” according to Silver – attracting that much from a professional bout having only fought twice professionally before is reflective of the current “junk culture” of today’s society.
In the opposite corner, Michelle Joy Phelps – boxing presenter and founder of ‘Behind The Gloves’ – believes there are positives which can be drawn from these fights.
“Money is being made on such large scales and people tune in and the viewership is there,” Phelps told CNN. “How is it dying? Perhaps we have more boxing politics, which makes it more frustrating.
“I don’t think at all that it’s dying, but the politics has definitely made things more complicated, which is why people are more agitated or annoyed with boxing. But when the events happen that they want, the whole world is watching.”
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Filling a gap
One thing that has disillusioned boxing fans over recent years is how difficult it has become for boxing organizations and promoters to put on high-profile fights.
There are four major commissions in professional boxing and 17 weight divisions. Previously, there had only been eight weight classes but more were added over the years.
Each commission crowns its own world champion for a weight division, sometimes having multiple champions at the same time. Boxing magazine ‘The Ring’ also crowns its own world champions.
The recent Anthony Joshua-Tyson Fury back and forth has disappointed many, while a potential Terence Crawford vs. Errol Spence bout looks unlikely at the moment.
When Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015, the idea of the bout had surfaced five years prior and because it took so long to set up, both fighters were arguably past their prime when they finally stepped into the ring, says Silver.
According to Silver, the reason for the difficulty in organizing these showpiece events is because each boxing commission has its own champion, meaning each is reluctant to put a fighter in the ring against the best opponents for fear of losing.
Which is where these exhibition fights have filled the void.
“If boxing was run then like it is today, Marvin Hagler would probably never have fought Tommy Hearns, or if they fought, maybe after both were out of their primes,” said Silver, who also wrote “The Night the Referee Hit Back” and “Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing”.
“We probably would never have seen Alexis Arguello against Aaron Pryor. But we probably would not have seen Sugar Ray Leonard against Roberto Duran. These are fights that made boxing history and make boxing what it was. And the chances are, we might never have seen Frazier versus Ali. It’s the utter greed [that] has overtaken the sport and the disrespect for the fan.”
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‘Don’t tell me this is boxing’
Over his almost 20-year boxing career, Mayweather garnered the nickname “Money.” After retiring for the second time in 2015, he has fought and beaten UFC star Conor McGregor and undefeated kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa, earning himself huge pay days.
The bout against McGregor was somewhat of a watershed, as people came to realize the large sums of money these events could rake in.
For that one fight, Mayweather reportedly earned around $275 million, while McGregor took away $85 million, according to Forbes.
While the quality of the boxing has left many long-term boxing fans feeling frustrated, one of the other criticisms of allowing the inexperienced into the ring is their safety.
“Your brain wasn’t meant to be jarred by punches to the head,” says Silver.
Professional boxers are trained over years to move their head and feet to avoid heavy blows to the head as much as possible, so when you’ve not had the experience at that, knockouts, heavy blows to the head and concussion become more prevalent.
“The idea is to hit your opponent in the head,” Phelps said. “It not an arm slapping contest. Getting hit to the head can concuss anyone.
“And when you’re not trained appropriately to move your head to avoid punches, most people just stand and trade and all you see is just one nasty fight of people throwing as many haymakers to the face as possible.”
While the first Paul-KSI fight was amateur and so required headguards, the ensuing fights have been professional, meaning they have had the same conditions as the professionals – no headguards and 12, three-minute rounds.
For Sunday’s fight though, the Florida State Boxing Commission (FSBC) confirmed to CNN it will be considered an exhibition match because it is not sanctioned by the body. The FSBC also confirmed that it is not providing judges for the event, but is providing a referee. Both fighters with use 12-ounce gloves and there will be a total of eight three minute rounds.
This has resulted in some early-round knockdowns, most notably Jake Paul’s second round knockout of former NBA player Nate Robinson, the pictures of which went viral on social media afterwards.
The safety risks of allowing these untrained fighters to go at it hammer and tongs has a section of boxing fans, which includes Phelps, questioning whether that is a good idea or whether more stringent measures should be in place to protect the fighters.
And for the upcoming bout on June 6, Silver thinks there are plenty of risks involved when it comes to letting the two meet in the ring.
“If this 200-pound-plus Logan Paul, if Mayweather is distracted or something and he hauls off and hits Mayweather in the head … there’s a danger there,” he said.
“If [Mayweather] really is in shape, he would stop Logan Paul in a round. I don’t care if he’s outweighed by 50 pounds; he’s still close enough to his fighting days to hurt this guy. And if he really throws punches, even though he’s weighing like 156 pounds or whatever he weighs for that fight, he is a former professional fighter.
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“And if he nails this guy with shots, it’s not going to be easy to drop him because he’s a big guy. So if this is a legitimate fight, he’s going to have to hit – unless Logan Paul has a glass jaw – he’s going to have to hit him many times in the head, a couple of body shots, to bring him down.”
So, after the rapid rise of these lucrative quasi-boxing matches, what’s the staying power, the end game? According to Silver, it will come down to money. “If the fans get disgusted and they say: ‘We’re not interested, we’re not going to shell out for this,’ then the parameters will change.
“But I don’t see it changing … it depends on the economics.”