Influencer Boxing: Only a Publicity Stunt, or a True Insult to the Sport? 

Written by: Ibrahim

Edited by: Ines

Visual by: Xiatian

Discipline, diligence, and a holistic attitude, are only a few of the many attributes required to be a part of the world’s top competitive martial artists. Meant only for the toughest of minds, these athletes must accept that their hard work will not always pay off. To make ends meet, they must withhold themselves from indulging in the pleasures of life to maintain peak physical fitness, while  living with the knowledge that a single punch could instantly end their careers. This is the cold and difficult truth of being a professional boxer in the 21st century. 

Following the retirement of boxing legends such as Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson, the sport’s popularity plummeted, as seen by the decrease in its pay-per-views (PPV) and fan support. This drop led to a decade-long decrease in fighters’ salaries and precipitated a structural imbalance in wages. While top performers, such as Floyd Mayweather, would make hundreds of millions of dollars per fight, the average boxer would earn a meager $2,800 per fight. These fighters, however, continually put their bodies through a grueling four to five  fights every year, only to receive negligible pay checks, which were oftentimes not enough to sustain them for the forthcoming years. 

After a substantial decrease in PPV revenue, the spotlight was angled back at the sport in 2018, when famous British Youtube personality JJ Olatunji (KSI) announced that he would settle his grievances with fellow influencer Joe Weller, through a boxing match. This new style of resolving internet grudges appealed to fans immensely, as prior to this, hate was diluted through songs, in the form of diss tracks, or simply kept private. After several more of these diss tracks, fans began to speculate that most of the social media drama was staged, to enable entertainers to garner views and gain popularity. The redundancy of fake drama frustrated fans, especially older and more mature audiences, inevitably leading to the mass interest and excitement going into this type of boxing event, where the atmosphere could not be falsified.  

The KSI vs. Weller match delivered both in terms of PPV and the total number of viewers, generating nearly $3.5 million in ticket sales and totaling over two million live viewers. The event proved that this new idea of literally battling out differences was great from both a business and media coverage perspective. The general goal of an entertainer is to captivate the attention of their audience so that they can financially benefit from it. The atmosphere of the boxing ring was thrilling, captivating, and uneasy. Constant pumps of adrenaline kept the fans interested and hooked, desiring more. 

Following the KSI vs. Weller fight, content creators from YouTube and TikTok have hopped on the trend, leading to events such as KSI vs. Logan Paul 1 & 2, Jake Paul vs. Tyron Woodley, and YouTube vs. Tiktok. Over time, however, it has become clear that some entertainers use boxing matches as a quick way to secure large amounts of money. Many professional fighters take offense to this, as they devote their lives to a sport that they love and have a passion for;, while internet celebrities spend a mere two weeks training, losing without remorse, and getting paid more than the yearly salary of a professional. 

Furthermore, the controversy has extended to some of the world’s top fighters, such as Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, who were challenged to a boxing match by young content creators. Even with such flawless legacies, YouTubers manifested to their audience how they would annihilate these professionals in fights, fomenting a lack of respect for some of the world’s greatest boxers . Logan Paul challenged Floyd Mayweather to a boxing match on June 6th, 2021, marketing it to be the “fight of the century”, only to give a mundane boxing event, filled with advertisements, and disappointing audiences by not declaring a winner. 

While there are major issues with influencer boxing matches, one positive to come out of the situation is, paradoxically, the opportunity to connect on an interpersonal level and form long-lasting relationships with opponents.  For instance, KSI and Logan Paul collaborated to launch a hydration drink campaign, called PRIME, earlier this year , and the market shares have been phenomenal. Together, they pushed the narrative of ‘once enemies now allies’, depicting to viewers that even after years of feuding,, they could resolve their hatred.

Despite this, the superficiality of influencer boxing matches remains clear. On one end of the spectrum are the  content creators, who go to extreme lengths to appeal to their  fanbase, even if it involves putting the gloves on and taking a punch. On the other hand are the professionals, thosewho have spent decades training to perfect their craft, making mere pennies against the millions that amateurs earn. 

To conclude, it is beyond evident that the future of combat sports lies solely in the hands of content creators and their immense popularity of fans. In a world where social media status holds significant power, and market desperately needed revival, it may most definitely be a shock if influencer boxing is discontinued in the foreseeable future.