BOXING, like every sport, needs people to watch it to ensure long-term survival. It requires an audience, not only in the form of paying punters, but also younger generations who can become fans and participants in the future. However, that need for attention, and in turn how that attention manifests itself, must be managed carefully.
In recent years, we have seen the amount of pay-per-view events increase dramatically. Some were born from rivalries that demanded settlement in a boxing ring. Fights like Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao, Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko and Carl Froch-George Groves II were all worthy of the platform. They sold themselves because they matched the best fighters with their best rivals and were therefore essential to the sport.
Other events, it can be argued, were products of the box office platform and the money it can generate. Purely business masquerading as sport. A fight like Mayweather-Conor McGregor is the obvious example. A fight involving two masters of self-promotion admittedly, but a wildly unfair fight all the same. One was unbeaten in 49 professional contests, the majority at the highest level, and the other, though an accomplished in MMA, was making his professional boxing debut. McGregor targeted Mayweather because he knew it was a short cut to the kind of payday he could not command in his own discipline. And Mayweather was happy to be targeted because he knew it would lead to the easiest payday of his life. Both knew that boxing would allow it to happen because there was too much money to be made to turn it down.
What followed was a foul-mouthed build-up and well-choreographed fight all disguised as a genuine grudge match. Yet it was a relief when nobody got hurt. It was a relief when it was all over. In the last week, though, we have seen evidence that the Mayweather and McGregor circus was far from the end. The long-term effects of this Pantomime Era remain unknown but we should certainly proceed with caution.
Tyson Fury continues to prove he is as good a showman as he is a fighter. One only had to watch him race to the ring apron during a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event on Friday night and start shouting at a big fella called Brawn Strowman. By Monday evening Fury was fully immersed in the pantomime when he instigated a ‘mass brawl’ by pretending to chin everyone standing between him and Strowman at another WWE event in California.
While this whole rivalry has (thankfully) been kept away from boxing, Fury’s performance, as he pretended to be barking mad, was almost identical to how he has behaved at press conferences ahead of some of his biggest fights. Nobody should knock Fury for making some money in WWE – after all, it’s better to pretend to wrestle than pretend to box – but the line that separates the two continues to blur.
In nauseating news, it was reported that Logan Paul (the YouTube sensation) will target Anthony Joshua (former world heavyweight champion) after his professional boxing debut against KSI (another YouTube sensation). While Joshua’s name was put into Paul’s mouth – and the dangerous idea into his head – for the sake of a headline, it’s also the kind of garbage that makes boxing appear so ridiculous. It’s imperative that KSI-Logan Paul – a licensed bout between two famous novices – is not confused with elite boxing, irrespective of how many people watch.
It was no surprise to learn that the event will be on Sky Sports Box Office. It will be on there because, much like Mayweather-McGregor, it will sell to a wide audience. But Joshua being targeted as a future opponent by one of the debutants highlights the lunacy of inviting anyone and everyone into the sport of boxing.