When we think about the world of boxing, we think about trained, ripped athletes who are ready to don the gloves and get the better of their equally able opponents. Legends like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, Joe Louis and so on, have made their name in the industry and taken the boxing world by storm throughout the decades.
And then came the bizarre world of celebrity boxing matches. Back in 2002, FOX aired a television show which was known as Celebrity Boxing, which saw stars try to regain their notoriety by facing off against other celebrities. Featuring matches like Tonya Harding versus Paula Jones, Danny Bonaduce versus Barry Williams and Todd Bridges versus Vanilla Ice, it didn’t really do so well with the public. Despite this, it aired two episode, with three bouts on each, but it was also ranked as one of the 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time in the same year.
Various other similar shows, like Celebrity Deathmatch and Celebrity Wrestling came to light in proceeding years, but none have had the same sort of staying power that the celebrity boxing matches have had. Events remain planned for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022, with tours like Boxstar Celebrity Boxing taking place in the United Kingdom. But the question is, are these celebrity boxing matches actually a good thing for the sport itself? Or are they actually making it a bit of a farce?
We’re going to take a closer look at these celebrity events and find out what the reason for them is and how they end up bringing in more money than a genuine boxing match does. Plus, is it really such a competitive sport or something that is solely used as a way of reviving the careers of washed-up boxers and minor celebrities with little notoriety these days?
Innocent Fights Earn Celebrities Acclaim
If when reading the title of ‘celebrity boxing matches’ you were expecting to see bouts between Leonardo Di Caprio and Ryan Reynolds or Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyonce, then you’d better think again. Because the term ‘celebrity’ so very often refers to the competitors very loosely. From YouTube personalities through to former stars of the 80s and 90s who have lost their way, these matches don’t include the elite.
Former athletes and retired boxers have stepped forward to take their place in the spotlight for one last moment when it comes to these celebrity boxing matches. But, don’t expect to see the likes of Linford Christie or Michael Phelps stepping into the ring anytime soon.
Yet, even with this being the case, the celebrity boxing matches have indeed grown in popularity with the public in recent years. And these fights are quite innocent. The celebrities don’t really have any beef with each other. They don’t really stand to gain anything from being the victor of the bout. And they don’t win a belt once they’ve mowed down all their competition. It’s not really comparable to a fight between actual boxers such as Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, for example.
Instead, it would be more appropriate to refer to these events as exhibition matches, because essentially, they are there for entertainment purposes more than anything else. Take a look at the YouTube star known as Jake Paul, for example. Back in November of 2020, he took on Nate Robinson in a celebrity boxing match. Paul went on to floor Robison, who is a former professional basketball player, before flooring him again and then delivering a third knockdown.
Paul has continued returning to the boxing ring in these exhibition matches against other celebrities, ever since he defeated a fellow YouTube sensation in Deji Olatunji. And despite his and his opponents’ lack of boxing experience, which is clearly displayed when they set foot in the ring, people continue to purchase tickets to witness these spectacles unfold. But what is the point in such events? There is very little acclaim for the celebrities to gain from them, so are they all doing it solely for the entertainment factor and minimal fame boost?
What Attracts People To Celebrity Boxing Matches?
Unlike standard boxing matches between two seasoned professionals, celebrity boxing matches bring their own sense of uniqueness to the forefront. And this can already be enough appeal for some people. However, another factor that comes into the equation is that a celebrity has the chance to be built up from participating in one. And it is for this reason that so many YouTube celebrities are getting involved in these bouts.
A celebrity status can be earned solely by being active on YouTube and other social media platforms. If such a person goes toe-to-toe with someone else of the same sort of status in a boxing ring, it draws in the younger generation. Why? Because their beef, whether made up or real, plays out on social media before, during and after their boxing match. Some professional sporting leagues have seen their ratings decline because fans actually have much more of a focus on this side of things than on the actual competitiveness of a good sporting event.
Such a personality from the world of YouTube or Tik Tok etc. can then be taken out of their standard brand environment and dropped into a new one. And this is what appeals to people. If you were a huge fan of Sam Smith and you saw him do something completely different to making and releasing music, this is something out of the ordinary. You want to see how well he will do. What sort of personality will come out during such an occasion, and so on. A celebrity boxing match provides a ground for this to happen.
When you also throw in the general appeal of a staged physical altercation, this provides the catalyst for huge amounts of interest being generated by people who both support and despise it. And in the process, a bucketload of revenue is generated alongside.
Do Celebrity Matches Hurt The Sport Of Boxing?
If you were to ask someone who is a big fan of boxing as a sport, then the likely answer would be that it definitely does harm it. And following the aforementioned knockout of Nate Robinson by Jake Paul, various figures within the boxing industry called on the fights to be cancelled. Due to the fact that Robinson required extensive medical attention after the bout, Claressa Shields, who is a two-time Olympic champion, posted a Tweet condemning the match. She said, “Nate don’t need to be in there with no headgear. You can’t play boxing”.
A former trainer of Mike Tyson, Teddy Atlas commented that “guys who don’t know how to fight” should not be allowed in the ring.
The feelings were backed up by Puerto Rican professional boxer and unified featherweight champion Amanda Serrano, who branded the celebrity events “stupid”. She further stated that they should not take place solely for the outcome of gaining “YouTube likes”, before stating that someone will “get really hurt one day. Not cool at all”.
Throughout the series of Tweets and other comments being made on the bout, British cruiserweight Isaac Chamberlain said that the YouTube celebrities were “making boxing a joke”.
Of course, that isn’t the thought process of everyone. Professional boxer Deontay Wilder had an interesting response when questioned on the celebrity boxing matches. He said:
“If anyone has an interest or a creative idea to come in and want to shine a light on it in any way, I’m all for it, especially if they are making money for them. I mean, if it makes money, it makes sense. If people want to watch it and enjoy boxing, you have probably gained boxing fans because these different guys all try to come and do things”.
But if you think that it is simply due to the “celebrities” not being trained for boxing that they’re hurting the business, think again. In early 2021, a match was set to take place between Floyd Mayweather and Logan Paul. Mayweather is a former professional boxer, while Paul is a YouTuber and social media personality, just like his brother Jake. A couple of months prior to the match taking place, Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports commented that this match was much more about name recognition and celebrity status than it was about talent, training and conditioning.
And just recently, former American boxer Evander Holyfield tried to revive some sort of career by stepping back into the ring at age 58 to take on Vitor Belfort, a former UFC fighter. Holyfield may have held all the belts within the cruiserweight division at one time in his heyday, but he hadn’t fought professionally for 10 years. He failed to display any sort of meaningful punch or offence during the bout and suffered a first-round technical knockout at the hands of Belfort. And just when things couldn’t get any more bizarre with this match, former U.S. President Donald Trump was on commentary for the fight!
If that doesn’t say that it’s all turning into a bit of showbusiness rather than a competitive sport, what does? After all, Trump did say that he would take current President Joe Biden on in the boxing ring and knock him out “within the first few seconds”. *Commence eye roll*.
The whole thing was terribly farcical, showing that not only have these bouts become tiresome and cringe-worthy in the eyes of many, but that they’re taking the focus away from the actual sport of boxing.
“Triller Reimagining Boxing Pay-Per-Views for TikTok Generation”, Says The Guardian writer
In April of 2021, Jake Paul (yes, him again), won his third boxing match after he knocked out a retired UFC fighter in the first round. That fighter, Ben Askren, had no previous boxing experience. Writing up the event, Bryan Armen Graham of The Guardian newspaper said that it was much more like “highly polished cosplay than a genuine sporting experience between top-flight competitors”. He went on to state that Paul’s three victories, which have been over largely lesser-equipped opponents, had seen him taking the least amount of risk and selling it for the highest price possible.
That event spent the majority of the night trending in the number 1 spot on both Twitter and Instagram across the United States and various other countries. And because of things like this, celebrity boxing in general has become quite newsworthy in the world of sports business. It was produced and distributed by social networking app Triller, which had only been involved in the sector as of around six months prior. It was then that it carried the exhibition match that occurred between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Of course, both of those men are former boxers anyway.
Yet, the prime point that stood out other than the promotion of that match in the first place (which generated a figure of 1.6m buys) was the fact that it was a slickly produced telecast, which provided more entertainment than anyone believed possible. The event between Paul and Askren went on to double down on that same formula, including musical interludes by big names like Justin Bieber, The Black Keys, Doja Cat and others. Even hip-hop supergroup Mt Westmore (featuring Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, Too $hort and E-40) was present to provide entertainment between segments. Clearly, Triller is not sparing any expense when it comes to the creation and promotion of these events.
Could this be what boxing is becoming now? Where pay-per-view events are being redesigned and thrust into the spotlight for the generation who are much more interested in posting Tik Toks and Instagram stories. Of course, those who are loyal to the traditional sport may continue to balk at the very idea that this could be true. Yet, what these people fail to understand is that these types of sideshows are not something new. Plus, it sparks a bit of alarm that a sport such as boxing is not able to propel new stars to the highest heights, when a sparring session taking place between a YouTuber and a former professional can manage it and become one of the industry’s most talked-about occurrences.