The bizarre boxing contest between YouTube stars KSI and Logan Paul recently has left everyone, whether invested in the debacle or not, with more questions than answers. In a literal sense, the majority draw verdict provoked heated discussions of whether there would be a rematch, or if the judging was rigged, or if this was actually the plan all along so the public, fuelled by the drama of the first contest, could be convinced to buy twice into the rivalry. In a broader sense however: how can boxing not look at itself in the mirror and wonder what will become of it in the future?
The sport has been in danger of being dominated by a personality cult for a long time now, which manifested in the most unhealthy of ways when Floyd Mayweather came out of retirement to defeat Conor McGregor in the most lucrative bout in boxing history. Floyd alone was guaranteed a minimum of $100 million, which (if rumours are to be believed) nearly tripled once sponsorship money, add ons and tickets sales were included. McGregor, impoverished by comparison, walked away with a guaranteed minimum of $30 million.
The build up alone, you may remember, was a toxic circus. Huge attendances at the press conferences saw both men in foul-mouthed exchanges, during which we were reminded of the ways each man had dominated opponents in their respective sports, and how much money each had made in their respective careers. And we stupidly lapped it up. We bought tickets, we bought live streams, we bought Box Office packages, and we did so to watch Mayweather waltz to a non-eventful, predictable victory.
The weekend of the 25th August 2018, almost a year to the day later, brought another, even stranger event that saw fans sell out Manchester Arena. Hundreds of thousands more paid online to watch two internet celebrities fight for six white collar rounds in a bid to settle a YouTube feud. Each man with a potential purse between $30 and $40 million for doing so which, if true, would make them the highest paid boxers so far this year.
How do you explain that ridiculous truth to Isaac Dogboe who, on the same evening, defended his WBO world super-bantamweight title for a paltry $65,000. Or tell Jose Pedraza that headlining Dogboe’s card and earning $125,000 to become a two time, two weight world champion is legitimate business when the Manchester card made multi-millionaires out of unlicensed, internet fly by nights? What possible consolation can you offer other novices and domestic champions, who must keep full-time jobs to support their professional careers, in the face of this harsh reality?
The short answer: you can’t – you can only remind them that life is unfair, and this is a weird world we live in.
Even harder, though, is explaining to the average boxing fan that the Manchester card eclipsed a huge number of high profile cards in terms of pay-per-view buys. At the time of writing, KSI vs Logan Paul ranks 40th on the table of all-time PPV boxing purchases. Below it, events such as Pacquiao-Hatton, Holyfield-Lewis 2, Cotto-Margarito 2, Canelo-Khan, Pacquiao-Bradley, Whitaker-De La Hoya, Holyfield-Holmes and Tyson-Spinks all drop one place to make way for the new entry
Although a shocking affront to many, ultimately boxing is a business, and business is about supply and demand. Their boxing pedigrees are irrelevant; people wanted to see KSI and Logan Paul fight to resolve their differences, and they turned out in their droves to do so. There have been professional boxing matches before – featuring actual boxers – that no one wanted and no one asked for, yet we were given them regardless. The Shane Mosley vs Ricardo Mayorga rematch. Danny Garcia vs Rod Salka. Shannon Briggs vs anyone after 2014. The sport is littered with undesirable and uninspiring contests that we would all rather forget; why don’t they deserve the same ridicule?
You might say these fights still featured some sort of appreciation of the martial art. Perhaps. But what exactly did we artistically appreciate in Mosley-Mayorga 2? The ashes of their 2008 rivalry were nowhere near enough to keep boxing fans warm a full seven years later, especially when Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares were producing a raging inferno of a fight on the same evening (in the same city, no less) and the all important numbers reflected that; a mere 4,000 spectators were in attendance. Pay-per-view buys were paltry. Afterwards, the fight was dismissed by fans and journalists as a total non-event as Mayorga, out of sorts and out of shape, was stopped in the 6th.
In these respects, the KSI – Logan Paul fight was everything the Mosley – Mayorga rematch wasn’t: desirable, marketable and business-sensible. It had a build up reminiscent of a latter-years Mayweather fight. It caught the interest of a public beyond their own YouTube followers. Even hall-of-fame announcer Michael Buffer was compere, usually proof to fighters that they’ve hit the big time.
If all else fails, console yourself with the fact that KSI-Logan Paul was hardly boxing at all, in the same way that putting them in super-fast cars and watching them hurtle round a track wouldn’t be Formula 1. The people watching wouldn’t be appreciating the subtle nuances of breaking and accelerating, or the adjusting of tactics to account for heat in the tyres; they would just watch to see them turn corners fast. Those who saw KSI vs Logan Paul in August weren’t appreciating counter-punching or deft footwork or shot selection; they just wanted to see them hit one another, and that, for better or worse, is exactly what they got. Nothing more.
To the fans who are still bitter over this weird and strange new world, there’s not much more I or anyone else can say. Get out more. Go and see more fights. Support your local scene. Attend your local shows. Buy that pay-per-view. Buy that book, or that box set. Buy them both. Train at a gym and meet fighters, trainers, conditioners and cornermen. Get involved. Let the practitioners of the boxing that you love know that they are worthy of your time and your money; that there is a fan base worth actually boxing for. Because if you don’t, you will only see the sport continue to change in front of your eyes and watch it move towards evermore unfamiliar and uncomfortable territories, not knowing there was a stand you could have taken or a statement you could have made, however small it may be, that told the sport of boxing it was still worth watching.