Celebrity boxing: a dangerous precedent or a product of our times?

Should more be done to protect amateur boxers? (Credit Martin Rulsch via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Hales | Contributor 

You could say there is quite a jump between creating YouTube content and playing video games in the safety of a home to fighting on undercards and to sometimes even being the main event in professional boxing matches. However the likes of KSI, Logan Paul and Jake Paul are just a few of the names who have made that big leap. Yet the question of legitimacy in their fights has been debated by professional boxers and boxing fans alike. 

The first debut of the new generation of influencer fighting was back in 2018 between British YouTubers KSI and Joe Weller. It was streamed live on YouTube but received limited coverage from the mainstream media. 

With neither party being from a professional boxing background, the fight commenced with strict rules and heard guards were worn. KSI went on to comfortably beat Weller and challenged fellow YouTuber, Logan Paul, shortly after his victory. 

Celebrity fights soon started to kick up controversy after the announcement of a KSI and Paul rematch following a draw in the first fight. The scheduled fight was labelled a professional bout, with fighters not allowed to wear head guards and had to use 10oz gloves. The fight immediately picked up an immense amount of coverage, with it even being shown on Sky Sports Box Office and DAZN. 

Notorious boxing promoter, Eddie Hearn, revealed the rematch between Paul vs KSI sold more pay-per-views than Anthony Joshua’s defeat to Andy Ruiz Jnr. 

Although sceptical at first about the concept of celebrity boxing fights, Hearn warmed to the idea of the new audiences it could bring to boxing. The fight allowed fans of both KSI and Paul to become emotionally invested in the fight, something professional boxing had struggled to do for years.

There is however a strong disagreement from professional boxers and passionate fans surrounding the legitimacy of celebrities striding into this as a career path. 

The most recent celebrity fight card, which hosted YouTube star Jake Paul and ex-NBA player Nate Robinson, brought equal controversy. 

Robinson was knocked out in the second round, and many professional boxers took to commenting online their worry about the outcome of the fight. Professional women’s boxer, Amanda Serrano, tweeted after the fight; “Boxing is a serious game. Nothing to be doing for YouTube likes.” 

What made this specific fight between Jake Paul and Robinson controversial in the first place was the fact Robinson had no previous boxing experience. Unlike Jake Paul who had not only fought at amateur level and “professionally” when he beat fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib at the beginning of the year.

Boxing coach and commentator, Teddy Atlas, tweeted, “I don’t care about athletes or not, stop allowing guys who don’t know how to fight into a ring.” Later in the tweet Atlas began to question why the California boxing commission allowed the fight to even take place.

The financial incentives from these occasions make it hard for organisers not to consider putting it on a show. The audiences the likes of Robinson and more significantly, Jake Paul, will continue to meet high PPV levels and generate more hype than most professional fights. Whether the organisers take into account the safety of the fighters is another matter, an issue especially apparent with Robinson who looked very much out of his depth, raising concerns over the moral decisions made by the event organisers.

The increasing popularity of celebrity fights are undoubtedly bringing a lot of attention and different types of audiences to the sport of boxing. More people are becoming engaged with the sport, who usually wouldn’t have prior to seeing their favourite YouTuber or celebrity enter the boxing ring. For this to continue more has to be done to protect celebrities who decide to take on this challenge and should be equally matched with the same professionalism as what would be seen in any other professional boxing match. 

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