Move over Mayweather and Fury, there’s a new class of heavyweight champions
Naoya Inoue is a phenomenon. The Japanese pugilist has taken the boxing world by storm, stomping every opponent that came his way with surreal authority. Unfazed and undefeated in his last 24 games, Inoue faced the biggest litmus test of his greatness in front of his home crowd last month. Like Inoue, his enemy Stephen Fulton too had forgotten the taste of defeat, carrying a spotless winning streak of 21 games. But one of them had to lose in Tokyo. It was Fulton who blinked, unable to match the frenetic pace and rawness of Inoue. It’s okay if you’ve not heard of Fulton or Inoue before
Inoue vs Fulton wasn’t the only high-profile clash that happened last week. Las Vegas was home to another mouthwatering clash, arguably the biggest fight of the year, between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence. Whereas Inoue’s disintegration of Fulton’s empire was equal part smooth and sexy and borderline devastating, what Crawford did to Spence was complete annihilation. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of Crawford and Spence either. They’re only some of the strongest professional boxers on the scene right now.
Don’t worry, you’re not the problem; the market is because profit maximisation is the name of the game, not credibility. It’s why celebrity boxing has now displaced serious boxing from the perch, because influencers are the real crowd-pullers in this economy, not Crawford, Inoue, Spence, and Fulton. They might be some of the most skillful fighters going around, but how many of them have a million followers on YouTube like Jake Paul? How many of them can play Call of Duty like FaZe Temperrr? How many of them own a multi-million sports energy drink like KSI? Influencer boxing has become a sport in its own right, where internet celebrity cosplay as boxers, flailing their arms in the rings like an inebriated old man trying to kill mosquitoes inside his room.
When Jake Paul takes on Nate Diaz on August 5 in Los Angeles, thousands will flock to the stadium, and more than millions are expected to tune in to the contest. These people might not be traditional boxing fans, but the hardcore fans of Paul the Youtube sensation and Diaz the notorious MMA fighter who rose to prominence in UFC. The hype is immense. Jake, along with his brother Logan Paul, are the first movers in the sphere of celebrity boxing. Logan fought the undisputed champion and legend Floyd Mayweather Jr. in an exhibition match a few years ago. The Paul brothers have made millions of celebrities, retired boxers, and MMA fighters. “This isn’t all about Jake Paul. This is about Jake doing his events but also, he has a desire to convert Jake Paul fans into boxing fans,” says Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports.
There’s nothing organic about this bunch of grifters who use boxing to further their own monetary ends, and in the process, harm the legitimacy of the sport. The Paul brothers have earned more from boxing in the last few years than someone like Oleksandr Usyk, a genuinely threatening pugilist who has slogged his entire life to get better at his work. Again, it’s totally fine if you have not heard of Usyk. He is quite popular in Ukraine. At present Usyk is the only serious contender who could put up a great show against someone like Tyson Fury, an undisputable champion in the heavyweight category. They tried to stage a fight at Wembley Stadium in London but couldn’t reach a negotiation. Fury will now take on Francis Ngannou, the former MMA fighter. It should be an easy victory for Fury, and he will earn more money by putting in half of the effort that he would have put against Usyk.
The New Era
If you’re feeling bad about missing out on Fury vs Usyk, you’re not alone. But this is where the sport is heading, and there’s nothing you could do to save it. It’s the era of TikTokers, YouTubers, and gamers. Let’s brace ourselves for Diaz vs Jake, the latest edition of influencers boxing. They can’t guarantee competitiveness, and they don’t have technical skill, but they have rizz and vibe. What else do you need?
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