Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Does “Celebrity Boxing” Hurt Or Benefit The Sport?


Since the latest influx of celebrity bouts began to find its way into the sport of Boxing a couple of years ago, one question that I have been asked more than once is do these bouts, which nowadays usually consist of social media influencers help Boxing overall or does it actually hurt the sport? Obviously, it is a question that can be viewed and answered in a variety of ways. 


The most obvious argument in favor of these bouts occurring on a regular basis is that it brings in a segment of the population that the sport of Boxing for whatever reason struggles to attract on an ongoing basis. This observer is referring to the casual fan. Normally when discussing the struggle Boxing faces in procuring the interest of a casual fan, yours truly will often use the term “Casual Sports fan.” A distinction of fan that can be defined as one with a general interest in sports, but not a thorough follower of any particular sport. In this case however, the term should be reduced slightly to “Casual fan” as a means of describing one who may be a fan of a certain celebrity or influencer, but may not watch sports on even a casual basis, much less Boxing.  


While one should not dismiss the viability of a casual fan as the aim for any sport should be to draw as many eyes as possible to it, do “Celebrity Boxing” bouts succeed in drawing the interest of those casual fans beyond the celebrity involvement? To be honest with the reader, I think the answer is a bit mixed and cannot be answered simply with a “Yes” or, a “No.” The reason for this is simply because the answer depends both on who you ask as well as the extent of the “Celebrity” involvement. 


To provide some context, let me take the reader back a few decades. In the early 2000’s the Fox television network here in the United States produced a series of specials titled “Fox Celebrity Boxing.” While the fights if you want to call them that, that occurred on these shows were not necessarily aimed at being taken seriously as a legitimate sporting endeavor, the bouts, which were held in front of a live studio audience did for a time generate interest amongst the public and as a result, the network did a handful of shows with the “Fox Celebrity Boxing” branding over a limited period of time. As someone who viewed these shows when they took place, but did not cover them, I understood that it was more than likely a ratings initiative by the network as the cards were held during the summer months, which usually was not the best time for a network to produce consistently good ratings outside of sports programming as many weekly scripted television programs were not in season during the summer months. I also understood not to take things too seriously as the way the show was presented was such that it was meant for entertainment rather than to be taken as necessarily legitimate Boxing contests. 


The reason why I cannot reminisce too much about the series is simple, it did not last long and it is questionable as to whether or not beyond mere curiosity that it had any impact whatsoever on the actual sport of Boxing whether it be positively or negatively. In more present times, the influx of “Celebrity Boxing” has been in the form of those who have achieved notoriety as either social media influencers or YouTube stars that have ventured into the sport. 


Readers may recall when this trend started, I stated that anyone who entered the sport from an outside realm would get a fair shake from me so long as the sport of Boxing was treated with respect and taken seriously as it should be for the reason being that it is a combat sport and as such those who participate in the sport are risking their lives each and every time they enter the ring. It is therefore important to me as someone who truly cares about the sport and wants to see it thrive, that it is not treated by those entering it from the outside as a joke, because reality is, it is anything but. 


In fairness, those like the Paul brothers and KSI (Real name Olajide Olatunji, who have had actual professional bouts on their respective Boxing resumes, at least on the surface appear to be treating the sport with some level of respect. The criticism that all three as well as others have faced, despite their pleas to be taken seriously as fighters is they have not yet competed against anyone with Boxing experience unless you count Logan Paul’s exhibition with Floyd Mayweather as a legitimate Boxing contest, which it was not, thus the exhibition distinction. 


While Logan Paul’s bother Jake, has tried twice thus far to get into a ring in a competitive Boxing match with a person with a Boxing background, as of yet, has been unsuccessful in getting a fight in the ring. Now, KSI following the withdrawal of scheduled opponent Alex Wassabi, who were scheduled to meet in a Boxing match that would headline a card broadcast on DAZN Pay-Per-View in some countries and part of a standard monthly or annual subscription on DAZN in others. With his desire to keep his scheduled August 27th date, KSI will now face two men on the card in the same night. 


While this is an obvious attempt by both KSI and the network to salvage the event, which will take place at the O2 Arena in London, England and be available through DAZN Pay-Per-View for an economically reasonable price of $9.99, and it does appear to be a gimmick by someone facing two opponents in the same evening, there is actually a precedent for such an event. Depending on one’s age, some may remember an event that took place in Toronto, CN in April 1975 where after losing the World Heavyweight championship to Muhammad Ali in October of 1974, George Foreman returned to the ring in an event classified as an exhibition where he faced five overmatched opponents in one night.  


Although such an event was designed as both a way for Foreman to get back into the ring following what would ultimately become the only knockout loss of his career, and as a publicity stunt in an attempt to re-establish Foreman’s scary aura as one of the sport’s feared “Knockout Artists,” the event was universally held in little regard due in part to the lack of quality opposition that Foreman faced on that evening.   


In this case, there is no such aura of intimidation or feared knockout power for KSI to establish, but competing in two exhibition bouts in one evening may appeal to some on the surface because it is something that is rarely done, even by seasoned professional boxers. Despite his limited professional Boxing experience, unlike his YouTube counterparts in the Paul brothers, KSI will facing at least one man with professional Boxing experience in facing a man by the name of Swarmz, who is known as a Rap artist. Swarmz, has never been in a Boxing ring before. KSI will however, begin the evening by facing Luis Pineda. 


 Both fights are not official professional bouts, but in regard to the Pineda bout, KSI will face a fighter with seven professional bouts, but one with a record of 2-5, with 0 Knockouts. It should also not be overlooked that Pineda, is a Jr. Middleweight, which has a weight limit of 154lbs. In his one professional bout in a rematch from an amateur bout against Logan Paul, KSI fought as a 190lb. Cruiserweight.  


While original opponent Alex Wassabi had to withdraw due to suffering a severe concussion while training for the bout with KSI, one should wonder just how successful this event will be both in terms of a live gate attraction and as well as an event for digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, who has vowed to only dip their toes into the pay-per-view realm on a sporadic basis. Even though the card featuring the two exhibition bouts is being sold in some countries including here in the United States and Canada at a more reasonable price of $9.99 compared to virtually all Boxing cards sold through pay-per-view, it is a fair question to ask how successful this event will be when all is said and done. 


What cannot be overlooked is networks like DAZN and the Paramount-owned Showtime have welcomed these social media influencers/ YouTube celebrities with open arms. While it cannot be discounted that there is a method to the networks madness in trying to get their network in front of demographics of fans that may not of otherwise given either much of a look, so far, the jury is still out as to whether or not it will have much long-term benefit to the sport of Boxing long-term, particularly in regard to Showtime who has willingly signed a multi-fight contract with Jake Paul to showcase him exclusively on the pay-per-view model, which thus far has produced mixed results. 


Although yours truly will be tuning into this exhibition event both for curiosity and as a Boxing scribe in the endless search for his next story/column, I feel it important both as a Boxing lifer, as someone with the best interest of the sport at heart, and as someone who listens to the criticism of the sport from everyone ranging from those involved in Boxing to those who are “Casual Sports fans” on a daily basis, to simply offer this caution to anyone watching this event. “No Expectations, No Disappointments.”  


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.” 


KSI vs. Swarmz /KSI vs. Pineda takes place on Saturday, August 27th at the O2 Arena in London, England. The event can be seen in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom on DAZN Pay-Per-View beginning at 2PM ET/11AM PT (*U.S. Times and Pricing.) The card will be available outside of those markets as part of a standard monthly or annual subscription to DAZN’s streaming network.  


For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, availability around the world, local start times in your area, how to access this event in your region, and to subscribe please visit: 


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