When Jake Paul lost a split decision to Tommy Fury on Sunday, boxing “purists” let out a collective “Yes! he sideshow is over!” exclamation.
But the “sideshow” isn’t over. Paul will be back, Paul-Fury 2 is already hatching, and, honestly, Tommy Fury is just as much of a “celebrity boxer” as Jake Paul is.
Would it even be in boxing’s best interest right now for the “sideshow” to be over?
There’s a case to be made that these YouTubers/Influencers/Celebs trying their hand in boxing are playing a positive role in keeping the sport relevant to young fans.
From a recent article this writer published at FightHype.com:
According to research conducted in 2021 by analytics firm Two Circles, boxing has had a huge upswing in support from Gen Z sports fans, making it the fourth most popular sport among that 6-24 age group. A subsequent Harris Poll delivered similar findings, with boxing ranking between basketball and MMA in terms of popularity. Other studies have produced similar results.
So, what gives? Why the popularity in the studies, but the steadily dwindling TV [ratings] numbers?
What the studies didn’t measure was whether self-identifying boxing fans were actually buying into the present day product or even all that enticed into looking into it.
The Harris Poll, with a greater attention to specifics, offered some insight into those questions.
Their findings showed that most of those who called themselves fans of boxing couldn’t name one active fighter. Highest on the list of recognizable names among active fighters were Tyson Fury (at 37%), Saul Alvarez and Ryan Garcia (at 26%), and Deontay Wilder (at 24%). Also, according to the poll, only 29% of respondents who identified as boxing fans could name any upcoming non-exhibition boxing match…
…The uncomfortable truth for some is that the latest fad of celebrity boxing– which drives boxing purists into fits of revulsion– is the sport’s best friend. Jake Paul and the wave of influencers trying their hand at boxing is piquing the interest of young fans. They are raising youth awareness for a sport whose fan base, according to studies conducted as recently as ten years ago, was trending increasingly middle-aged/elderly.”
That’s a hard pill to swallow for the curmudgeonly “purists” and one which most likely will NOT be swallowed. But there’s no denying the mainstream attention Jake Paul-Tommy Fury got and how many eyeballs it brought to a sport that hasn’t been all that mainstream-friendly in recent years.
With coverage coming via places ranging from CNN and Rolling Stone, all the way to Maxim and Barstool Sports, the reality is that this fight generated more mainstream buzz than anything “real” boxing has produced in awhile. Mainstream buzz is always a good thing.
When an 8-round bout between novice pros can create more across-the-board excitement than the sport’s best vs. best matchups, that should be a loud and clear distress signal for your sport. Instead, some would rather just squash guys like Jake Paul and pretend like all is well.
You can be sure that if a one-on-one half-court basketball game between low-level celebrities generated more attention and drew higher ratings than the NBA Finals, the NBA would be treating the situation seriously.
Boxing, to a great degree, is NOT taking this situation seriously. As a matter of fact, the reaction of a great many boxing people is to simply shut their eyes and ears and lash out at Jake Paul and others deemed not “real” fighters. They have no answers to boxing’s problems and offer no stabs at solutions. They just shake their balled fist in anger at a world that’s changing while grasping at nostalgia of the good ol’ days.
These Jake Paul-type fluff fights are keeping the sport in the forefront of young people’s minds and, in doing so, keeping boxing relevant. They’re exposing the youth to boxing and the youth is liking it. That’s a hell of a lot more than the establishment ‘real’ world of boxing has been able to do.
Boxing “purists” need to stop fetishizing nostalgia and treating the sport like their own private club. They need to realize that growth and outreach are essential to the overall well-being of the sport. It’s certainly not Jake Paul’s fault if the boxing establishment can’t/won’t use that attention to their benefit.