There’s something incredibly universal about a fight. Anybody who has seen one in the schoolyard knows how attractive they are to spectators. While there are different styles and rulesets, everybody seems to be born knowing what it means for someone to get hit, choked or pinned down. The standards for winning a fight seem less arbitrary than any other sport. Behold, the world of Celebrity boxing is born.
This natural attraction to fights that people have is perhaps why the celebrity boxing trend has arisen. As one of the many things making the 2020s unbearable, celebrity boxing has taken the PPV world by storm. Ever since Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather and the Paul brothers started calling out people they could beat up. While some fighters or promoters will tell you that the phenomenon is positive for the sport, the vast majority of fighters and fight fans who hate the trend are right in maintaining that it is ultimately negative for the sport of boxing.
Those who disagree argue that regardless of what you think, celebrity matchups garner attention for the sport of boxing and are, therefore, positive for the sport. The rise of the UFC and the reality of recent years without any highly likeable boxing champions did lower viewership. Lately, however, boxing has made a resurgence, with an exciting heavyweight division featuring Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, along with Canelo Álvarez’s rise to superstardom in the middleweight classes. Real fighters are bringing boxing back, not celebrity matchups. Fans who tune in to see YouTubers fight basketball players are not likely to go on to become consistent boxing fans or to tune in for anything other than more celebrity fights. Celebrity boxing is marketed much like professional wrestling through trash talking and pageantry. However, in the end, the product—the fights themselves—are very much an afterthought.
In another similarity to pro wrestling, these celebrity matchups are highly prone to fixing. Take, for example, Mayweather vs. McGregor. Any experienced boxer or trainer will tell you that Mayweather carried McGregor for a few rounds. He allowed him to stay in the fight to keep PPV buyers engaged knocking him out in the later rounds. Similarly, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, now far past their primes, sold an incredible number of PPVs in their exhibition.
While Tyson vs. Jones was an exhibition, Mayweather vs. McGregor was a real, sanctioned professional boxing fight. The fact that fight results can be tampered with and selected beforehand while the events still make record amounts of money invites further such tampering in the future. Fight fixing could bleed into real pro boxing matchups and could sully the name of boxing beyond repair.
Finally, the celebrity boxing trend makes a mockery of all that it takes to become a successful professional boxer. Great boxers are groomed from a young age through countless hours of training and hundreds of amateur fights. They then turn pro and work their way up through the lower ranks while making little money and risking great personal injury. By the time they have become a real PPV draw, they are elite technicians, endurance athletes and mentally tough as nails. Boxing is an incredibly cutthroat business, and the boxers that make it big are pushing the limits of human potential. For a YouTuber to cut the line and get massive paydays and adulation from the masses by talking trash to a famous person on social media—only to put on an amateurish performance—just seems wrong.
I’m not saying that celebrity boxing should be illegal. People have a right to watch if they want, and I suppose celebrities deserve, in some sense, whatever they make. That said, shifting the focus of what sells boxing fights away from the skills of the boxers is going to yield negative consequences for actual fighters, true fans and the sport as a whole. Despite people paying to see it, no major sports league is allowing random celebrities to compete for quick bucks. They care too much about diminishing the quality of their product, and boxing promoters should do the same.