BIG MAD - People Beating Each Other Up For Money (4.23.21)

The future of fighting sports is... basically Bum Fights?

Last weekend, YouTube provocateur turned semi-professional boxer Jake Paul stunned the fighting world after knocking out retired UFC legend Ben Askren in the first round of an exhibition boxing match. Although Askren was giving up three inches and 12 years to Paul, the knockout itself was quite convincing. And it was only the latest in a slew of victories for the Paul brothers, who are cementing themselves as the faces of an emerging gonzo-boxing scene.

Although the result of the fight was certainly a surprise, I would hardly call it an upset. In the UFC Askren made his bones as one of the greatest wrestlers and grapplers the sport has ever seen. Which made his boxing debut against Paul a little confusing, considering that Askren’s strong suit had never been the punching and striking aspects of fighting sports. It’s a little bit like an Olympic freestyle swimmer agreeing to partake a diving contest. Sure, they both take place in a pool and both require one be able to swim, but the skill set couldn’t be more different.

The Paul brothers have quickly cemented themselves among fighting sports’ most controversial figures. However their transition into boxing was as much a calculated business decision as it was an athletic endeavor. Jake and his brother Logan are in many ways the quintessential YouTubers. The easiest way to describe them is YouTube personalities appealing to the lowest common denominator of a rabid prepubescent fanbase. They got their start pulling objectively stupid prank videos for a tween audience, and have been remarkably adept at keeping up with the latest trends and fads in terms of content.

The ecosystem of YouTube and it’s creators are notoriously filled with drama and controversy, and the Paul’s have virtually built their brand around attracting that notoriety. The controversies and scandals and scams that have embroiled the Paul brothers are almost too numerous to list here. But they run the gamut from filming dead bodies in the Japanese suicide forest and hosting out-of-control parties during COVID to legitimate scams and sexual assault.

However in recent years the brothers have sort of aged out of the tween/teen-focused YouTube demographic. Simply put it’s just not a good look for people in their mid-to-late twenties to be making videos targeted at tweens (not that either of them necessarily care about optics). They are almost universally reviled by fellow YouTubers for a variety of reasons, most of which can be filed under the fact that they are simultaneously shameless pricks and incredibly good at what they do. And this has bubbled up into almost constant beefs and feuds. Elaborately staged fights to settle those scores are sort of the logical conclusion to the Paul brothers content empire.

The Paul brothers first foray into the fight game was in August of 2018 in Manchester, England. The event was essentially an evening of YouTubers and Twitter personalities beating the crap out of each other, headlined by Logan fighting fellow YouTuber KSI and included an undercard fight where Jake fought YouTuber ComedyShortsGamer. The event was a pay per view success, and a genre was seemingly born overnight.

Thus began the Paul’s hard pivot to boxing. Logan fought KSI a second time, then Jake fought former NBA player Nate Robinson, who is 5’8”, and knocked him out in convincing manner. Then in December of 2020, Logan announced that he would be fighting none other than the 43-year-old undefeated champion Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition match some time in 2021.

The Logan Paul vs. Floyd Mayweather fight seems almost like a matchup spawned from some kind of fucked up 2020-themed Mad Libs. But in many ways, it makes a lot of sense. Both of these fighters have built a brand around controversy, albeit in slightly different ways, and boxing has always been about showmanship and putting on a spectacle. What makes for better spectacle than two utterly vile human beings beating the piss out of each other?

Floyd Mayweather, the biggest boxing star of the last 25 years, is equal parts a transcendentally dominant talent and a utterly contemptible human being. His fights are hardly entertaining, usually winning using a combination of extremely technical fighting skill and an uncanny ability to avoid taking a big punch. He doesn’t win with big knockouts the way champions of yore once did, and nobody except the most hardcore fight fans want to watch 15 rounds of Mayweather dance and dodge around his opponent. But if it’s 15 rounds of him absolutely pummeling Logan Paul, then you can count me in.

And much like the Paul brothers, Mayweather’s controversies are also nearly too numerous to list out here. He’s been charged with domestic battery several different times against several different women and children, including one case that ended with him serving two months in prison and another with him serving 90 days. There’s no way around calling Mayweather what he is; a batterer of women and children.

The fact is that the sport of boxing itself can no longer be the spectacle. Rather, it has gone the route of WWE where that spectacle must be manufactured. In other words, the fights themselves have taken a backseat to the narratives and storylines that are constructed around it. People don’t care how good or bad the fighters are. They want knockouts. They want big hits. They want a slugfest. And the way Floyd Mayweather fights just isn’t conducive to that sort of primal bloodlust that has captivated human attention since time immemorial.

I think this is the core of why boxing just hasn’t taken off among Millennials and Gen-Zers. We don’t want technical counterpunching and artful dodging. We want to see people get their clocks cleaned, because those are the kinds of fighting content we were raised on. People my age grew up watching Bum Fights and Kimbo Slice backyard brawls and LiveLeak parking lot scuffles, not paying $90 for a pay per view fight. I can count on one hand the amount of pay per view boxing matches I’ve tuned into in the last 15 years. But I’ve seen probably a thousand videos of two dudes in a parking lot or in the woods just throwing hands.

Barstool Sports’ Rough N’ Rowdy events are the perfect example of this kind of fight content. Rough N’ Rowdy is a live pay per view event where a packed card of amateur boxers without any training whatsoever beat the crap out of each other. And the matchups themselves always offer at least a modicum of entertaining context, with pairings like “Gay Guy vs Neo-Nazi” or “Ex-Con vs Prison Guard”. It’s basically like an internet fight video from Twitter or Reddit come to life. Why pay $50 to watch a two professionals dance around each other for 15 rounds, when for the same price I can watch 50 amateurs flail around the ring until one of them connects with a haymaker.

Ultimately, the Paul-Mayweather fight is just two garbage bag human beings beating the shit out of each other for gobs and gobs of money. There is no pretense of competitiveness here. Any idea of the sanctity of sport and competition has been thrown out the window. Paul doesn’t even have a punchers chance in this fight, even though he’s got six inches, 17 years, and at least 40 pounds on Mayweather. You can hardly call this sport even by the loosest of definitions. This fight is essentially just another viral prank video. I am sure many of you have sat around with your buddies after a couple beers and debated how much money it would take for you to step into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. Well, that’s basically what this fight is. It’s Logan Paul agreeing to get his face caved in on an international stage for clout.

The sad part of it is that the sport of boxing was once among the premier spectator sports in the United States, on par with baseball and football as America’s pastimes. Legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali and Joe Lewis and Mike Tyson were once the most well known athletes on earth. But boxing hasn’t really been a relevant, big ticket sport in America for decades. Sure, there are a handful of big fights every year that even the most casual sports fan will tune in for. But boxing certainly doesn’t hold the same mainstream appeal it did 20 or 30 years ago. And here its now, reduced to it’s biggest star and greatest champion having to beat up YouTubers just to get eyeballs.

Sadly, I think this where the future of boxing is going. MMA and UFC have claimed the de facto title of the “real” fighting sport, which has relegated boxing to a sort of sideshow and farce. Anyone serious about fighting sports will gravitate to MMA, and boxing will be reserved for YouTubers and celebrities and their ilk who are willing to get their ass kicked on camera for a couple bucks.