IT DOESN’T feel particularly great to be singing the praises of a Daily Mail article but, as a large fictional purple alien who wiped out half of all life in the universe once said, the hardest choices require the strongest wills. Or maybe that was Rishi Sunak when deciding what heat to set his private swimming pool to. Anyway, the point is that it’s time to put pride aside, because the Mail has hit the nail on the head. More specifically it was Ian Herbert, in his column, who rightfully called out the “disgusting” misogyny that is being spread as a result of freak influencer fights.
“The abuse and insults for opponents are their only way to generate clicks and get eyeballs because the spectacle in the ring is so poor, but it’s descended to a disgusting level of misogyny ahead of Paul’s next fight, against Dillon Danis, an American mixed martial artist, in Manchester next month,” he writes.
Herbert is right – these ‘fights’ are not sold on the value of the fighting, but rather the level of outrage that can be caused by those involved. And what Herbert is specifically referencing is the vile rhetoric about Paul’s fiancée Nina Agdal which, according to a lawsuit filed in the US, have led her to accuse Danis of violating revenge porn laws.
It stems from the same brand of toxic masculinity that attracted these internet personalities to boxing in the first place: they see fighting – and the objectification of women – as tenets of being an ‘alpha male.’ It’s an embarrassing belief system that has poisoned the minds of many misguided boys and men.
Why it should concern us is that they are using boxing to amplify their warped values. Comments made by Danis and snipes by Paul about Danis’ late father did not just appear on social media, but have also been aired by DAZN (who will broadcast the fight) in promotional material. In fact, the streaming service even dubbed it an “iconic war of words.” Without a shred of irony, either.
Herbert raises another important point in his column, that the likes of Paul and his younger brother Jake are able to command so much attention within boxing because there isn’t enough of value going on elsewhere. In particular, Herbert points to the fumbling heavyweight division and how the likes of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk have failed to fight each other. Or even fight regularly at all.
And he is correct – as we’ve said in Boxing News countless times, influencer boxing would have died out long ago if boxing regularly provided the sort of fights it should.
That being said, the sport wouldn’t exactly be a bastion of progressive and respectful values if these influencer types were to suddenly all leave it at once. Countless actual boxers have said abhorrent things. Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather – arguably the two most famous boxers of the past 30 years – have both spent time in prison for assaulting women.
The issue is a lack of accountability. Neither Danis nor Paul have received any sort of punishment for the things they’ve said or the way they’ve acted. DAZN made no attempt to edit out the misogynistic and incendiary comments, and why would they? That’s the sort of stuff they were hoping for when this fight was made. So long as they generate clicks, and those clicks generate revenue, who cares what damage is done along the way?
We cannot call for equality between male and female fighters – for example through the introduction of three-minute rounds for women – while at the same time allowing the sort of misogyny that is still so prevalent in the sport. It needs to be called out every time and those spreading it have to face consequences.
On the topic of accountability, over the next couple of weeks we may yet see whether the sport’s capacity for it has evolved when it comes to doping. That is because Conor Benn, who was suspended last year for failing two separate anti-doping tests, is heavily rumoured to return to action this weekend. At the time of writing there has been no official word on this.
The Herald Scotland already published a column condemning such a possibility. And we should keep a close eye on other publications and outlets to see what response, if any, they have should Benn indeed box this weekend when there has been no clear resolution to his case.
Aside from a lack of accountability, another glaring flaw in the sport’s systems is a lack of support for fighters. That particular issue was once again brought to light this past week when a clip of Adrien Broner berating staff at a fast food restaurant did the rounds on social media. The video shows a shirtless Broner shouting at staff in a McDonald’s for apparently getting a food order wrong.
Broner is a somewhat difficult case to discuss because, on the one hand, he made a lot of money from boxing and has also shown himself to be a problematic person for years. On the other hand, he had over 300 bouts as an amateur before even lacing the gloves up as a professional. And watching his erratic behaviour now, coupled with the knowledge that he has admitted to a drinking problem, it’s hard to not wonder whether he gave too much of himself to the sport. Because his actions are not those of someone in full control of their faculties.
Instead of yes-men filming his public meltdowns, he needs real support around him, people who can constructively help him conquer whatever demons haunt his footsteps. Regardless of what you think of his character, as a human being he at least deserves that. We’ve seen far too many fighters fall down similar paths.
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