LIKE a boxer who develops a defensive style to compensate for past damage and newfound vulnerability, a hardened boxing fan, or purist, must carefully pick their battles these days. It’s important to do so because you only have so many brain cells and, with boxing, you never quite know when one blow, or one ridiculous fight, will be one too many.
Last weekend, for instance, we had a situation whereby Tommy Fury not only beat Jake Paul but the entire watching audience lost the same number of brain cells as the two participants in the ring. It was for this reason I chose to sit it out and preserve the brain cells I have left. Better yet, in the process I discovered there was no Fear of Missing Out, nor any desire the following morning to catch up with all that I had missed. In fact, the only clip I saw from the fight was shown on Monday during the BBC’s six o’clock news, which followed the presenter asking, “Is this a sign that boxing is changing?”
The change, I wanted to tell her, has already happened, yet to shout at a television screen is an exercise every bit as futile as complaining about influencers in boxing these days and in the end leaves you wondering, Are they the crazy ones or am I? All I know is that a lot of people were talking about Fury and Paul “boxing” at the weekend and a lot of people apparently want to see them “box” again, which no doubt they will, in the near future.
Beyond that, I know very little about what’s going on. On Monday I was emailed an image from the fight to publish alongside our report and in it I saw the word “Bambi” on Fury’s trunks and immediately became more intrigued by that than the report itself. Not knowing, at first, whether this was a new nickname, punishment for a lost bet, or the promotion of a new live-action film, I took to doing some research and soon found a clip of Jake Paul handing Tommy Fury a gift for his newborn daughter. It was, or so it seemed, the climax of one of those tiresome over-the-table head-to-heads that are so commonplace in boxing today and, watching the body language of both Fury and Paul, it was clear there was no real dislike between them whatsoever. Seemingly uncomfortable with hostility, they appeared, to me at least, like two blokes kept apart by their love for the same woman only to one day meet up and realise they have lots in common.
This made the prospect of them then fighting all the more ludicrous. After all, if you don’t even have genuine hostility as the impetus behind a manufactured fight like this, what is the actual point of it? A forced rivalry in boxing is nothing new, but at least in previous cases, those involving proper boxers, we could be almost certain that two professionals would put on a good show regardless of any pre-fight script. With Fury and Paul, however, there was no such guarantee.
For most watching, that hardly mattered, of course. All that really mattered on the night was that fans of these two men were seeing them topless and exposed, with both at risk of humiliating themselves in front of cameras. Famous people fighting (again), it was frankly irrelevant that neither can fight very well, nor did it matter that the fight, despite the presence of the WBC’s version of a dentist’s lollipop, meant absolutely nothing in any realm not governed entirely by ego and money. Rather, this was OnlyFans does boxing. It was simply two men with huge followings (built away from boxing) exploiting their disciples’ blind loyalty by giving them access to something nobody who follows them would have expected a few years ago (back when Jake Paul was filming pranks on YouTube and Tommy Fury was on Love Island).
Together, in collaboration, they were able to produce their juiciest bit of content yet and where better to film it than in a boxing ring? Moreover, who better to target than boxing fans, the Pay Pigs and Reply Guys of the sporting world, the basement dwellers, the creeps, the perverts? Apparently, if the sudden influx of influencers and other circus freaks is anything to go by, we have low standards and no taste and nothing better to do. We jump at the first sign of skin or violence and our thirst for both blood and clout makes us obvious prey.
What likely helps, too, is that boxing is a simple sport. It’s easy. Anyone can do it. You whip off your top, put on a pair of trunks and gloves, and away you go, swinging your arms until you can swing no more. This makes it an easy sport to enter and an easy sport to sell and nowadays, so shaky is its infrastructure, there is every chance the sport will welcome you with open arms as opposed to protecting its own (fighters, integrity, reputation). Indeed, just as some people believe boxing is being used in the Middle East to sportswash questionable human rights practices, so it could be argued that influencers in boxing are being used to cover up the sport’s ailing health.
Still, best not to think about that. Better to bury our heads in the desert sand, which is what many in boxing have chosen to do. From this position, with their heads buried, the ones who speak positively about fights like Fury vs Paul tend to be those with a financial interest in the movement – currently or, they hope, in the future – or those who crave attention or those who see an upside to being onside with the influencers. For them, it’s all a bit of fun. Lighten up, they say. What’s the problem?
Well, there is no problem if you consider money both the root of happiness and the measure by which you are judged as a successful person. But when you take all the things that make boxing just about still noble – competition, skill, incredible feats of courage – and then sacrifice them all in the name of so-called entertainment (not boxing entertainment but social media entertainment), what exactly is the purpose of the sport going forward?
Because, make no mistake, those things are being sacrificed. They will also continue to be sacrificed for as long as this recipe for (financial) success is championed by people within the sport who should know better.
Someone like Jake Paul, a tourist, doesn’t know any better, of course. Which is why, among the many chancers involved, I find him to be the least shameless of the lot. When, for example, he filmed himself boasting about earning 30 million dollars from the Fury fight, a scene redolent of an empowered woman posting her OnlyFans receipts to prove to sceptics they are not lying and prove to herself it is all worth it, it was hard to knock Paul, even if such a boast can be each of these things at once: impressive, admirable, uncouth, sad.
We must remember through all this that Jake Paul didn’t create this movement. He merely took advantage of a service and audience already in place. We must also keep in mind that just as feminism shouldn’t be confused with morally bankrupt capitalism, nor should a successful boxing promotion be confused with a mugging in a desert.