Not that long ago, if someone said that social media stars and professional boxers would step into the ring together in a competitive match, you probably would have thought it was a joke or at least in aid of charity. However, over recent years, we have seen social media boxing grow to unprecedented heights – recent bouts have brought in millions of viewers.
Where did it all start?
Crossover boxing started back in 2018. Following a few online disagreements between Joe Weller and KSI and a diss track between the two, it was announced that the two YouTube stars would headline an amateur boxing match to settle the ongoing feud.KSI won. The fight sold out and was watched by twenty-three million people. After the fight, KSI called out YouTube brothers Logan and Jake Paul. KSI and Logan’s first bout ended in a draw but still made an estimated £150m. The fight was then rematched at the iconic Staples Centre,reportedly selling two million pay-per-views and earning the two fighters $900,000 each, with their total payouts said to be into the millions.
This only confirmed the serious money it is possible to make from a crossover boxing match. Jake Paul was also coming up in the boxing world, beating a series of other YouTube stars, a basketball player and an MMA fighter. After turning pro in 2020, by 2022, he was named the world’s 46th highest earning athlete by Forbes, according to reports making $38m from fights and endorsements.
This was only the start of influencer boxing. In 2021, The Battle Of The Platforms took place, where some of the biggest YouTube stars and TikTokers went head to head. YouTuber Austin McBroom of the ACE Family organised the event and headlined alongside TikToker Bryce Hall.
KSI launched his boxing promotions company, Misfits, in 2021. The first Misfits event took place in August 2022. It was very successful, reaching nearly two million viewers on streaming network DAZN – 90% of which were new subscribers. Soon after, Misfits signed a five-year exclusive deal with the broadcaster,earning Misfits a license fee and revenue split from pay-per-view matches.
Ever since, we have seen crossover boxing grow year after year, with even the likes of Floyd Mayweather jumping into the ring with influencers. In February, we saw Tommy Fury fight Jake Paul – the fight reportedly sold 800,000 pay-per-views buys, with the fighters making millions each. Recently, we saw Tommy participate in another crossover match, this time with KSI; however, unlike last time, Fury was not the clear winner, with many viewers believing KSI should have won- which does not look the best for Fury considering he is the professional. On the same night, after weeks of taunting, Logan Paul beat MMA fighter Dillian Dallis, but it all ended in a disqualification and a massive brawl.
Is influencer boxing killing the sport?
It is clear that influencer boxing matches are very well promoted and attract millions of viewers worldwide and make the fighters millions. It has even been reported that the only professional British fighters set to make more money are Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. However, is the only reason influencers compete for a generous check and attention?
Boxing is known to be a very intense sport and requires a immense skill, agility and dedication. Boxers spend most of their lives trying to make a career out of the sport – so are influencers only making a mockery out of the sport t?
Four-time world champion Carl Froch said, “These guys are making an absolute mockery of boxing. It shouldn’t be called boxing, it needs to be called play-fighting.”
WBA featherweight champion Wood said, “[I was] not getting any opportunities, couldn’t even get an area title fight and honestly there’s days when I would be crying to pursue my dream,” “Now, you’ve got kids who are just doing a few videos online and getting thrown into a fight.” “It needs to be governed, boxing needs to stand up and say, ‘look you go and do your own thing and stay out of our sport’.”
Fury has admitted that, despite competing in a few crossover boxing matches, continuing to do so would ultimately “damage his brand” as a pro boxer.
Two-time champion Warrington, who at first actually did not mind crossover matches, even arguing that it attracts new fans and fresh eyes to the sport, said: “I’m siding with those who are against it; it’s like the sport is being dragged through the mud, it’s been made a mockery of.”
It is known that KSI does not even acquire a boxing license for the UK, and his last fight against Fury was not sanctioned by the British Boxing Board of Control, who oversees pro boxing in the UK.
Should we just let the numbers speak for themselves? There is an apparent demand for Crossover fights, and it is attracting a whole new audience to boxing – should the fights simply be taken as entertainment?
The next crossover boxing match is set to take place on December 15th– Jake Paul versus pro boxer Andre August.
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