Inside The Ring: The Rise Of Celebrity Boxing Matches

Celebrity boxing matches have existed for decades, but their popularity has risen exponentially in the past several years. Even the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, was involved in a celebrity boxing match against American football player Lyle Azaldo.

The fight took place about a year after Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title from Leon Spinks. Azaldo competed at the Golden Gloves before dedicating himself to boxing, and he hoped to secure a new contract with the Denver Broncos by convincing them that he had the option to become a professional boxer. However, the fight ended up being a disaster for its promoters.

Fox created a show called “Celebrity Boxing” in 2002, featuring C-list celebrities looking to revitalize their careers. While the show had its moments, it couldn’t generate the ratings its producers had hoped for and was canceled after only two episodes.

Some random celebrity boxing charity events followed after Fox’s new show was scratched. One of the more popular events featured Kim Kardashian going against Russian actor Tamara Frapasella, with all proceeds going to charity.


The Rise Of Modern Celebrity Boxing

Despite how long the concept of celebrity boxing has been around, a group of young influencers brought it to the mainstream.

Ironically, it all started with these influencers looking to create controversy to help increase their views on social media. At the time, YouTubers having beef with each other was becoming increasingly popular, and it often led to both parties making rap songs to poke fun at each other.

Eventually, tensions got so high between two top YouTubers, KSI (real name Olajide Olatunji) and Joe Weller, that it led to the first celebrity boxing event that earned respectable revenue. The event’s undercard consisted of matchups featuring other YouTubers who also had problems with each other.

The fight took place on Feb 3, 2018, at the Copper Box Arena in London, England, and there wasn’t a single empty seat in there. All the major influencers attended to support their colleagues, and the fans were engaged throughout the event.

The atmosphere was more energized than many cards featuring top-level boxers as over 20 million people tuned in live to watch it. KSI won via technical knockout in the third round after dominating the exchanges.

That historic event is responsible for the massive interest in celebrity boxing matchups in the past several years. KSI and Weller didn’t have much in terms of boxing technique, but the fight was entertaining because it featured two evenly-matched opponents who didn’t like each other and a stadium filled with fans who couldn’t have been any more excited to watch the fight.

Boxing promoters all over the world took notes that day. That event made it clear that you don’t need the best boxers in the world to pull off a successful boxing event. You just need entertaining storylines and a legion of dedicated fans.

KSI fought other influencers over the next few years, eventually landing his boxing promotion, Misfits, a five-year deal with DAZN, one of the largest on-demand streaming providers around.

Jake Paul is another prominent YouTuber who has successfully transitioned into boxing. He’s been able to generate lots of interest in his fights by bringing in his social media fans and taking advantage of the followings his opponents have built by fighting mostly over-the-hill MMA fighters.

Fans eventually demanded that Paul take on a legitimate boxer, and he agreed to fight Tommy Fury. That was the fight that made it clear Jake was a real boxer. He dropped Fury during the eighth round but lost a controversial split decision. KSI went on to fight Fury, and he suffered the same fate, losing by decision.

Paul has somehow managed to secure the biggest fight of his career by getting Mike Tyson to agree to an exhibition fight. The matchup announcement was met with heavy criticism, given Tyson is currently 57 years old. Still, it can potentially be the biggest celebrity boxing match ever, given that Tyson is part of the equation, which makes it extremely difficult to predict the outcome.

Some of the most prominent celebrity boxing matches that have helped to develop this boxing niche in recent years include:


1) KSI vs. Joe Weller

As we mentioned earlier, this event was the breakout fight for celebrity boxing as it generated a big-fight atmosphere while bringing in millions in revenue. The build-up to the fight was filled with drama as both men got into scuffles in the prefight build-up, and both released diss songs to help sell the event.

The fight wasn’t bad, despite neither man having significant boxing experience. Both men were more than willing to engage, leading to an entertaining boxing match that went KSI’s way. The crowd engagement was one of the best parts of the event, as they roared whenever either man landed anything significant.


2) KSI vs. Logan Paul

Both men started taking shots at each other years before they finally stepped inside the ring to settle their differences. A two-fight contract that stated one fight would take place in England while the second fight would take place in the U.S. was signed.

Logan Paul performed admirably during the earlier rounds of the fight. His jab looked fantastic as if he had been boxing his entire life, and KSI had no clue how to defend against it.

Things started going KSI’s way as fatigue crept in for Paul, and he dominated the last few rounds. That fight was declared a draw, setting up the rematch.

KSI’s boxing skills were markedly improved during the rematch, and an entertaining fight broke out, with both men getting sent to the canvas. KSI’s knockdown was ruled a slip, but the replay showed it should have counted as a knockout. KSI went on to win a majority decision, putting his rivalry with Paul behind him.


3) Jake Paul vs. Tyron Woodley

The first MMA fighter Jake Paul boxed was former ONE Championship Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren. Many doubted the latter’s chances, as he had not focused extensively on improving his striking. Askren believed that wrestling was the key to his success in mixed martial arts, so he devoted most of his training time to wrestling.

Tyron Woodley also came from a wrestling background, but his striking was much more polished inside the cage. He was also known for having devastating power in his hands.

Woodley’s first fight against Jake Paul was quite competitive, with Paul narrowly edging out a split decision. The rematch was a lot less competitive, with Paul knocking Woodley out during the sixth round.


4) Floyd Mayweather vs. Deji Olatunji

Deji’s fight against Floyd Mayweather was a significant victory for the celebrity boxing space. It was a matchup that no one ever thought about, given how much Deji struggled when he first tried celebrity boxing.

Deji, the younger brother of KSI, wasn’t a natural at boxing like his brother. Known primarily for making videos about video games on YouTube, Deji struggled to pick up the sweet science, often turning his back whenever he got hit in the face. He also had severe cardio issues.

Deji was widely considered the worst of all the YouTubers who decided to try boxing, but he shocked the world when he was matched up against fellow vlogger FouseyTube (real name Yousef Saleh Erakat).

That fight was Deji’s breakout moment as he showcased his newly learned boxing skills. He slipped and ducked under punches like he had been fighting for years before forcing his opponent’s corner to throw in the towel to save him.

His performance was the biggest highlight of that Misfits fight card, and it even got Mayweather’s attention.

The fight between Mayweather and Deji wasn’t anything spectacular, and it ended with the referee stopping the action to save Deji.


5) Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather

This matchup remains the most significant celebrity boxing match in history, featuring the biggest names in mixed martial arts and boxing. McGregor held the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s featherweight and lightweight titles at the time, while Mayweather was a few years into his retirement.

The fight ended up being one of the biggest matches in boxing history thanks to Mayweather’s notoriety and McGregor bringing his MMA fanbase. The event’s gate brought in over $55 million while selling over 4.4 million pay-per-view buys in the U.S. and over 874,000 in the U.K.

Both men walked away with insane payouts, with Mayweather clearing over $300 million while McGregor received over $150 million.

The fight turned out to be quite entertaining as Mayweather gave the fans what they wanted, moving away from his defense-first mindset and pushing the pace for most of the fight. He carried McGregor for most of the bout, giving fans the show they paid for, before putting him away in the tenth round.


6) Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury

Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury is another celebrity boxing match that deserves a mention. The fight was billed as a battle to determine the baddest man in combat sports, as it featured the undisputed heavyweight king of boxing going up against a former UFC heavyweight champion.

Many criticized the matchup as a gimmick, but Francis proved he belonged in the ring by making the fight quite competitive. He even dropped Fury during the third round of the fight, but he ended up losing a controversial split decision. Still, it was the most competitive celebrity boxing match ever that featured a legitimate boxing champion.

Ngannou’s performance earned him the tenth spot on the WBC’s heavyweight ranking, and the performance helped him secure a fight against former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That performance wasn’t as impressive as he ended up getting knocked out.


7) Anderson Silva vs. Julio César Chávez Jr

Many people think Francis Ngannou was the first mixed martial artist to prove that some of them can hang with the best boxers, but that’s not true. Anderson was the best striker in mixed martial arts during his prime and dabbled in boxing during his younger years.

The fight was billed the “Tribute to the Kings,” and the event was held in Guadalajara, Mexico. Silva performed impressively, dominating the action with his punch volume. The judges awarded him a split-decision victory against the former WBC middleweight champion. The event sold over 475,000 pay-per-view sales, generating over $25 million.


The Future Of Influencer Boxing

Influencers have taken celebrity boxing to levels no one could have imagined, and there’s a good chance this trend will stay around for quite some time, given how lucrative it has proven to be. The bottom line in boxing has always been putting butts in seats and getting people to buy pay-per-views. Influencer boxing has delivered on both counts.

Influencer boxing hasn’t only been beneficial to some of the biggest names on social media, but it’s also created a new path for boxers who choose the conventional path. One of the best examples is the story of Luis Jesús Alcaraz Pineda, a struggling pro boxer who currently sports a 2-7 record.

Boxers often make as low as a few hundred dollars per fight during that stage of their careers, but Pineda pulled in $250,000 when he fought KSI on a Misfits card. A fighter with Pineda’s record would possibly never earn that much if not for the rise of celebrity boxing. Nowadays, such fighters make excellent matchups for rising influencer boxers.

Celebrity boxing has been so successful in recent years that some boxing promoters are now putting their fighters on influencer cards to help increase their fan bases.

While some boxing purists aren’t yet sold on influencer boxing, it has positively impacted the sport. Influencer boxing has been more successful at bringing in young people than boxing promoters have been able to do for decades. Boxing is getting a second wind as a new generation of kids laces up their gloves for an opportunity for glory, fame, and money under the bright lights.

Thanks to the celebrity boxing trend, you no longer have to be the most skilled boxer around to headline successful boxing cards. How long this trend lasts remains to be seen, but for now, the future of boxing looks exceptionally bright.


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