Henry Hood takes a look at the rise of celebrity boxing matches and whether they undermine the training and dedication that professional boxers put into their craft?
Picture this: a 5ft 8in 43-year-old man against a 6ft 2in ex-college wrestler for five rounds of boxing. Sounds like a mismatch, right? Not so much when one man is 50-0 boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and the other is internet star Logan Paul, with an underwhelming professional boxing record of zero wins and one loss. If you now think it’s a massive mismatch, you’d be absolutely spot on. In late February, this boxing ‘showcase’ will take place, becoming the highest profile celebrity boxing match involving an internet influencer.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. has a past of showcase boxing matches, with his infamous fight against MMA fighter Connor McGregor being a recent and profitable example. His last showcase match though was back in 2018 in Japan, which lasted all of 139 seconds before one mighty right-hook knocked out Tenshin Nasukawa. The fight was so lucrative and was so short, that Mayweather made $64,000 a second while fighting in the ring that night. It was also so short and mismatched that the match was thought to be fixed or rigged, which is unsurprising considering Nasukawa was a 5ft 4in kickboxer. Either way, Mayweather made a lot of money from an easy fight, and it looks like his face-off with Logan Paul is set to end the same way.
It seems money is often the motivator for these celebrity boxing matches; Logan Paul and KSI’s two-part boxing feud earnt a reported £11m from the first fight alone, with an assured $900k each just for fighting in the ring. Figures like these look even more lucrative when compared to actual professional boxers, which is where these fights could become a sore-spot for the respectability of the sport. A recent example is Billy Joe Saunders, a WBO undefeated world champion, who only took away $750k (not including sponsorships) from a fight in the super-middleweight division.
Professional boxers reportedly make around $35k a year before tax, earning them just over minimum wage. However, looking further into the earnings of boxers, I was surprised at the reality of the situation. Boxers as athletes are not unionised, meaning there is no base pay or standardised minimum pay out. An illuminating article from ExpertBoxing.com offers more numbers, claiming a challenge for a world title pays out $150k, a regional title fight pays $2k and a bog-standard professional fight coughs up a measly $500. Of course, lucrative sponsorship deals and endorsements can boost these earnings, but they are rare for boxers unless you’re a hot prospect or an Olympic star. The expensive hidden costs of boxing are also often ignored, or not even realised; health insurance and conditioning in arguably the most physically-taxing sport are bound to drain a pro boxer’s bank account.
Other realities of professional boxing are also often not realised. Many dream of becoming stars but end up being well-trained punch bags for the real stars. The 26 boxers knocked out by an 18 year old Mike Tyson were all professionals who ended up being mere stepping stones for Tyson’s rise to fame and money. The existence of ‘journeymen’, people who fight for money instead of wins, is also incredibly common and something that keeps the sport going. Sky Sports article in recent years on Kristian Laight (nicknamed Mr. Reliable), a boxer with an abysmal record of 300 fights and 279 losses, highlighted a grim reality of the professional boxing world. In an interview, he said:
“Of course I’m a failure in terms of boxing. But when my little boy is older, people will ask if he was fed, and had clothes on his back. He does. And I went out and did it the hardest way imaginable to earn for my family” (Sky Sports, 2018)
So, when looking at the astronomical sums Logan Paul and KSI earn from their fights, it can only leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. Of course, these high-profile celebrity fights will inspire others to join the sport and bring more viewers into the professional boxing sphere. But it also offers a more worrying reality that loosely trained celebrities can earn more money and attract more viewers than most professional boxers ever could in their life.
A quick google of ‘celebrity boxing matches’ will bring up an amusing past of celebrities delving into the boxing world. Sport Relief has offered some great matchups in the past, including Ricky Gervais, Wayne Bridge, and ex-Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton. All of these of course were for charity, making the profits for these celebs irrelevant. Another amusing fight was basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who fought retired boxing star ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley as part of Shaq’s TV series challenging athletes at their own sport. Watching a 7ft 1in giant chase a boxer round the ring is always entertaining, perhaps on the same level of spectacle as two youtubers boxing. But the key difference here is that neither Shaq, nor Ricky Gervais, nor any of these other celebrities have claimed to be professional boxers.
Logan Paul’s fight in February is an excellent piece of entrepreneurship for both sides, and will inevitably cause a media frenzy and shine a bright light on the sport of boxing for the world to see. But the bitter taste remains, with Logan Paul successfully wiggling his way into a sport and out-earning other boxers in his first fight alone. Whether he intends to stay in the sport or not is yet to be seen, but his fast-track to the very top of the sport fighting Mayweather with little boxing experience is surely a difficult pill to swallow for other boxers on the same path.