The Kids Are Alright: Paul, Fury, Davis and Garcia Seizing the Opportunity from Boxing’s Crisis
By Eóin Kennedy: The talking and posturing are over, and the boxing world is now within touching distance of a fight that has received so much scorn that its very description as a bonafide boxing match-up and not a YouTube cross-over event has raised the ire of many.
This Sunday, Disney Channel child star and uber-popular social media influencer Jake Paul will throw down against Tommy Fury, brother of current world heavyweight champion, a professional boxer in his own right, and UK Love Island runner-up in 2019. By those very descriptions alone, this fight sounds like it should be confined to the burgeoning Misfits movement, which sees Wasserman Promotions put on shows where YouTube / Instagram /OnlyFans / TikTok personalities (and any other type of internet personality you can be) get in the ring and flail wildly at one another. Jake Paul, a Disney star, and Tommy Fury, a Love Island alumni, should both surely be fighting on such a gimmicky platform and not headlining an event that will also see Illunga Makabu defend his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack. That’s what the common consensus may have been, but there’s more than meets the eye with this fight, and the build-up this week has reinforced that the style of this promotion is the direction boxing is taking. At least lucrative boxing, anyway.
Since Jake Paul entered the world of boxing, his ambitions have been scoffed at and derided, but the young influencer has not taken ‘no’ as an answer from boxing’s traditionalists and has decided to forge his own unique path within the sport. Paul defeating aged former mixed martial arts world champions, such as Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley, has lead to commentators suggesting that he still hasn’t faced a legitimate boxer, but when one examines Tommy Fury’s professional resume, it is easy to see that, despite being from the same bloodline as boxers current ruling king, there’s not much to get excited about there either. The youngest Fury brother has only amassed eight professional fights to date, and his opponents have had a cumulative record of twenty-four wins, one-hundred and seventy-six losses, and five draws. Needless to say, whether it’s washed-up champions from different combat sports or boxing journeymen that generally offer little resistance, these two combatants are about as equally tested (or untested, if you like) as one another.
Despite being two green-horn novices in the world of boxing, this weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Jake Paul, and Tommy Fury are both set to earn into the millions of dollars. It is surely bad for boxing that two men that have garnered their respective public personas based on activities outside the ring, and quite frankly, that would traditionally be seen as alien behavior for a tough-guy boxer to engage in, and not with their fists inside the squared circle? Well, maybe, but that doesn’t matter. Tradition doesn’t pay the bills, and tradition doesn’t put butts in seats.
Boxing has been suffering from a crisis ever since the Floyd Mayweather era, and that crisis is simply that the best fighters do not want to fight one another early in their careers as they have been conditioned to let the fight marinate and extract maximum financial gain when the fight finally gets done way past its sell-by-date (see Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao). Now fights like Terence Crawford and Errol Spence don’t happen because they are students of the Mayweather model and are trying to utilize it to make their fight as lucrative as possible. The only problem there is that outside of boxing, people don’t know who Crawford and Spence are. Mayweather and Pacquiao were mainstream superstars.
How do Jake Paul, Tommy Fury, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Terence Crawford, and Errol Spence relate to one another? They are dance partners for one another in boxing mega fights or potential mega fights. Well, actually, that’s not true. Crawford vs. Spence is not a mega fight, despite both men being undefeated welterweight champions and both featuring perennially in the top five of any pound-for-pound list that gets published. If Crawford and Spence fight, it will be a massive occasion, and it will break out of boxing’s niche corner of the sporting market and dip its toes in the mainstream world, but it will not attract the coverage of Paul vs. Fury, Disney Channel vs. Love Island.
The fact that influencers and online personalities can bring more eyes to boxing than seasoned and dedicated amateurs turned professionals that have given their lives to the sport is not really a debate on authenticity or the core values of the sport anymore, but rather just the reality. Unfortunately, Makabu vs. Jack will simply not turn the heads of the Generation Z crowd, they want the soap opera drama, and that’s precisely why Paul and Fury will be paid so handsomely in Saudi Arabia. Simple economics, supply, and demand. Are true authentic boxers being left behind because of the influence of the influencers? Depends on who you ask. Some may say ‘adapt or die.’ It’s not as if boxing fans wanting fighters to be charismatic is a new trend, remember there was a guy called Muhammed Ali once, but now the onus is on the fighters to have a brand that exists twenty-four hours a day and two of boxing’s hottest talents, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia, already understand that.
Davis and Garcia have signed up to fight in a true boxing mega fight on April 22nd and, in the process, are doing what the rest of the Mayweather acolytes were terrified to do for so long, risk their undefeated records while still young and or in their primes. Davis is twenty-eight, Garcia twenty-four; neither has tasted defeat and between them, they have over thirteen million Instagram followers. Why are their Instagram followers important? Because that’s the world, we live in. Paul and Fury have shown us that you can make mega money in boxing based on online notoriety alone; Davis and Garcia both were highly capable amateurs, so they have come the traditional boxing route but have also generated massive interest online. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence are unquestionably the most talented fighters of the six mentioned above, but the mainstream does not know who they are.
Boxing’s crisis has been rumbling on for so long now that it has started to feel like the big fights that fans have been clamoring for may never get made, but Paul-Fury and Davis-Garcia are both messages to fighters at every level of the sport, if you’re recognizable enough you will make the megabucks. People may not like the pantomime nature of Paul-Fury, but at least when Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia take to the ring in Las Vegas, they will be galvanized by the fact that they are putting their undefeated records on the line earlier than what has been customary for such profiles in boxing in recent years. Davis and Garcia seem to understand that boxing is changing, and an online presence is more important than a zero in the losses column of the balance sheet. These young guns disturb boxing’s status quo, post-Mayweather safety-first approach, and thank God that they are. A calamitous sport like boxing that can’t get out of its own way needs some young trailblazers to save it from itself.
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