Jake Paul and Tommy Fury agree 'all or nothing' bet at press …
YouTubers taking to the ring is bringing more eyes to boxing than ever before, but is it growing the sport?
Jake Paul is facing off against Tommy Fury on Sunday (February 26) in a long-awaited bout, after two of their previous fights fell through.
The former is the younger sibling of content creator Logan Paul, who himself has boxed with the likes of KSI and Floyd Mayweather. Fury, meanwhile, is best known for his stint on Love Island, where he met his partner Molly-Mae, and being the half-brother sibling of all-time great British heavyweight Tyson Fury. He’s also a boxer with eight professional wins on his record to date.
A decade ago, if you’d told a boxing fan that a YouTuber and a former Love Island cast member would be taking part in one of the biggest fights of the year, then they wouldn’t have believed you. But their upcoming bout in Saudi Arabia is the latest in a growing trend that is changing the face of the sport.
For traditional boxing fans, or even younger people who aren’t across YouTube culture, the popularity can be pretty hard to comprehend. The sheer numbers speak for themselves, though.
KSI and Logan Paul’s first fight back in 2018 saw 2.25 million people tune in live, including 1.05 million watching pay-per-view. The rematch a year later sold 2 million pay-per-views. For reference, the rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua managed reported pay-per-view sales of 1.249 million.
The pair go toe to toe in Saudi Arabia over the weekendFrancois Nel/Getty Images
These sorts of fights have become big parts of the international boxing calendar, but it isn’t popular with everyone. Swathes of the boxing establishment don’t like the way it’s changing the sport.
The World Boxing Council has announced that it would grant Paul a place in their world rankings if he beats Fury – something which former fighter and pundit Gary Logan said would be “a debacle”.
"It's not even at cruiserweight against a decidedly smaller man and he gets a world ranking," Logan told Sky Sports. "It's just a debacle. Nothing about it makes any sense to me. How does he get a world ranking when he's not boxed anyone near a world ranking as a cruiserweight? Tommy Fury is not a cruiserweight."
He added: "It's just a joke. It shows you the power of YouTube, which is a very, very scary thing. Because people are just not being realistic about these fighters.”
Is this the future of the sport? Francois Nel/Getty Images
What can’t be denied, though, is that YouTubers are getting more eyes on the sport than ever before – and it’s being noticed at grass roots levels.
Kingsley Walker is a former boxer and the owner of Mamba Gym group, and for his misgivings on the subject of YouTube fights, he’s seeing more people in the gym as a result of seeing their idols take up the sport.
Speaking to Indy100, Kingsley said he ‘definitely sees a benefit’ to fights like Paul vs. Fury and believes it’s opening up the sport to new audiences - but it's not all positive.
“When I used to box, boxing was a fringe sport. It was only done by rough lads. Some of the lads I get in the gym would never have attended my gym back in the day… it’s opening it up to a wider audience of children that would never have even thought about boxing, but because they see their favourite YouTuber doing it they want to give it a go.”
His own personal opinion, though, is that the modern phenomenon of YouTube bouts is harming the sport at the top level.
“I watch a sport to see the best guys do it right,” he added. “You're watching guys that are nowhere near as talented as the top boxers. It's frustrating, because you see guys that have dedicated their whole lives to the sport and they get paid a smidge of what [fighters like Jake Paul get].”
Getting new people into the gym and focusing on their fitness is clearly a good thing, but Kingsley also warned that YouTube boxing is in danger of trivialising the sport – and making it look a lot easier than it actually is.
KSI fighting Logan Paul was a huge moment in boxing's recent historyJayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
“It can be potentially dangerous,” he said. “You get these young lads that come into the gym, and they get lulled into a false sense that boxing is not that tough. They think it's an easy sport, because they've seen some YouTuber do it… This is a hell of a tough sport and it does give a bit of a false sense of how easy this sport is.”
He added: "I say to them, ‘You do realise that is terrible boxing’… but as a positive, it's keeping these lads motivated to come into the gym. They're in the gym training, keeping fit, keeping healthy. So it's a hard one.”
The appeal of Sunday’s fight and others like it is changing the face of the sport – whether or not fans choose to get on board with it or not is a different question.
Paul vs. Fury takes place in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia on Sunday, February 26 live on BT Sport Box Office in the UK.
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