Youtube boxing phase puts amateur copycats at risk, but it is still good for the sport

BY BRANDON SPALDING

“Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it,” said legendary boxer George Foreman. And that could be the case in the rise of YouTubers participating in boxing events – known as ‘YouTube boxing’.

The YouTube boxing scene first took off when Eastbourne-based social media personality Joe Weller won his first amateur boxing match in 2017. KSI – who boasts over 20 million subscribers on the video platform – put himself forward as Weller’s next opponent.

KSI fought Weller on 3 February, 2018, at the Copper Box Arena in a white collar boxing match. KSI won the bout via technical knockout (TKO) in the third round.

The fight generated a mass of press coverage, alongside a viewership of 20m people and the fight trended worldwide on social media. It was the biggest white collar boxing event in history.

KSI’s next fight was against the American YouTuber Logan Paul. This time the hype was bigger than ever before due to the heated press conferences in the build up to the bout. The fight took place on 25 August, 2018, at the Manchester Arena and was promoted as ‘the biggest internet event in history’. The fight ended in a majority draw. The replay took place on 9 November, with KSI managing to defeat Paul via points at the Staples Centre but the bout contained plenty of controversy.

Paul has since complained about what he deemed a harsh two-point deduction which may have cost the American the fight. During the fourth round, Paul landed two punches which the referee considered illegal and dangerous, and this resulted in the subsequent deduction.

With boxing being heavily in the limelight within the YouTube community, some would argue that it is beneficial for the sport as it can increase the participation in the sport; especially at grass roots level with more people than ever exposed to the sport.

However, for some, typically at the higher end of the professional spectrum, the concept of non-professional boxers headlining an event above the sport’s best competitors is considered a joke and tarnishes the principles and roots of the sport.

Boxer Billy-Joe Saunders, a former world champion who was on the undercard to the KSI versus Paul fight, said: “There are some good fights on the card, some super talent, and two YouTubers.”

Overtime asked Marcus Bowden, 25, a national level coach at Eastbourne Boxing Club whether or not he believes the YouTube boxing scene is beneficial for the sport or if it is tarnished by the use of the sport as a new platform for social media’s biggest stars.

“I think it’s beneficial in terms of more people will come to boxing. But there’s also the side of some people will come to boxing thinking they just want that one fight,” he said. “If people get involved and they get involved in boxing and it inspires them then absolutely, it’s brilliant. But it could encourage people to go the other way and have a one-off charity fight, because they’re actually quite dangerous. People are in danger of dying in those sorts of fights.”

Questioned on whether Bowden believes it is fair that these low standard competitors get greater exposure than the boxers he trains, despite them being at better level, he said: “Obviously it’s not fair, but I think it’s deserved.

“You look at the guys’ work rates and what they do, what they’ve made for themselves; fair play to them for finding a good way to make money. But it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. “I think it’s good that it’s going to bring in lots of young people to the sport, but it’s just the longevity factor, you know? Will they stay in the sport after this phase dies out? But overall I would say that it is more important that we bring as many people to the sport as possible because even if 90 per cent of new participants drop out, the minority can continue and go on and do something special.”

Bowden believes overall it is beneficial for the sport if the new participants can dedicate time and effort into boxing and take it seriously, however, boxing ‘diehards’ – such as Saunders – think that the whole situation is comedic and disrespectful to real boxers who are being robbed of pay cheques.

(Feature image: Brandon Spalding)

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