One of the biggest trends of the last several years is the increased popularity of Celebrity Boxing. Celebrity Boxing has been around for quite some time but has never risen to the place that is today. The first official celebrity boxing match dated back to 1994 when Danny Bonaduce and Donny Osmond headlined the event, and Bonaduce ultimately picked up the win. While there have been multiple times that celebrities have stepped into the squared box, the boxing event that was claimed to be “the biggest internet event in history” resurged a trend that has created multiple lucrative business opportunities, but has also tarnished the sport of boxing as a whole.
KSI vs. Logan Paul
The boxing match that made celebrity boxing what it is today was between KSI, a British YouTuber from Watford, England, and Logan Paul, an American YouTuber from Westlake, Ohio in 2018. Before KSI fought Logan, he had fought another YouTuber, Joe Weller, who considered himself to be an amateur boxer as well. After months of manufactured drama, the two squared off, and it turned out to be a rousing success, with 1.6 million live viewers, and over 20 million viewers within the next several days. KSI would end up winning the fight, and then used the platform to call out Logan Paul, and Jake Paul, Logan’s little brother to a boxing match.
At the time, Logan Paul was under lots of scrutiny, as he had posted a vlog on YouTube going to Japan and posting a video of a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokighara Forrest. Logan Paul would upload what people consider to be the worst apology video on YouTube ever, and went silent for 3 weeks. After months of uncertainty and controversy, it was announced that KSI would fight Logan Paul on August 25th. Deji, KSI’s younger brother would also be fighting Jake Paul, Logan Paul’s younger brother in the same event in the undercard. A US Press Conference was held in June, and a UK Press Conference was held in July, with again manufactured drama, and overhyping a match that people did not know what to expect. August 25th came and commercially, the event certainly delivered. The fight had over 1 million live viewers that paid pay-per-view, and was the largest-non professional boxing match of all-time at the time. The match would end in a draw with KSI winning in a majority vote. They would have a rematch in Los Angeles one year later, and KSI would win again with a majority vote.
Fast-Forward to today, Triller has created its own Celebrity Boxing League, and more and more creators, celebrities, and professional athletes are going all-in on this trend.
What is Triller and It’s Celebrity Boxing League?
Triller was founded on July 23rd 2015 and it is essentially a direct competitor to social media apps like TikTok. Triller is an app that allows its users to make videos using software and AI. As Triller continued to become more popular over the years, they decided to jump on the Celebrity Boxing craze, as along with Rapper and Grammy Winning Artist Snoop Dog, created “Triller Fight Club” in 2021. As Celebrity Boxing is becoming more popular, Triller is looking to be at the forefront of a product that is likely to stay for years to come. So far, Triller has been able to secure brand deals with some of the most recognizable companies in the world, having secured partnerships with McDonalds, Pepsi, DraftKings, L’Oreal, and more.
How does Triller Fight Club gain its revenue? Essentially, it operates in a pay-per-view format in which interested viewers pay a certain amount to watch an event on Triller Fight Club. A more recent example of this is having streaming rights to the highly-anticipated Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren fight. Triller charged $50 for the event, including live performances along with the fights scheduled for the night. That event again saw over 1 million live-paying viewers that night. Jake Paul would go on to take home a $690,000 purse and Ben Askren would walk away with $500,000.
How are influencers and celebrities joining this Celebrity Boxing League? As Snoop Dog is one of the most recognizable faces in the world, he has also had the opportunity to lure and attract influencers to join the brand and fight on the streaming platform. Additionally, Triller is attempting to lure away creators from platforms such as TikTok to make content exclusively on their app. In order to tempt creators away from making content on other platforms, Triller is renting out mega-mansions, supercars, and providing housekeeping services for free as long as the top creators make content primarily on Triller.
As Triller has consistently grown, they also have had their controversy. Their biggest controversy has been the continued support of Jake Paul, who has had his own scandals and generally has a negative reputation as the “Problem Child”. Additionally, the owner of Triller, Ryan Kavanaugh has also had his problems with his business dealings in the past as well.
How Celebrity Boxing Has Created Lucrative Business Opportunities and Increased Engagement
What Celebrity Boxing has been able to do is something that boxing as a whole hasn’t done in quite some time. Celebrity Boxing has taken advantage of Social Media and has attracted a younger audience that is usually not interested in the sports. The younger generation has been able to learn more about boxing at a younger age, and is starting to enjoy watching their favorite influencers put on the gloves and throw punches.
Triller Owner Ryan Kavanaugh had this to say about the Jake Paul and Ben Askren fight to The Athletic: “““(The Paul-Askren event) was truly a spectacle, on purpose,” Kavanaugh said. “We let people loose, let them swear, let them drink, let them get high. And we broke records. Over 80 percent of our buys were digital, and that has never happened before, which means that we brought this very young audience into boxing that typically doesn’t watch boxing.” The thing that stands out to me about what Kavanaugh said was the fact that over 80% of digital buys from that fight were completely digital. It shows that they are really focusing on the younger generation by placing an emphasis on streaming to reach a demographic that has proven to be profitable.
Additionally, Big Name Celebrities/Former Athletes are more drawn to the opportunity of celebrity boxing. As the boxing craze is returning, and with UFC having very strict contractual negotiations, Triller is not as strict, and the paychecks have the potential to be very hefty. While promoting influencers and celebrities is something that Triller is prioritizing, they also want to be taken seriously as a place for professional boxers to fight. Their biggest deal to date has been getting exclusive rights to air Mike Tyson’s return to boxing against Roy Jones Jr. It didn’t come cheap at all, as Triller paid upwards of $50 million to get the rights. Although it was an exhibition match, Triller turned a massive profit of $80 million, had 1.6 million live viewers, and is now in the Top 10 most watched combat-sport pay-per-views of all time.
Building on that, they booked two high-profile professional boxers to main-event their next pay-per-view. They booked a match between Teofimo Lopez, the current unified lightweight champion of the world, and George Kambosos, IBF Pan Pacific Champion since 2017, and multiple time lightweight champion, holding titles around the world. The fight was supposed to take place in early June, but was postponed twice until August. Triller has not only shown that they can be profitable, but also sent a message that they can compete with the likes of Showtime and DAZN to produce quality content and attract big names to their brand.
Celebrity Boxing has also created a platform where boxing can become fun and engaging for people who want to watch an alternative to the sport. Triller specifically has been able to do this by using big-name stars such as Pete Davidson and Snoop Dog to do live-commentary alongside professional boxing announcers. This has created a dynamic in which the humor of someone like Pete Davidson working with a professional boxing announcer has made it fun. They have also had Israel Adesanya, current UFC Champion, join commentary as well.
Has Celebrity Boxing Tarnished The Sport?
While Celebrity Boxing has shown that it will be relevant, many fans, writers, and professional boxers think that it is ruining the sport as a whole. These people believe that celebrity boxing is another way for influencers, professional athletes, and celebrities to abuse their fame. This results in a boxing match that under delivers on the fighting-quality perspective, the two boxers barely breaking a sweat, and walking out with heavy paychecks. Or as Floyd Mayweather calls it: “legalized robbery”.
A quote from aggie.com summarizes people’s concerns perfectly: “As a big Floyd Mayweather fan, I’m not about to partake [in] this,” tweeted former athlete Giavanni Ruffin. “It’s a joke and a disrespect to the craft of people that really put [their] all into the sport of boxing. This is all a money ploy. I get it, get to [the] bag but don’t tarnish [your] legacy with this scrub.” This sentiment was felt by many, who believe this is just a useless cash grab where boxing could only be negatively impacted. “Mayweather and Paul will exploit their celebrity [status] and get rich, but it will be boxing that takes the hit,” wrote long-time combat sports columnist Kevin Iole for Yahoo Sports. “This fight has nothing to do with boxing and everything to do with opportunism, but when the torrent of criticism arrives after the fight, it’s going to be this sport that takes the brunt of it.”
Another concern that fans and writers of the sport have against celebrity boxing is that if these influencers/celebrities want to be professional boxers, they should be fighting professional boxers, and not other influencers based on previous drama. Although the Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul fight did include one professional boxer, he is 44, and is not in his prime anymore.
Phil Jay, a writer on worldboxingnews.net had this to say about celebrity boxers: “But if you are coming into our sport and taking up spots on undercards that real boxers would cherish and have worked far harder for, then you should be fighting fellow professionals. Please don’t come into our situation, proclaim yourself to be a real fighter, and call out people you have no intention of ever sharing the ring with. You wouldn’t survive five minutes in the ring with any boxer at a decent level. Fitness and followers on social media are no right of passage for anyone.” The main message is that celebrity boxers should be fighting professional boxers who are still competing at the highest level.
Lastly, professional boxers feel completely disrespected by celebrity boxers. They feel that their reputation as boxers has been damaged. Canelo Alvarez, a professional boxer who has help multiple championships around the world, and is one of the most popular boxers in the world today, had this to say about Celebrity Boxing: “I truly believe that it is a lack of respect,” he said. “It is all based on money. For true fighters, I do believe it is a lack of respect.”
Celebrity Boxing has not only impacted the sport, but has drawn more eyes to it. Who knew that after a fight between two of YouTube’s biggest stars that a Celebrity Boxing League would be created, create controversy, and huge bags of profit along the way. Despite what some people believe about this trend, it’s obvious that Celebrity Boxing is here to stay.
In my honest opinion, being a longtime fan of the sport, I am not the biggest fan of the fact that a fight between two YouTubers can attract more attention than a professional fight between two boxers who have more experience, and who have spent more time fighting for real credibility. I don’t blame boxers like Canelo Alvarez being against celebrity boxers. Instead of asking my opinions on a fight with boxers like Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, Celebrity Boxing Matches seem to take on more importance.
However, I will not deny the fact that the people behind creating the Celebrity Boxing League are very smart. The difference between Celebrity Boxing back in the 90’s vs today is that the people back then did not have access to social media. People like Jake and Logan Paul are marketing geniuses. They know how to get eyes on them, and although they do stir up drama that people certainly don’t like, they get higher numbers in the rankings and end up making more money in the process.