Sure, there’s an argument to make that even in an increasingly woke society there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But days before one of the most famous influencers on the planet laces up a pair of gloves in an exhibition match against one of the best boxers of the past 25 years, fans of the forever fucked up sport would like an answer to a legitimate question.
Are the Paul brothers—Logan and Jake, the sometimes problematic social media savants with millions of followers on various platforms who also now moonlight as fighters—good for boxing?
The short answer is yes if you buy the above phrase that is largely attributed to the great American showman of the 19th century, PT Barnum. He believed all press was good press and that largely holds true for a sport that’s constantly fighting for relevance, respect, and attention. The longer, deeper answer is, of course, more nuanced.
It’s worthy of a dive as Logan, the 26-year-old YouTuber with almost as many fans as haters, gets ready to step into the ring against Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition match Sunday (8 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV) that many boxing fans—often extremely opinionated and protective of the once ultra-popular sport that has arguably devolved into niche status—rolled their eyes at when it was announced. Then following his third successful victory this spring as a professional boxer, Showtime recently inked Jake Paul, 24, to a multi-fight deal.
Really, boxing?!? Why would its power brokers align themselves with two controversial social media stars with little boxing experience when the credibility and quality of the sport is constantly questioned? Why give these guys big dollars and big platforms when there are plenty of awesome fighters, who have been at it for decades, deserving of more shine? Wouldn’t the health of the sport be better served if it concentrated on promoting its current stars and actually, you know, making the fights fans really want to see?
This writer has called DAZN’s airing of Logan’s fight with KSI in 2019 an “embarrassment” and this weekend’s exhibition—with its massive weight difference and comical mismatch of boxing skills—a “farce” after it was initially announced. Fight fans across social media and in real life have expressed similar sentiments.
They might find it surprising that many of those directly involved and invested in the sport disagree.
On top of the execs and deal makers working behind the scenes to put the Pauls in the sport’s spotlight and other interested parties, there are boxers openly embracing the Paul brothers and the trend of cards featuring social media influencers. The legendary Mike Tyson gave them his blessing while promoting his exhibition match last November against Roy Jones Jr. In his second professional fight, Jake Paul famously knocked out Nate Robinson on the undercard.
“Does my gut tell me influencer boxing and YouTube and TikTok boxing [is] sustainable? My gut doesn’t really tell me that, but who knows? I’ve got no problem with it and in a weird way Jake Paul is kind of growing on me a little bit. And I hate to admit that.” — Lou DiBella, promoter and 2020 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee
“My ego says so many things, but my reality is they help boxing so much,” Tyson told reporters. “Boxing owes these YouTube boxers some kind of respect. They should give these guys some kind of belts because these guys make boxing alive. Boxing was pretty much a dying sport.”
We can discuss the validity of the narrative that boxing is a dying sport another day, but it obviously could use booster shots on the regular. It has undoubtedly lost fans and plenty of prestige from its heydays of the 60s, 70s, and 80s for a million reasons. To succinctly put it, boxing’s fractured structure—too many sanctioning bodies, broadcasters, and rival promotions without much incentive to consistently make consequential, must-see fights happen—often means politics pollute the product.
You have to really love it to follow its crazy twists and not be turned off by all the desultory outcomes the sport is famous for inside and outside the ring. And without a definitive face of American boxing—Deontay Wilder once upon a time was making a case for that mythical title—it has made the sport ripe to be infiltrated by a new kind of celebrity.
“Maybe there’s a hole because fighters right now, particularly in the United States, aren’t transcendent sports stars,” says promoter Lou DiBella, president of DiBella Entertainment. “Very few people know who most boxing champions are.”
That’s why Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. from this past November was such a hit. Tyson, the most famous boxer alive, and Jones, a living legend himself, drew an audience of 1.6 million, generating way more PPV buys than Tyson Fury’s defeat of Wilder (reportedly less than a million) in the most consequential heavyweight fight in 20 years two Februarys ago. DiBella, a 2020 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, wishes the dynamics were different, but when today’s top fighters fight fewer fights than legends of the past and the storytelling around the sport sucks, what do you expect?
“Why is there any interest in watching these 50-something men way past their prime get in a ring? You know why? Cause it’s who the people know and it’s who the people recognize and it’s who the people care about,” says DiBella. “So boxing has to ask itself why are we doing such a terrible job creating personas of fighters that anyone cares about? So I don’t think that these influencers are hurting boxing or helping boxing. I think they’re something unto themselves.”
Exhibition bouts that mean absolutely nothing and feature guys who only recently started boxing—when most professionals began honing their skills as kids—appeals to a very different audience demographically than boxing’s used to. Aligning with the Pauls who boast nearly 30 million followers combined on Instagram—three times as many as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world Canelo Alverez—and skew significantly younger than most boxing fans should provide the business with a jolt. Or in Showtime’s case, make it worth giving the brothers a shot.
Aligned with Premier Boxing Champions promotions and its cadre of titleholders like Errol Spence Jr., Jermall and Jermell Charlo, and Gervonta Davis, the network has plenty of champs to showcase in legitimate, consequential fights. Shouldn’t they make more of them featuring their stars who are infinitely more skilled than the Pauls? Shouldn’t boxing’s current champs get the kind of spotlight the Paul brothers are receiving? Wouldn’t that be best for the sport right now?
At least that’s what some boxing fans bemoan when they hear one of the Pauls—no strangers to controversy, including Jake who was leveled with serious allegations of harassment and sexual assault that he denied in a recent New York Times story—is headlining a card. But if business was booming—in regards to three Rs of ratings, respect, and relevancy—then the brothers wouldn’t get these opportunities. Plus Showtime believes you can satisfy two audiences without disrespecting one.
“As long as we’re honest with our audience and continue to invest and develop in respect to the championship-level fights, I don’t see any reason why the two can’t live side-by-side, especially with the acknowledgment that not everyone is going to be interested in both facets of the sport,” says Stephen Espinoza, president, sports and event programming at Showtime.
One thing the premium cable network will not do is hype up Mayweather-Paul, or any other future exhibition or professional fight between novices—like the newly announced Jake Paul vs. the former UFC champ Tryon Woodley bout later this summer—hyperbolically. If they did that they’d be throwing away decades of credibility. Now the only home of boxing on premium cable after HBO called it quits on the sport, Showtime has aired fights for 35 years and Espinoza says they take their reputation very seriously. At various points the broadcast home to greats like Tyson, Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and other notable champions over the years, Espinoza thought he’d receive serious blowback when the network announced it would air Mayweather-Paul. He was wrong.
“We haven’t received as much negativity as maybe we expected,” says Espinoza. “On the contrary, we’ve had a fair number of our established boxers that are curious and interested in aligning themselves [with influencer boxing].”
That’s because the best argument, or the one most often repeated, for why boxing should embrace the Pauls is that they’re introducing boxing to a new and younger audience. And if you’re an up and coming boxer, or even a world champion still trying to become a household name, it might not be a bad idea to align yourself with the Pauls and earn extra exposure.
“Me and my twin brother talked about it and we like what they’re doing,” says the undefeated WBC middleweight champion Jermall Charlo whose brother, Jermell, is the unified super welterweight champion.
The Charlos—two of the most exciting fighters in the sport who return to the ring this summer when Jermall faces Juan Marcus Montiel June 19th and Jermell looks to make history by becoming the undisputed 154-pound champ July 17th vs. Brian Castano—like that the Paul brothers are bringing more attention to boxing. Jermall says boxers aren’t jealous of all the fame and money the Pauls are earning and are just taking their presence for what it’s worth. “I’m super entertained,” he says.
On the other hand, two-division champion Gervonta Davis, a Mayweather protégé who headlines his own PPV June 26th against Mario Barrios, is completely unbothered by the presence of the Pauls.
“They doing their thing. What can I say about them?” says Davis. “I’m a fighter. I’m not worried about nobody else, I’m good just minding my own and doing what I do and that’s put on a great performance.”
As Espinoza pointed out, some fighters are genuinely curious about how their brand could benefit from associating with the Pauls. Charlo, for instance, wouldn’t be opposed to fighting on the same card as one of the Pauls, albeit with one extremely important and non-negotiable caveat.
“I would never fight on the undercard,” says Charlo. “I’m a world champion, those guys aren’t even real boxers. Not to give them any type of clout because they could never do what I’ve done and they could never be where I’m at in the sport of boxing.”
Current skill level aside, as much as any hater wants to clown on the Pauls, credit has to be given to Jake since he appears to take the sport seriously. He trains hard, promotes, trash talks, and embraces challengers. His three opponents so far have been a different story. On a larger scale, the Pauls co-signing of an often ugly and confusing sport to their largely Gen Z audience is arguably their most valuable contribution.
“I think it’s funny how people get so upset about their presence when in reality all it’s doing is bringing more eyeballs to the sport of boxing and combat sports,” says Ariel Helwani, the ESPN reporter who interviewed Jake on an April episode of Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “This gimmick is brilliant: He turned it into Jake Paul vs. MMA. And it’s working. They are all falling for it. Hook, line and sinker. Reminds me of Andy Kaufman vs. pro wrestling back in the day. Why would he stop now?”
Data can loosely make a case that their influence has been positive. A Future of Sports Fandom study of American sports fans this spring found that Gen Z—anyone born from roughly the mid-90s to 2010 and widely considered to be a huge chunk of the Pauls’ fan base—considers boxing its fourth favorite sport. It ranks 11th among the boomer crowd.
So are the Paul brothers, and the perceived positives they bring to boxing, here to stay? Or is this just a trend? We’ve seen blips like this before in boxing. Muhammad Ali, the greatest, participated in exhibition matches against wrestlers and NFL players in the 70s. And who can forget the spectacle that was Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor in 2017?
It’ll depend on who the brothers fight and what kind of performance they continue to give, says Polo Kerber, the head of talent and partnerships at Playmaker, a sports-focused media, merchandise, and management company. Kerber reps Robinson and helped make the former NBA player and three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion’s fight with Jake a reality. Because the Pauls are so controversial, as long as they continue to fight, ideally better and more qualified competition, Kerber says there will be plenty of people tuning in just to see them get knocked out. Playing the role of villain made Mayweather unfathomable sums of money over the years. It seems to suit the Pauls as well. It’s the clout-chasing copycats that could present the greatest harm to the sport.
“I feel like there are also a lot of people trying to capitalize on it because they see Jake Paul making millions and millions of dollars [and say] ‘Maybe we should just do it and throw things together’ that don’t make sense and I think that’s bad for the sport and potentially turn it into a trend that fades away,” says Kerber.
One thing we may never see is a Paul brother taking on a professional boxer in his prime. Yes, Logan Paul is squaring up against one of the best defensive fighters in modern history who went 50-0 during his incredible career. Mayweather will probably toy with Paul, like he did against McGregor, to give fans more bang for their PPV buck. Because even if there will be a massive height and weight discrepancy in favor of Paul—an anomaly only allowed in exhibition matches like this—is there any doubt the 44-year-old Mayweather wouldn’t wax a neophyte in one round if he really wanted to?
“Real boxers like myself, we see it from the outside, we see that it would be the easiest check I ever made, put me in there with somebody that don’t know nothing about the actual sport,” says Charlo. “I can pay him a couple hundred thousand to fight some of my sparring partners and he wouldn’t make it. I’m in the sport of boxing. He’s in the entertainment of boxing. He’s here for the views. I’m here for the power and knockouts.”
For the immediate future, it sounds like the Pauls, but most especially Jake, will coexist relatively peacefully with the sport’s stars.
“It’s not like this is the NBA. It’s not like Jake Paul is the point guard for the New York Knicks,” says Helwani. “He’s not taking someone’s slot away from an actual ‘legitimate’ boxer. It’s not like there’s 15 Showtime shows a year where he’s taking one from a guy who went through the amateur ranks, Golden Gloves, and all that stuff. There’s room for everyone to eat.”
As long as the Pauls respect the sport by being prepared, bring a big audience, introduce boxing’s current stars to new fans, and know they’re light years away from touching up a champ, it’s tough to criticize something that may not have a long shelf life anyway.
“Does my gut tell me influencer boxing and YouTube and TikTok boxing [is] sustainable? My gut doesn’t really tell me that, but who knows?” says DiBella. “I’ve got no problem with it and in a weird way Jake Paul is kind of growing on me a little bit. And I hate to admit that.”
For the purists, traditionalists, or real boxing fans—whatever hardcores want to call themselves—that might be a tough pill to swallow. But if they continue to complain about the sanctity of the sport as the Paul brothers book more fights, they need to look in the mirror.
“A lot of people are critical of this stuff,” says DiBella. “I mean, I’m not a purist, but the reason I’m not a purist is really simple: I love boxing when it’s at its best. But I don’t think boxing’s been at its best right now nor do I think it’s been at its best in a while. And if you’re going to be a purist, when has boxing ever been pure? Boxing has never been pure.”