Celebrity boxing is the biggest thing in the sport right now, and it won’t be too long before it invades MMA as well. Both sports can learn a lesson from pro-wrestling.
For almost as long as pro-wrestling has been around, there have been celebrities who made their name outside of the sport getting involved. It’s not much of a stretch to say that it helped elevate WWE to the heights of the 80s and 90s, with the likes of Mr. T and Mike Tyson bringing in new viewers. The first Wrestlemania was primarily built around celebrity guests.
WWE used the celebrities smartly, though. They used them to help make their own wrestlers into household names.
The first celebrity boxing craze began in the 1990s when Danny Bonaduce fought Donny Osmond for charity. This inspired FOX to air a couple of Celebrity Boxing specials featuring fights such as Tonya Harding vs. Paula Jones, Dustin Diamond vs. Ron Palillo, and Joey Buttafuoco vs. Joanie “Chyna” Laurer. The concept was largely seen as a sideshow attraction, and while there continued to be the occasional celebrity bout, the fights didn’t garner much interest.
That was, of course, until August 2018, when YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul fought. All of the prior celebrity matches featured two celebrities whose stars had faded. Paul vs. KSI were massive stars gaining millions of views a month on their channels. The fight ended up generating a total of 1.3 million pay-per-view buys worldwide, making it the most significant non-professional boxing match of all time. This created a wave of similarly themed events that have made big money.
Last month Logan Paul fought Floyd Mayweather, once again garnering over one-million pay-per-view buys. No winner was declared as per the terms of the fight, but Paul hinted at a possible move to MMA after the fight.
“I’d do MMA, for sure, because I am a good grappler. You know, I’m a wrestler at heart. Regardless of the performance that was put on tonight, you know, this is my third fight. Let me get a little good, you know, and then for sure, yeah, I’ll be putting on prizefights. That’s the answer. I’m sure there’s a list of opponents on Twitter, people chirping, saying this, saying that. I’ll pick one. Make them f*cking get embarrassed. I don’t know. We’ll see.”
A lot of people in the boxing and MMA worlds hate this. They think these guys fighting somehow demeans the sport. They aren’t seeing the bigger picture.
Someone with the fanbase of one of the Paul brothers going into MMA would create a ton of opportunities in the sport, especially if done outside the UFC ecosystem. This could be another option for fighters and possibly raise pay across the board if the UFC actually has to compete for fighters.
UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman agrees. In a recent article on UFC betting site Betway, he said, “They worked hard to get to where they’re at with all the followers. And that’s where we’re at nowadays, it’s all about how many followers you got. That’s how you judge what a guy’s worth, and I think they’re worth every penny of it because people are tuning in. Even if they want to see them get their heads knocked off, well, they’re still tuning in to see that.”
Any fighter who faces someone like a Logan Paul is going to get so much extra attention and from a different audience as well. Then think of the attention if he wins.
At the end of the day, boxing, MMA, and pro-wrestling have always been about who can draw the biggest audience, not who has the most skill in the ring (or octagon). Celebrity fighting, as long as it keeps drawing huge numbers, is here to stay. It’s up to boxing and MMA to take advantage of that.