By Lewis Calvert @BigWriteHook
We are all on the pursuit of happiness. The purpose of life an enigmatic concept that differs for every individual, for some it is to become rich, others want to help people, most people want to find love, raise a family and explore self-actualisation. For the vast majority of boxers though, their life goal it is to become a World champion.
Of course, boxers are people too and want to achieve success in terms of money, relationships, and all the other “normal” things that the rest of society wants, but the tough road to global recognition is one many fighters willfully run down at 5 o’clock in the morning, whilst the rest of us are asleep.
However, with the changing landscape of how boxing is consumed, this magazine a prime example of that, does a World title hold the same respect it once did, particularly with a viewership who are so accustomed to on demand television, next day delivery and instant gratification from dating apps?
The inaugural World Boxing Super Series has been a rousing success from fighters and fans alike apart from:
“For the first time in history, all four belts in the cruiserweight division will belong proudly around the waist of one man.”
These words, boom out twice every iFL TV interview you have the luxury of watching for free. The necessity of advertising a small annoyance to sustain the quality insight that we would otherwise have to pay for. The idea of this message is to attract more pay-per-view buys to watch what is arguably the most eagerly anticipated fight in of one of boxing’s least glamorous divisions in the past decade.
The World Boxing Super Series has been, with the exception of a Juergen Braehmer pull out and barring a George Groves injury for the super-middleweight final, a rousing success.
But is this fight so important because it will see either Murat Gassiev or Oleksandr Usyk crowned an undisputed Cruiserweight champion of the world or is it because it will see one man win the most prized possession in boxing: the Muhammad Ali Trophy?
Okay, so I hadn’t heard of it either before the tournament was announced and in a bid to enlighten my ignorance… or save my blushes on Twitter, I had to Google whether it was something my I may have overlooked in my nightly historical researching of the sport. As it transpired, it turns out to be a nice marketing move. I mean the £38 million prize fund is not to be sniffed at by the fighters either. However, that is not to say, #AliTrophy will not be held in great esteem in future. After the Ring Magazine and Big Wrtie Hook belts of course.
The current crop of fighters are trail blazers for a tournament that looked at the Super Six, took the best of it, made some tweaks and struck gold. Yet it does beg the question, is the cruiserweight contest only held in such reverence because it provides a solution to a matter that continually plagues boxing – too many champions and too many belts?
The success of UFC is, in part, down to the fact fans understand who the world champions are and the product is not diluted or convoluted with a plethora of super, regular, interim, diamond, international, silver, and other alphabet belts. This combination of confusion about current champions put all the more pressure on boxers to unify divisions, for the future credibility of the sport. It is no surprise then that at the appeal of a tournament to some fans is simply that offers some much needed clarity.
A boxing “match” is winner takes all. A boxing tournament is winner takes all on steroids. Even more so if you throw in some Mexican meat. And what a tournament does is provides a narrative. Whether on one night like Prize Fighter did or over the course of a few weeks like the popular Contender series did, all those years ago.
Story lines offer increasing hype for each fight, but it also puts the fighters a collision course to actually prove who is the best rather than just say it. Unlike the current climate we see today with online arguments over purse splits, venues and a host of other problems that can surface from the murky swamp often referred to as “politics in boxing”.
Added to that, the landscape of what fans want and what sells, is shifting like we have never seen before. The rise of the digital age has seen Youtube celebrities become amateur boxers and garner millions of views online, which only means one thing: “For the first time in history, all four belts in the cruiserweight division will belong proudly around the waist of one man.” Ha! Gotcha again. Seriously though, it means more adverts. And more money for the people putting these events on because they are attracting huge numbers of curious eyes. So we will see more of them.
Admittedly, I didn’t know who KSI or Joe Weller were. Or are. And I’m sure many of their fans don’t know who Gassiev or Usyk are. And none of them know who I am. Boohoo, poor me. But nevertheless, the lucrative venn diagram of where boxing tournaments and the digital boxing fan meet has manifested itself as the Ultimate Boxxer. Similarly, Ireland’s Last Man Standing is aiming to do the same. They are both Prize Fighter like nights – on a smaller budget, with promotion being beamed into the mobile phones of an army of young technophiles.
BJS, KSI and LP
These smaller tournaments, together with the WBSS and even the Olympics (corruption aside) have have the potential to be the future of boxing. Expect a rise in the number of unsustainable start-up tournaments which try and cash in on this movement.
Recent news that Billy Joe Saunders will feature on the undercard of the KSI vs. Logan Paul “rematch” has been met with mixed reaction. If the 1.4 million PPV buys are to be believed, that is a lot of eyes that could be watching BJS show youngsters what a fillet steak looks like, when they’ve only tuned in for a Big Mac. Should they be impressed, that could be great for the future of the sport.
But of course, it is all comes down to money. Youtube or the Moon, if there is money to be made promoting best believe Eddie Hearn will find a way to getting a slice of it. It may be a phase.
My guess is we will see Youtube personalities go into professional boxing and quickly return to the safety of their bedrooms. You play Youtube. You don’t play boxing.