Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Why the KSI-Tommy Fury, Logan Paul-Dillon Danis doubleheader could be the revival of influencer boxing

By its very definition, the word bubble can mean a good or fortunate situation that is isolated from reality or unlikely to last. 

Social media star influencers turned pugilists Logan Paul and KSI unknowingly launched the current celebrity/circus boxing bubble with their first amateur exhibition bout in 2018. The movement only snowballed from there, helped along greatly by a November 2020 pay-per-view card, featuring retired greats Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. in the main event and Jake Paul knocking out former NBA guard Nate Robinson in the co-feature, which went on to produce an astonishing 1.6 million PPV buys. 

Five years later, brands like Triller may have come and gone in this space but a market for this type of crossover boxing — often featuring novice celebrities in grudge matches — still exists. In fact, major networks known for their more traditional boxing coverage have launched multiple series dedicated to this exact type of combat fare. 

Celebrity boxing has come and gone in the past, to varying degrees. But the serious intention put in by the Paul brothers, who have built most of their moonlighting combat empire on challenging boxers and MMA fighters well past their prime, have helped give it sustained life. 

The question, of course, is for how long? And what role exactly does Saturday’s intriguing DAZN PPV doubleheader play in that future? 

The card, billed as “Judgement Day,” is expected to be a blockbuster affair inside Manchester Arena in England as KSI faces Tommy Fury, the half-brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and recent conqueror of Jake Paul, in the main event. Yet, it’s the co-feature, a grudge match pairing Logan Paul against MMA fighter and jiu-jitsu savant Dillon Danis, that has garnered much of the attention amid the ongoing scandal of lawsuits, restraining orders and alleged cyber bullying by Danis against Paul’s fiancee, Nina Agdal.  

What was once seen as a pandemic alternative has now become a legitimate business plan, as evidenced by the creation of the card’s promoter, Misfits Boxing. Launching in 2022, Misfits is a joint venture between KSI, British singer/songwriter Mams Taylor and the boxing promotional duo of brothers Kalle and Nisse Sauerland, who for years ran Sauerland Event out of Germany until it was acquired by the Wasserman Group in 2021. 

The volatility of a bubble typically produces a short-term period of time for big money to be made until oversaturation leads to inevitable implosion. And even with big events like Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul and Jake Paul-Nate Diaz drawing eyeballs in recent years, with major networks like Showtime and ESPN each taking their respective swings, there have been times it appeared as if the crossover boxing bubble was plateauing. 

Yet for every traditional combat sports fan who might have reached their individual limit on paying to watch Jake Paul challenge yet another aging novice who were recently released from their UFC deals, the overall experiment of influencer boxing has succeeded in recruiting new fans to the sport, mostly from the type of younger demographic that boxing has had trouble securing. 

Jake Paul has taken his foray into the sport serious enough that he created his own company, Most Valuable Promotions, which promotes his fights and has its own prospect series on DAZN. He has also called out Canelo Alvarez, boxing’s biggest star, and for most of the past few years, was seen as the face of the entire bubble as its most consistent (and successful) PPV star. 

Still, questions routinely followed Jake Paul about whether a single loss could be enough to burst the bubble he has helped make so profitable. His split-decision loss to Fury this February in Saudi Arabia seemed to test that theory although Jake Paul rebounded nicely in August by outpointing UFC icon Nate Diaz in an August clash that delivered far more entertainment than was predicted by combat sports journalists (this one included) who were openly losing interest. 

Jake Paul was not only the face of the bubble due to his drawing ability (and constant trolling of UFC president Dana White over fighter pay), he was looked at as the best overall boxer within this space until his loss to Fury. So it’s not without reason to look at Fury’s fight this weekend with KSI, who defeated Logan Paul in his lone pro fight (which doubled as their 2019 rematch), as a matchup for the unofficial title of best crossover boxer with potential for the winner to face either Paul brother next year. 

Yet, for as potentially legit as Fury-KSI is as a boxing match within this space, the majority of eyeballs that tune in this weekend will unabashedly be doing so for the trailer trash soap opera that is Logan Paul and Danis. 

The prolonged health of the crossover bubble always needed a certain consistency that can’t be guaranteed: exciting fights. Fans will overlook the lack of elite skill level provided the action is entertaining, the results are just and the pro wrestling ridiculous level is dialed up. 

In totality, the crossover boxing bubble has been up and down from the standpoint of consistently delivering, even with the rightful respect people like KSI and the Paul brothers have received for how serious their commitment to training and improving has been. 

Fury, despite his family name, has been no different. Long looked at as a bit of a disappointment as a real boxer due to his padded record against overmatched foes, Fury was arguably more famous for his time as a reality star on the U.K. series “Love Island” yet won back respect for how he used his foundational skills and improved commitment to edge Jake Paul. 

If the bubble can’t last on serious fighting or constant chaos alone, this weekend’s card appears to be the perfect balance of both. 

Danis, who barely even deserves his title as an MMA fighter due to inactivity and indifference, has become a full-time troll in this space. Not only has the master marketer threatened to choke Logan Paul inside the boxing ring, he has been downright merciless in his online harassment of his opponent’s significant other, which was crass at best yet remains a major reason why this card has acquired so much interest. 

In fact, there remains so much concern about whether the routinely mercurial Danis will pull out of the fight or be forced to withdraw altogether that fan-favorite brawler Mike Perry has been flown to the U.K. as the backup should Logan Paul need a new foe. 

All of this has merely been par for the course for the Paul-Danis matchup, which has toed the line as a circus fight that both appeals to the lowest common denominator and has the potential to be the kind of side-of-the-road debacle that you just can’t help but be witness to. 

Add in the fact that Logan Paul hasn’t boxed in over two years since his exhibition with Mayweather (while bulking up for a recent run with WWE that received rave reviews) and Danis, well, has never been known for his hands and you have all the ingredients for the kind of hijinks that makes influencer boxing so unique and yet so combustible should the cringe potential of the overall event shift into hyperdrive. 

So once again, it begs the question: Is Saturday’s Misfits Boxing card the last must-see event of the crossover bubble before its inevitable burst due to the unique characters and rivalries at play or this a revival of sorts within the genre as a whole? 

As long as the fight card delivers even half of the hijinks, violence and clout-chasing ridiculousness that is expected, while making sure to deliver competitive fights along the way, there’s no reason to believe this boxing circus can’t continue to disrupt the sport’s regularly scheduled programming with the kind of reality TV that’s too juicy to ignore. 

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