Matt Davies previews the Floyd Mayweather vs Logan Paul exhibition and what it could mean for the overall trend
As former NBA star Nate Robinson lay sprawled across the canvas, unconscious, two inescapable thoughts sprang to mind: firstly, Jake Paul - for a total novice - can actually fight. Secondly, and more importantly, this is a bout that should never have happened.
The devastating consequences of a frankly preposterous match-up were on full display for all to see, yet we now swiftly progress from the merely offensive to the obscene. Floyd Mayweather, Mr 50-0, is set to take on Paul’s older brother Logan… or should we say, Mr 0-1? The pair are scheduled to meet in a ‘special exhibition’ event on February 20 of next year, and of course, we already know the outcome: Mayweather wins by stoppage, or if he wants to make it a show, an embarrassingly one-sided points decision. Perhaps, however, it’s the apparent direction in which boxing is moving that should be discussed, rather than the actual fight itself.
First, some context is required. ‘YouTube boxing’ burst into the limelight when KSI and Logan Paul shared an entertaining draw in a white-collar bout before 21,000 fans at the Manchester Arena in 2018. Though many boxing purists were reluctant to acknowledge the event, a certain Eddie Hearn was most definitely not. He promoted the rematch in Los Angeles, where Paul controversially lost by a split decision, with world champions Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders showcasing their talents in arguably less compelling fights on the undercard. It was then that YouTube boxing transcended above a mere social media event. The professional boxing licences were obtained; headguards ditched and the YouTuber undercards abandoned. The demand was eye-opening, with Hearn revealing the event received more pay-per-view buys in the UK than Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr earlier in the year.
Though many felt aggrieved as the pair received purses and exposure the majority of experienced boxers could only dream of, there was a potential silver lining: boxing may have inherited a brand-new audience, which could only benefit those in the profession in the long run. Where two novices in KSI and Logan Paul had undergone professional training camps and produced an engaging spectacle, subsequent events have provided a stern reminder that boxing is a sport of levels. Jake Paul in January dismantled fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib in a round, with only the three-knockdown rule preventing a more distressing finish. But in Paul’s following bout against Robinson, a severe disparity in quality between the two proved more dangerous than entertaining.
This is where Mayweather’s impending bout against Logan Paul comes in. Mayweather will enter the ring for the first time since his exhibition against Tenshin Nasukawa on New Year’s Eve in 2018, where his opponent – who came in with a 28-0 kickboxing record and with four wins from as many MMA fights – was floored three times in the opening round before his corner threw in the towel.
The fight against Logan Paul feels different. However absurd a match-up, Nasukawa was a genuine, professional fighter. Even Conor McGregor, Mayweather’s 50th opponent, was and still is an elite-level combatant, regardless of his lack of prowess in a boxing ring. In Paul, Mayweather now takes on a true novice, marketed with the caveat of a vast size and age ‘advantage’. A 6ft 2in, 25-year-old should beat a 5ft 8in, 43-year-old, right? Wrong. This is dangerous. Indeed, we don’t know the official rules yet - they may fight with headgear, 16oz gloves and with a ‘no-knockout’ rule. Then, it’s less dangerous, but – as with November’s quite bizarre exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr – verging on pointless.
So, does the silver lining still exist? Does the phrase ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ still apply? Not so much. The bout is not only a non-starter with an all-but-predetermined result, it’s a match-up that paves the way for future events of similar description. Jake Paul has already challenged McGregor to a fight; and though the Irishman has his eyes set on Dustin Poirier and then potentially Manny Pacquiao, a substantial pay-check for an easier night’s work could prove tempting.
Perhaps a more interesting case than McGregor is Dave Allen, certainly a sentence I never thought I’d write. The heavyweight has recently retired from boxing aged just 28 and has since indicated he will only return to the ring to fight YouTubers, or someone of that ilk. A wad of cash and with no potential repercussions to his health – it’s a no-brainer. But where we’ve previously seen cross-over events between fighters of opposing disciplines, and more recently two novices squaring off, we are now moving in the direction of fighters with extreme skill against non-fighters with none. Eventually, someone will get seriously hurt - and boxing will be the only entity to blame. Perhaps only then will those promoting such events finally wake up.
Over the weekend, the United Kingdom welcomed fans back to boxing as Anthony Joshua ferociously knocked out mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev in the ninth round of their world title clash. Of the 1,000 or so spectators in attendance, Mayweather was one. He wasn’t difficult to spot – he was the only one in the stands without a mask, though that’s for another day. Immediately after his victory, Joshua left the ring to embrace the Hall-of-Famer, who was afterwards pictured in the champion’s dressing room.
The point? Mayweather maintains a legendary status among those inside and out of the sport, being undoubtedly one of the all-time pound-for-pound greats. Should the unthinkable happen and Logan Paul wins, it discredits the sport. Should Mayweather stroll to victory, it was meaningless all along. And should Paul get badly hurt, it puts a dark mark on boxing. These are all, well, less than ideal outcomes. But, for now anyway, and regardless of the potential health consequences, it seems these dangerous exhibitions will continue to have a prominent future in the sport.