In the mid-to-late 1990s, Top Rank produced a series of pay-per-view events headlined by Oscar De La Hoya that included on the undercards the modern-day equivalent of Logan and Jake Paul.
We saw it on Sept. 18, 1999, during the so-called “Fight of the Millennium” between De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad.
We saw it a few months earlier, on Feb. 13, 1999, on UNLV’s campus, for De La Hoya’s stirring victory over Ike Quartey at the Thomas & Mack Center.
And, of course, we saw it on Sept. 18, 1998, when De La Hoya rematched the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. for a welterweight title at the Thomas & Mack.
There were more, but you get the point.
What it was were matches featuring Eric “Butterbean” Esch and Mia St. John. They were the equivalent in the '90s of the celebrity matches that are raising so much ire today. Esch was a 350-plus-pounder who was billed as “King of the Four Rounders.” St. John was trying to make a legitimate career as a boxer, and indeed later would go on to win a world title. But at that time, she was billed as “The Knockout,” had appeared on the cover of Playboy and her appearance on those shows was as much for her looks as it was for her ability to fight.
The only difference between then and now is that the Paul brothers make a lot more money than either Esch or St. John did from their bouts on the De La Hoya undercards. And if there is a good thing about these bouts, it’s that. People are making good money from boxing. In what universe is that a bad thing?
Eventually, Butterbean and The Knockout faded away, and Top Rank focused on more traditional cards. The same thing had happened years before and it’s going to happen again in the future.
But this celebrity fighting craze will eventually fade away. They’re being supported not by serious boxing fans but by Paul fans and the curious.
Sooner or later, those folks will lose interest and will tire of having to pay for the privilege to watch the celebrity bouts.
Showtime signed Jake Paul to a contract, and he’s scheduled to fight ex-UFC champion Tyron Woodley later this year. What intrigue there is in that fight boils down to how good Paul really is: Can he beat an actual, honest-to-God real fighter?
If he beats Woodley, he’ll have proven his point. And while there will doubtless be dozens of MMA fighters begging for the chance to give him his comeuppance, there has to be a market for them to keep going.
Showtime undoubtedly had hoped Mayweather would be willing to fight Jake Paul when it signed him, because it would have given them another high-level pay-per-view. The network has a great slate of matches, but its television ratings are abysmal and the PPVs are a way to recoup some of the money they’re losing by putting on the quality fights they’re doing.
Triller, which really pushed this genre when it did the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones exhibition in November, is weaning itself off of it. Its June 19 card was supposed to be a purely boxing card and is headlined by undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez against mandatory contender George Kambosos. But Triller couldn’t leave well enough alone and added ex-UFC champion Vitor Belfort against “Tarzann,” an internet celebrity, to the card in Miami. Ugh.
Triller got the Lopez-Kambosos fight by blowing both Top Rank, Lopez’s promoter, and Matchroom Sport out of the water with a purse bid. It bid $6.2 million for the right to promote the fight, more than twice what Top Rank bid.
That’s good for Lopez and Kambosos, but if Top Rank had won the bid, the fight would have been free on ESPN. Had Matchroom gotten it, it would have come as part of the DAZN subscription.
But to see the Lopez fight now, you’re going to have to shell out money to watch it on pay-per-view.
As fans begin to see what these celebrity bouts are about, they’ll walk. Look at Nate Robinson, the ex-NBA player, who was knocked out by Paul on the Tyson-Jones undercard. Robinson is a truly great athlete but had zero boxing ability. Logan Paul lacks so much talent in boxing he lost to another YouTuber, a guy who goes by KSI.
The overwhelming majority of the YouTube/celebrity bouts have been farcical and not at all entertaining. And that’s why this will soon come to a thankful end.
If there’s a buck to be made in boxing, you know people are going to come out of the woodwork and try to find a way to get it.
It’s just about run its course now. If Mayweather doesn’t do this again, there is nobody that is a surefire draw who can go into one of these celebrity bouts and guarantee a big number.
That as much as anything will doom it to the history books, where it will sit next to the Butterbean-St. John Era.
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