Boxing-Influencers pack a punch as heavyweight logjam finally set to break


  • Boxing
  • Thursday, 07 Dec 2023

(Reuters) - Boxing enjoyed a bumper 2023 powered by the likes of crossover stars such as YouTuber Jake Paul and former UFC champion Francis Ngannou with things very much looking up for the sweet science.

Not all of the recent developments will be to the taste of the purists but for a sport whose demise is regularly predicted, boxing finds itself in rude health thanks in no small part to the influx of influencers into the ring.

Together with his older brother Logan, 28, Jake Paul has led the charge to introduce the sport to a new generation of fans.

Cynics might say it is just another vehicle for them to sell the various products they endorse, but they have undoubtedly caught the attention of the younger generations.

The fact that the younger Paul, 26, suffered the first defeat of his professional career against boxer and reality TV star Tommy Fury, half-brother of world heavyweight champion Tyson, has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of the new fans.

Paul bounced back from that loss to defeat fellow American Nate Diaz, an iconic figure in mixed martial arts (MMA), and he has another fight booked on Dec. 15 against Andre August before looking to ramp things up again early in the New Year.

If he does, Paul will likely make a return to Saudi Arabia, where he lost to Fury last February, as the kingdom seeks to gain more influence in boxing in the same manner as it has done in soccer, Formula One and golf - by pumping money into it.

TOP HEAVYWEIGHTS

For years fans have been begging to see the world's top heavyweights clash and it seems all that was needed to get it to happen was the infusion of vast amounts of Saudi money.

On Dec. 23 four of the best will take each other on in a pair of intriguing matches in Riyadh as Anthony Joshua meets Otto Wallin and Deontay Wilder takes on Joseph Parker.

Tyson Fury was slated to meet Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk to decide the undisputed heavyweight champion on that date but the Briton's sluggish performance in beating Ngannou, who was making his pro boxing debut, saw that fight pushed back to February.

In a moment that shocked the boxing world, Cameroonian-French fighter Ngannou floored Fury with a thunderous left hook, illustrating that even a novice can have a puncher's chance against the best if he has enough power in his hands.

But given the impossibility of boxers crossing over into MMA - the skill set is too broad for them to bridge the gap without years of training - their sport looks set to remain the realm in which the title of the "baddest on the planet" is decided.

Some will be athletes who have boxed all their lives, some will be new arrivals whose reputations have been built on social media fame or MMA titles, but all have one thing in common - the ability to attract a paying audience to keep the tills ringing.

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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