Are Influencer Exhibition Fights the Future of Boxing?

As this weekend’s Social Gloves: Battle of the Platforms prepares to pit YouTubers against TikTokers for a massive audience, not everyone’s pumped about the new gen of pugilist

Much to the chagrin of boxing purists and actual athletes, a new generation of fighter is emerging. Hot on the heels of YouTuber Logan Paul’s exhibition match with undefeated champ Floyd Mayweather, even more social media influencers are stepping into the ring for a big showdown between TikTok stars and YouTube influencers.

On June 12 in Miami, Social Gloves: Battle of the Platforms will feature bouts between YouTubers AnEsonGib, Deji, Faze Jarvis, Tanner Fox, Landon McBroom, and Ryan Johnston and TikTokers Tayler Holder, Vinnie Hacker, Nate Wyatt, Michaelle, Ryland Storms, Ben Azelart, and Cale Saurage. (Older than 35? Google them, I guess.) The main event is a fight between basketball pro-turned-influencer Austin McBroom and mega-influencer Bryce Hall (who, incidentally, was recently sued for allegedly punching someone at a local restaurant).

Two of the aspiring pugilists, Hall and Holder, have been training for the big night at celebby West Hollywood gym the Dogpound. Kirk Myers, founder and CEO of the gym—which caters to a clientele that includes Victoria Secret models, influencers, and Hollywood actors—says their training hasn’t just been about landing punches.

“Boxing is about endurance, precision, and resilience more than anything—this is why things like jump rope are included in a boxer’s training,” Myers says. “The worst thing a boxer can do in a match is tire themselves out, so building that endurance is key.”

But are people watching to see their favorite influencers do well—or do they want to watch a bunch of millennial millionaires get their bells rung? Either way, this wave of exhibition fight is big business.

In a recent press release about Saturday’s big event, executive producer Paul Cazers called the fights “the perfect storm of celebrity, social media, technology, digital marketing, pop culture, and, at the end of the day, good old Hollywood 101 celebrity and industry magic.” Magic indeed. Demand for the Paul vs. Mayweather fight crashed Showtime’s servers, and sources say it exceeded a million PPV buys. The 2018 fight between Paul and KSI in Manchester, England, still holds the all-time record for most-purchased PPV broadcast for any non-professional boxing match, but there’s a chance Social Gloves could exceed it.

The events are big money for the fighters too: according to Slate, Mayweather has compared the June 6 brawl to legal bank robbery, claiming that he was making $100 million, while Paul floated a figure in the $20 million range. The popularity and big paydays are making some fighters uneasy. Esquire writes, “As dudes better known for Fortnite bans get shredded and brawl in press conferences, those with skin in the boxing game are grappling with the possibility of a future where influencers have more opportunities than pros who’ve boxed their entire lives.”

Will social media stars really achieve pugilistic hegemony? As Rachelle Hampton of the Slate podcast ICYMI put it, “The worst people are the best at gamifying our attention spans.”

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