Millions of people watched a main-event boxing match between two beginners Saturday night, and that’s an insane thought compared to even five years ago.
The Staples Center has been home to some giant MMA and boxing matches, in addition to being the home of the globally known Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. But there was no Lebron James highlight Saturday, nor a massive MMA match with Conor McGregor. There was no championship contested in the main event of a illustrious boxing card either. Instead, it was two YouTubers with minimal boxing experience, Logan Paul and KSI, fighting in the main event over world champions such as Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders.
The idea of two people with virtually zero boxing experience in the main event of such a giant show borders on insanity, and seemed impossible only a few years ago. Just a few years ago, something like Logan Paul vs. KSI was unthinkable. Sure we had seen crossovers to boxing and MMA by celebrities and other athletes, but we had never seen it to this scale. Nor was Logan Paul vs. KSI 2, or their initial amateur encounver, a crossover really. They’re just two YouTubers who hate each other and decided to fight about it.
There’s a reason the card drew as much attention as it did, however. The simple reason it sold so well is that fans of these YouTubers feel like they know them. They’ve watched them day in, day out in this modern era of social media. They’ve connected with them, and watched them grow over the years. A lot of athletes are on social media, but none are as active or showed their training the way these social media darlings put it on display in the build-up to this contest. Being so open and connected made fans care about the fight. That’s more than can be said for a lot of bouts.
This idea translates further than just a couple of YouTubers. If you want people to connect to fighters, this is a good way to do it. Make them interesting on social media. Ryan Garcia is an excellent example of a promoter making his athlete big on social media. Garcia is a young boxer who posts highlights of his fights on social media, is young, marketable, and because he grew up in this social media age, people are more likely to connect with him. Paige VanZant is a similar star for the UFC, becoming a social media darling for reasons outside of her fighting.
Ahead of Saturday’s boxing match, there was talk about Logan Paul fighting in the UFC. The key isn’t for Logan Paul to fight in the UFC, or any other YouTuber for that matter. The key is for the promotion to bring in the social media crowd. The UFC and other boxing entities have mostly shied away from doing this, outside of posting highlights on social media. They certainly aren’t embracing it to its full extent. This YouTube boxing experiment started as a free platform but has catapulted into becoming a legitimate event with boxing champions on the undercard. Mostly through promotion on social media, and effectively marketing the fights through multiple platforms.
If you want people to care, you want them to connect with your fighters. Fighters like Stipe Miocic that hate fight promotion and don’t actively use social media have suffered in terms of buyrate and public profile. And no, freakshows aren’t the answer to getting your fighters noticed, it’s making people care about them. Social media is an open and vast area, if you can break through there, you can do almost anything in today’s society.
Fight promotion is a strange thing, but it’s a changing beast. In the era of social media, things are becoming even more strange. But in a weird way, it might be the future of fight promotion.