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Considering the amount of trouble and wincing fans and promoters of combat sports have been through over the past few months, I can only imagine the horror on the faces of Dana White, Eddie Hearn and Co when Khabib Nurmagomedov jumped the wall of the octagon and was in the crowd for a second bout in a row.
Fortunately, this time he was handing out hugs rather than throwing punches. Restoring reputation rather than plunging it further. That is just as well because as far as I can tell, combat sports are suffering a reputation crisis.
There was a bit of a climb back up a couple of years ago. The Connor McGregor and Nate Diaz bouts, the Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao bout, Ronda Rousey, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury all became big in a short space of time. There was a real buzz around fights and interest was growing.
Fast forward to present day, McGregor is fighting old men in pubs and Joshua is fighting a chubby Mexican bloke for the second time, this time in Saudi Arabia and almost all of them are involved in some form of public bickering rather than being the global superstars we had looked forward to watching.
Combat sports in general have always had big support. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit the Flavian Amphitheatre will be able to testify to the longevity of the love for such games. If you want to capture the imagination of new fans, however, you need to attract the current potential fan base.
It amazes me that there has been such opposition to the fight between KSI and Logan Paul, two high profile YouTubers that is happening on November 9. Reading article after article, the boxing media is “sick of it” and according to some, it’s the lowest of lows for boxing and a disgrace to the sport. I could not disagree more. Combat sports need a kick into gear so instead of moaning about it, they could do a lot worse than embracing it.
I get the opposition. The two men are amateurs in terms of actual boxing ability despite the rematch being an official professional fight and to have Billy Joe Saunders and Callum Smith’s world title fight on the undercard does seem like a kick in the teeth on the face of things.
Eddie Hearn, whatever your opinion on him personally, is not a fool when it comes to business and your main event has to be the fight that is pulling the most views. As of this time last year, the original KSI vs Logan Paul fight had a staggering 75 million views; both men are watched in their millions by fans every week. Numbers the boxing world could only dream of at the moment.
Anthony Joshua also sees the opportunity, he said last week in an interview with the Independent. He said: “What people have to realise is you have to put all eyes on boxing for us all to thrive.
“So KSI and Logan Paul have a bigger following than me and most of the heavyweights combined.”
For me, it goes further than that. The YouTubers predominant fan base are teenagers – the potential next generation of combat sports fans.
The fight will not be a high quality affair in terms of technique, ring craft or a tactical battle but it will be a show. It will be watched, accessible and it will be entertaining in its own way.
I distinctly remember the hype for the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight. I was living in the UK and had friends round, battling tiredness to stay up until 5am to watch it. For some of my friends it was the first and last bout they had ever sat down to watch. I can’t say I blame them. Despite the skill – potentially two of the best fighters in history – it massively lacked an entertainment factor.
Tyson Fury and his homophobic and sexist tendencies don’t relate to a current generation or a new one. McGregor punching old men was never going to be a positive one and it is difficult to imagine that Mexican or British fans are excited by the prospect of the Joshua vs Ruiz fight being thousands of miles away.
Core supporters are still thoroughly enjoying what their sport has to offer but there is too much of a disconnect between where the sports are at and potential new fans.
In my opinion, the fight media and fans need to embrace and seize the opportunity that comes with the fight instead of being sour about the whole situation. Besides, the show and potentially more like it will be arriving at some point so why not sit back and enjoy, surely it’d be nice to get out of the rut of negatives it is currently facing.