On August 29, 2021, YouTuber turned professional boxer Jake Paul fought mixed martial artist and former UFC fighter Tyrone Woodley. At the time, Paul was 3-0 in his pro boxing career, each win coming by way of knockout. Woodley was a successful UFC fighter; he was once the UFC welterweight champion.
Like the previous three Jake Paul fights, this bout was highly publicized due to the bad blood between Paul and Woodley. A war of words erupted between the two fighters: this occurred on social media, at press conferences, and in a face-off interview with journalist Ariel Helwani. Both fighters voiced their displeasure towards one another. These verbal clashes only served to promote the fight. Millions bought the pay-per-view (PPV) show to watch Paul and Woodley fight. Paul would win a split decision victory over Woodely. As of right now, the number of buys for the Paul and Woodley PPV are still being counted, and the event is expected to be the fifth highest in terms of PPV buys.
A Recent Trend
High-profile boxing matches between famous athletes or celebrities have become a recent trend. Jake and his brother Logan Paul are two notable examples of non-boxers stepping into the ring. Fellow YouTuber KSI also put on a pair of clothes to fight Logan in 2018. In 2021, former NFL player Chad Johnson decided to give boxing a try; he lost by knockout.
But these boxing matches are not a recent invention. High profile boxing matches have occurred throughout history. Even the self-proclaimed greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali, partook in some of these matches. This article will explore the history of high-profile boxing matches. First, let’s examine what the term “high-profile boxing match” actually means.
For the purposes of this article, a high-profile boxing match features two individuals who are not boxers. The individuals are typically known for something else; for example, an actor, athelete, YouTuber, or social media influencer. However, the two fighters can be two former boxers or former fighters in a different combat sport, like the UFC. The match has to have a noteworthy element about it. This could come in a variety of forms: a former champion boxer making his return to the ring, a boxer and mixed martial artist deciding to fight one another, or a hot-headed loudmouth YouTuber antagonizing everyone. Whichever shape it takes, the match should attract a lot of attention from fans and media outlets. Therefore, the fight is eagerly watched by millions around the world.
Another element is trash-talking; essentially, talking negatively about your opponent. Both fighters and their entourages antagonize each other to the point where there is mutual hatred. This hatred can be real or merely a work of fiction. This bad blood does serve a purpose. It helps promote the fight; fans love to see two hated rivals fight each other.
Lastly, many of these fights are not officially recognized by established boxing organizations, like the WBC and WBA. The matches are generally amateur/exhibiton matches.
High-profile boxing fights date back to the early 20th century. They were most popular in the United States, with many exhibition bouts taking place. During the 1900s, many states prohibited professional boxing. As a workaround, several professional boxing fights were billed as exhibition matches. This is why so many exhibition matches occurred during this time period.
Many famous boxers of the time took part in exhibition matches. Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson fought many exhibition fights; however, most of these came towards the end of his career. In his day, Johnson was a huge attraction due to the fact that he was the first African-American heavyweight champion. He garnered further attention by breaking racial stereotypes of the time, such as flaunting his wealth and dating white women.
Johnson vs. Ketchel
The most notable Johnson exhibition match occurred on October 16th, 1909. The heavyweight champion faced middleweight champion Stanley Ketchel. Fans turned out in droves to watch the fight. Everyone wanted to see who would win, the 6 foot 209 pound Johnston or the 5 foot 9 160 pound Ketchel.
The fight was supposed to be lighthearted, but in the 11 round Ketchel threw a surprise punch, dropping Johnson to the canvas. Johnson angrily got up and threw a vicious assault on Ketchel. Ketchel was knocked down and counted out. People were shocked that the massive heavyweight was floored by a smaller middleweight fighter. Johnson proved he was the more powerful fighter, but the fact that he was knocked down by the smaller Ketchel stuck with the heavyweight champ for many years.
Mid 20th Century
As the 20th century progressed, exhibition boxing became less common as professional boxing grew in popularity. Exhibition boxing largely fell to retired boxers who had long since left the limelight. Therefore, these types of fights rarely drew a sizable crowd. Anyone who did seek out the fight did so out of curiosity; they wanted to see if the ex-prizefighter could still dish out punishment. But exhibition boxing matches again rose to prominence thanks to one boxer, the self-proclaimed greatest of all time.
Muhammad Ali may be the greatest boxer, if not athelete, in history. As a boxer, Ali utilized his quick hands and feet along with a solid punching power to dominate his opponents. In 1964, he shocked the world by defeating heavyweight champ Sony Liston. The hard-hitting Liston was expected to demolish Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), but Ali used his superior hand speed and overall agility to defeat Liston.
Outside of the ring, Ali’s brashness made him a media sensation. He would bad mouth his opponents, often in humorous poems he created. Ali became a larger cultural icon when he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967. At the time, the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Ali’s draft refusal upset large portions of Middle America; this demographic believed it was Ali’s duty to serve his country, even if it was in the entertainment division. Ali’s act inspired many young African-Americans to do the same and refuse to be drafted. For his actions, Ali was barred from boxing until 1970, when he was finally reinstated. He recaptured the heavyweight crown in 1974, further cementing his legacy as the greatest of all time.
Ali Exhibition Matches
With all the fame surrounding Muhammad Ali, plans for exhibition fights soon emerged. In 1976, Ali fought Japanese wrestler and martial artist Anotnio Inoki. The fight proved to be a serious affair with Inoki constantly kicking Ali’s legs. These kicks caused a blood clot and infection, which almost resulted in Ali losing his leg. Ali only landed two jabs to Inoki. The bout was received negatively by media outlets and fans alike. Today many consider this fight be very influential in terms of blending fight styles. The fight set the stage for future boxing and martial arts crossover fights.
Ali Vs. Alzado
In 1979, Ali agreed to fight NFL player Lyle Alzado, who before playing football competed in the Golden Gloves as an amateur boxer. Visually, the two men sharply contrasted one another. Ali was still the tall boxer with a long reach and quick hands, but physically he was past his prime. His once lean and muscular body now looked soft and overweight. Alzado was a hulking muscular man, someone who was built to play in the NFL.
Ali and Alzado boxed in an eight-round match. Even though the exhibition fight was supposed to be for fun, both fighters appeared serious. Alzado threw everything at Ali, who mostly blocked those shots. Ali thoroughly out boxed Alzado; anyone who watched the fight knew who the pro boxer was. The event was a financial disaster. Television ratings were low, and only 15,000 people filled the 75,000 seat stadium to watch the fight.
Other Ali Exhibition Fights
Several other athletes and celebrities boxed Ali in exhibition matches. Famed basketball star Wilt Chamberlin was set to fight Ali, but negotiations fell through and the bout never happened. Puerto Rican Jose Miguel Agrelot rounds out the list of celebrities to fight Ali in an exhibition boxing fight.
Outside of Muhammad Ali, exhibition boxing fights sharply declined. One exception was an exhibition event staged by former heavyweight champion George Foreman on April 26, 1975. On that night, the hard-hitting Foreman fought five different men, one after the other. While sensational, journalists and fans largely panned the event as a farce.
Heading into the 21st century, exhibition boxing grew in frequency and popularity. In 2006, former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson went on a world tour, performing exhibition bouts. However, Tyson had fallen far from his stature as the baddest man on the planet. The tour did not last. Tyson only fought one fight, which was against a former sparring partner and former boxer named Corey “T-Rex” Sanders.
As the 2000s progressed, more and more celebrities tried their hand at boxing. In 2002, FOX Television launched Celebrity Boxing. Celebrities experiencing a slump in their career would square off against each other. Each contestant wore protective headgear, and the exhibition fights were scheduled for 3 rounds. The show was largely dismissed, and TV Guide ranked the show sixth on their 50 Worst T.V. Shows of All Time list.
Some of the most famous and successful highly profile boxing matches occurred during the 2010s. In 2017, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. agreed to fight UFC fighter Conor Mcgregor in a twelve round professional boxing bout. At the time, Mayweather was 49-0 and arguably the greatest boxer of his generation. McGregor had evolved into one of the biggest draws in sports. His cocky, brash manner and stunning victories made him famous worldwide. Mayweather Jr.’s flashy lifestyle also made him famous.
The interest around the McGregor vs. Mayweather Jr. fight was whether the mixed martial artist could defeat the boxer: who was the better fighter. An intense press tour followed with both sides talking negatively about each other. The PPV became one of the highest selling shows of all time; estimates range around 4.5 million buys. The event also generated over $55 million in ticket sales. Throughout the fight, Mayweather Jr. demonstrated his superior boxing skills, easily defeating Mcgregor by technical knockout in the 10th round.
Earlier I noted that Mike Tyson planned to stage an exhibition boxing world tour in 2006. After that venture failed, Tyson retired from the sport. After several years of personal struggles, Tyson reemerged as a new man. In 2020, after several years away from boxing, Tyson revealed he would fight former boxer Roy Jones Jr. in an eight-round bout. Tyson promoted the fight by posting training videos on his Instagram account. Fans noted Tyson’s muscular physique in these videos. Even more shocking was that Tyson, at age 54, displayed exceptional boxing skills.
The event took place on November 28, 2020 in Los Angeles. The fight itself was fairly even, and the three ringside judges scored the match a split draw. Many disagreed with this scoring; people argued Tyson did enough to win.
The match was well received by fans and media outlets. The event also sold well on PPV, with over $80 million in revenue sales.
While Tyson vs. Jones Jr. was the main event, another famous fighter appeared on the undercard. Except this young fighter did not start off his career as a boxer. This fighter was the controversial Jake Paul.
The Paul Brothers
Jake Paul and his older brother Logan are two popular YouTubers. While they have millions of fans, the brothers have become controversial figures, which resulted from some of their outlandish actions. One example was Logan filming a dead man who had hung himself in Japan’s infamous “suicide forest”. In 2018, Logan and Jake started their amateur boxing careers. Logan faced fellow YouTuber KSI, while Jake fought Deji Olatunji, who is a Youtuber and the younger brother of KSI. Logan’s fight ended in a draw, while Jake won via technical knockout in the fifth round. Logan and KSI would fight a rematch in 2019. This time, KSI won by split decision. Both events garnered over two million watches along with millions of dollars in revenue.
Other Paul Fights
The Paul brothers continued to fight amateur and professional boxing matches. In the lead up to all of these fights, Paul’s antagonized their opponents and others through their arrogant, cocky antics. This has also made them hated figures, and arguably, it is a great promotional tool. Millions tune into the Paul brothers’ fights, hoping to see them be brutally beaten.
Out of the two brothers, Jake has had the most boxing success. He is undefeated with four wins, three coming by knockout. On the Tyson vs. Jones Jr undercard, Jake knocked out former basketball player Nate Robinsion in stunning fashion. In April of 2021, Jake shocked the world again by beating former UFC fighter Ben Askren in the first round by technical knockout. These wins demonstrate that Jake Paul should be taken seriously as a boxer. He has the skill and power to knock people out. And the man has a great mind for promoting his fights, no matter how controversial his actions might be.
High profile boxing fights have been a stable of the sport since the early 1900s. These matches have always been a great money-making scheme for fighters and promoters. At first, these types of boxing matches were solely exhibition fights. The two opponents could be either former or current boxers, or atheletes from other sports. Several famous boxers have participated in high profile exhibition matches: Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson, and Mike Tyson. In recent years, celebrities have put on a pair of gloves and tried a career in boxing. The most notable example are YouTubers Logan and Jake Paul. These two controversial figures have shown everyone that they can win fights, as well as attract viewers and generate millions of dollars in revenue.
In 2021, high profile boxing has grown more and more popular. Promotors and fighters now realize that there is money to be made in these events. Therefore, we should see a sharp increase in these types of boxing bouts. For boxing purists, this may seem like a slap in the face for the sport. But they should remember that high-profile boxing events have occurred throughout history, even dating back to the sport’s early years.