From YouTubers to UFC stars, crossover fights see boxing teeter between worlds of fantasy and madness

YouTubers bring more bizarre match-ups – but the issue of dignity has always been irrelevant in boxing

Steve Bunce
Monday 25 January 2021 07:29 GMT
Mayweather beats McGregor

Take a good guy, a pantomime bad guy, a dope-smoking fool, Olympic heroes, a billionaire and you can make just about any fight in a business with fluid horizons.

Over the weekend, Conor McGregor, arguably the best-known athlete in the world of fighting right now (I refuse to use 'combat sport' as a description) once again ran out of steam, fell over and was stopped inside the MMA octagon. McGregor, as expected, was brilliant in defeat, honest, raw and humble.

The ending ruined a planned and discussed boxing match with Manny Pacquiao, the extraordinary fighting genius who has won world titles from 112-pounds all the way through to 154-pounds. The fight in a ring with McGregor would have been fun.

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There is, sadly, no great market in a fight between Pacquiao and Dustin Poirier, the nice guy in the mix, who avenged a loss by beating McGregor. They will have a third fight, make a lot money.

Floyd Mayweather defeats Conor McGregor in 2017
Floyd Mayweather defeats Conor McGregor in 2017 (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Pacquiao has real boxing options and comedy-boxing options available to him; he can fight one of the recognised champions, he can fight somebody like Amir Khan, who is not the threat he was three or four year ago, and there is the option to join the carnival and fight one of the Paul brothers, Jake or Logan.

Jake Paul, a YouTube millionaire, has been the one goading and insulting McGregor over the last few months; a few weeks ago there was an offer of $50m for McGregor to fight him, but the new offer from Jake is just 10 grand. The dialogue has been outrageous, vicious and just wrong. Paul, by the way, has boxed just the once.

There was a plan for Jake's brother, Logan, to return to the boxing ring in February for the second time in a fight against Floyd Mayweather, who is unbeaten in 50 fights. It looks like that sideshow attraction has been pushed back.

In 2017, Mayweather ended one of his many exiles to stop McGregor in 10 rounds in Las Vegas. It was, by the way, McGregor's first professional fight, but he did fight as a schoolboy in Dublin. McGregor did not disgrace himself that night.

In recent weeks more freak fights, carnival attractions if you like, have been endorsed by a lot of powerful people in boxing; the thinking is simple – they bring attention to the ancient sport. Oscar De La Hoya, truly one of the finest fighters during the last 50-years, likes them and Mauricio Sulaiman, the czar at the WBC, is convinced they are good for the old game. “People will watch and also watch the boxing,” reasoned Sulaiman: Gold, diamond and crocodile-skin WBC belts are under manufacture for the freak fights.

Floyd Mayweather is set to face YouTuber Logan Paul in 2021
Floyd Mayweather is set to face YouTuber Logan Paul in 2021 (Floyd Mayweather / Instagram)

De La Hoya, incidentally, is planning a comeback – he will be 48 if he fights again - 13-years since his last win. There are dozens of potential dance partners and the ubiquitous Paul boys are obviously on the list. A rematch with Manny, who finished the boxing career of a weary, ruined and blank-eyed De La Hoya in 2008, could even be possible. Perhaps the winner gets a chance to avenge their losses to Floyd. Hey, don't rule anything out.

Late last year Roy Jones and Mike Tyson – both in their fifties – made a lot of money in a fight, which was called an 'exhibition', and it was good to watch. The WBC gave out belts. There will be a small industry of returning fighters this year, but they will soon discover that the type of cash Tyson and Jones made was rare. The brutal truth is that if a fighter was not a big name in 1993 – even if he was a world champion - he is unlikely to be an attraction nearly 30-years later in a fight with fat gloves.

The invasion of the YouTubers with their online fans, their naked ambition and their athleticism means there will be more and more challenges to established and elderly boxing legends. It is possible those fights will be more entertaining than watching two faded old professionals, each going through a very public sparring session, each going through the motions and both losing the battle to hold their bellies in. The issue of dignity is irrelevant in the old, new and any future versions of the boxing business.

There is one proposed crossover fight that is genuinely intriguing and it will take place under one of the many MMA banners in America. This is real, I like this a lot.

In one corner will be 2012 and 2016 judo Olympic gold medal winner Kayla Harrison. She won her golds at 78-kilos. And in the other corner will be 2012 and 2016 boxing Olympic gold medal winner and unbeaten professional world champion Claressa Shields. She won her golds at 75-kilos.

De La Hoya will be back in the ring, McGregor will fight on, Shields and Harrison will deliver real sport in a time of increasing lunacy and nonsense in the fighting business. And, somewhere on the wobbly, neon-lit highway of blood and mayhem, Tyson Fury will fight Anthony Joshua and Teofimo Lopez will fight Gervonta Davis and Terence Crawford will fight Errol Spence. In a world of dreams, the fights we want and deserve are like fantasy fights. Some of the fights we get, however, are beyond fantasy, they are in the mad realm.

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