How Personality and Rivalries Play a Pivotal Role in Becoming a Boxing Superstar

The year is 2022 and we are currently living in the post Floyd Mayweather era. With the exception of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, there are no other big box office attractions within the sport at the moment. Sure, a case can be made for Tyson Fury, the current undefeated lineal heavyweight champion of the world, but even he hasn’t cracked into the top ten PPV buyrates. The top ten itself is populated by names like Lennox Lewis, Canelo Alvarez, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr. and Evander Holyfield. The astonishing thing is that on the opposite end of either of those names is only one of two men, Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather Jr. However, there is one other guy on the top ten that did not fight Tyson or Mayweather and he goes by the name of Jake Paul―a YouTube sensation that has built up a huge following behind his creative and original content. Jake is also one of the original pioneers of the big boom of YouTube content creators and has made many waves within the sport of boxing in such a short amount of time. So, what is the missing formula for being a big box office attraction? Surely one could follow in the footsteps of Tyson or Mayweather, but what about Jake? He is only five fights into his boxing career and at the time of his record breaking PPV event against Ben Askren, he was only 2-0 going in.

From “Kid Dynamite” to “Iron” Mike

 Looking at those three names together on paper, you couldn’t come up with a bigger contrast of personalities and in-ring styles. Let’s begin with Mike Tyson, quite possibly the easiest sell to the public. The year is 1985 and the sport of boxing was being dominated by the four kings, Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. By this time most of those four men had all faced one another at least once and boxing needed its next big attraction.

Enter 18 year old Mike Tyson, a ferocious young man that brought intensity and excitement to the heavyweight division that had never been seen before. He was running through opponent after opponent in quick fashion with a style that people happily paid to see. Under the tutelage of Cus D’Amato, he was on the fast track to success, piling up 18 big wins during his first year as a pro, all by knockout. By the time that first year was up, it was clear that we had ourselves the next great heavyweight.

Sadly, during that year his trainer and father figure, Cus, passed away. This is when “Kid Dynamite” slowly turned into “Iron” Mike. The ferociousness that he displayed in the ring began to show in his personality during interview segments or even out-of-control moments in the ring. Becoming someone who disrespects his opponent and can go in and back up his actions in the ring only added to his popularity. Sign us ALL up! From starting riots at press conferences, facing time in prison, cursing out news anchors on live tv and of course the infamous ear biting incident, Mike Tyson was about as unpredictable as they come. With such a simple formula, being explosive in the ring and outlandish outside the ring, Mike Tyson had all eyes on him with every step he took, whether it was inside the ropes or outside.

The Rise of “Money” Mayweather

The year is now 2007 and Mike Tyson has retired and faded into bolivian (yes, bolivian. If you know, you know). Boxing does have its big names, but they are fading away. Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., etc. We needed another super fight and that’s what we got when Oscar De La Hoya chose Floyd “Money” Mayweather as his next opponent. This wasn’t the “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather we had gotten to know and love; this was a new version of himself. Free of his obligations to Top Rank promotions, Floyd was now calling his own shots, stepping out from his own shadows. It was his time. Did we get the Floyd that would stand in the pocket and trade shots with some of the most feared punchers in his division? No. What we did get was something nobody could have imagined, the birth of boxing’s biggest cash cow in history. Even during his “Pretty Boy” days, he did not bring forth the type of style and excitement Mike Tyson did. With brittle hands that were plagued with injuries, he also knew that punching with full conviction, gunning for knockouts was not the best option for him down the stretch of his career. So rather than selling tickets to people who want to see him fight, he made sure he appealed to the people who wanted to see him get beat instead. This plan was a flawless one as he – much like Mike – had his fair share of outside the ring antics. With the HBO docu-series titled 24/7 in which they went into the training camps of both fighters leading up to their big fight in a four part series, he was given the platform to become the biggest heel in the sport.

Floyd Mayweather utilized every second of his time on the series to show off his collection of fancy cars, expensive jewelry, big mansion and a slew of celebrity friends. Whether he was throwing hotel parties with local exotic dancers, eating fast food during late night runs, gambling $20k or $50k at a time on college basketball or other sporting events, speeding down Las Vegas Blvd in cars we could only dream of – all while running red light after red light – it was no secret as to why everyone wanted to see him go down.

If that wasn’t enough his in ring tactics proved pivotal as well. Let’s not forget when Victor Ortiz headbutted Floyd in the ring. While apologizing for his actions, Floyd took advantage and hit Ortiz with a two punch combination while he was not looking, ending the fight. How could anyone like this guy?!

Move to the opposite end, his greatest rival – Manny Pacquiao. The most beloved figure in boxing history, a councilman and national treasure in his home country of the Philippines. Not many people could even think of something bad to say about him, except one man. You guessed it: Floyd Mayweather. For many years he bashed Manny and accused him of using performance enhancing drugs for all of his fights stating that was the only way someone as small as him could win against bigger men so decisively.

This was the ultimate good guy vs. bad guy fight, and it marinated for six long years before it finally took place. While many boxing experts agree, it happened way too late and we didn’t get as competitive of a contest as we could have had, it still managed to produce the largest buyrate in boxing history. Over the course of those six years that was the only fight the public wanted and they teased us every step of the way battling common opponents, Mosley, Hatton, De La Hoya, Marquez, etc. Every interview the question was asked to both of them and the answer was always yes. Batman never had to wait this long to get his hands on The Joker, but Manny Pacquiao did, and it built and built and built until finally it happened. The story in this one was a long build, and it took two megastars of the sport to produce the numbers that they did. In every great boxer’s career, an equally great rival is needed. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield and for Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, they had each other. The fight picked up an astounding 4.6 million PPV views and both men banked the biggest payday of their career.

Boxing vs. MMA

It was also during the Money Mayweather era that Dana White had taken full control over the UFC and held back nothing when it came to bashing the sport of Boxing every chance he got. Thus began the “boxing is dead” train that was started by MMA enthusiasts.

During this time, they were able to build up their own mega star, Conor McGregor. A trash talking heel himself, he knew exactly how to sell tickets and followed the blueprint that was set by Floyd Mayweather. So how does one rise up and become even bigger? Challenge the biggest name in boxing. This one felt different. With both Mayweather and McGregor, their fights were built on the age old good guy vs. bad guy storyline, and it worked. This time we had bad guy vs bad guy, villain against villain, but the difference was their worlds. We had Boxing vs. MMA; yes, it had been done before, but not on this level with the two biggest names in their respective sports going against each other. The villain vs. villain storyline worked and for the first time in a long time, Floyd Mayweather was the boxing superhero again as he took out the UFC’s biggest star – a loss they still haven’t rebounded from – proving once and for all that the sweet science reigns supreme as the #1 combat sport. This fight was a huge success and generated the second highest PPV buys mainly because of the two followings they brought with them. The entire Boxing and MMA worlds combined and tuned in that evening.

Although the blueprint was laid out yet again, and the foundation set once more, no one else took that cross-sport chance. The year is now 2020 and self-made megastar Jake Paul has entered the sport of boxing. Boxing purists viewed him as a joke and didn’t take him seriously, but to Paul, that didn’t matter. He had his fanbase secured already and was ready to make a name for himself again.

After two highlight reel producing knockouts, Jake followed the steps of Floyd Mayweather in putting the nail into the UFC coffin. His claims that he is going to expose the UFC fighters and Dana White made the ears of boxing guard dogs rise. He was fighting OUR battle for us. He isn’t against us; he is with us. From crashing parties at UFC fight nights and calling out all of their biggest names he was on the fast track to becoming the new most hated man in boxing, but not necessarily by boxing fans. Sure, many see him as a joke, but when he stepped in the ring against former UFC champion, Ben Askren, he proved he has a lot more to offer. While his skillset is lacking, his punching power is very real. Followed up by two more decisive wins, including a knockout of the year candidate over his own boxing rival, Tyrone Woodley, Jake Paul has officially earned his spot as a top attraction in the sport of boxing. Of course, stealing Floyd Mayweather’s hat at a press conference added more fuel to the fire in the disdain for Jake Paul. He’s perhaps the most hated man in boxing by MMA and boxing fans, alike. There are plenty boxing fans that understand what Jake is and what he isn’t, and we are enjoying the ride for what it is, included this author. A healthier and flashier Butterbean is upon us, nobody ever said he was going to be a great boxer, we just enjoyed him for what he was, and he entertained us every time out. The same can be said about Paul.

When It Comes to Marketing for Boxing, Timing is Everything

So, what will it take for today’s batch of boxing stars to not only obtain the same levels of love or hate as the three names mentioned above along with being a box office success? Well, for starters, it’s going to take some peeling back. There are many fights nowadays that actually don’t need to be on PPV. Canelo Alvarez is a certified PPV star, but boxers like Thurman, Spence, Crawford, Davis, Usyk, etc. all have work to do. The reason for their low numbers isn’t that they aren’t as popular or as interesting to the public. As a matter of fact, all of those names have been in entertaining fights on their PPV showcases.

“The problem is the past few years of PPV boxing events should’ve been on non-pay-per-view platforms.” – Felix Garcia

Will fighting on network television for free diminish who they are? No, network television isn’t a bad thing. It will only help build the star power. Conversely, when promoters are putting them on PPV every single time out with an $80 price tag in a fight that should be on network TV,  they’re going to miss a ton of potential viewers.

The other problem is none of them offer anything outside of what we get inside the ropes and even then, none of them are offering the same experience we would get from a fighter like Mike Tyson. None of them are as disliked as Floyd Mayweather or Jake Paul and up until now, none of them have met their great rival.

In boxing, timing is everything. Tim Bradley vs. Devon Alexander is a perfect example of a super fight happening too soon. Both guys were undefeated champions and dominating their division respectfully, but when they met in the ring, it hadn’t built up the kind of hype needed to be considered a super fight. Today, Errol Spence and Terence Crawford is arguably the biggest fight to be made and is what fight fans are clamoring for. But is the public ready? Should they let it marinate for a handful of years?

We’re now back in 2022, Terence Crawford has fought four times in the past three years in forgetful bouts and Spence doesn’t seem to be as concerned about the mega showdown as we would want. So, if these two aren’t concerned about it, why should we be?

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder gave us three classic heavyweight fights and when it comes to great rivals, those two found that in one another. However even then they could not produce record breaking PPV numbers. Another problem we face right now is illegal streaming of PPVs and the digital market that does not get added to the total count of PPV buys outside of cable purchases. So, what can be done?

Boxing promoters can start with the lack of activity, which is huge. Fighting three to four times a year should be the norm; Canelo is doing it, yet no one else is. There is a fine line between enjoying the fruits of your labor and building a legacy in the sport of boxing. This is a young man’s sport and going on vacation for a month at a time following a fight doesn’t help. Floyd Mayweather sparred nine rounds the Monday after his first PPV event over Arturo Gatti. Nine rounds. He was back to the drawing board immediately and he did what he needed to do to get away from Top Rank and call his own shots. Mike Tyson, while under the Don King promotional banner, more or less called his own shots, too. And, of course, we all know Jake Paul is another self-made success.

With Mike Tyson, everyone wanted to watch him kick some ass. With Floyd Mayweather, everyone wanted to see him get his ass kicked. They were completely opposites in that regard. However, both knew how to put asses in seats by using outside-the-ring antics to fuel their followings.

Bringing Greater Excitement to Boxing 

As of right now we have some potential great rivalries on the horizon. Spence vs. Crawford has become the main topic of conversation within the boxing community. However, without the proper build it will not be a huge box office success. Showtime All Access is still an ongoing series, yet fighters aren’t taking advantage of the spotlight they’re given the way Floyd Mayweather did. Can you imagine if Mike Tyson had access to Twitter in 1998?

At the end of the day, these fighters are still their own bosses. Yes, it is more difficult to make super fights nowadays with all of the networks and promotional ties. Beyond these issues, thought, professional boxers aren’t making an effort outside the ring to become larger than life superstars. Andre Ward is about as vanilla as they come both in and out the ring. He ended his professional career with a perfect, unblemished record. Yet, he produced laughable numbers for his PPV events. It takes more than in-ring skills to become a superstar. A personality and strong business sense needs to go hand in hand with their professional careers and they cannot rely on promoters and networks to build them up. You either understand you’re the villain and play that role to the T or stay true to being a hero and continue to entertain the crowd throughout your career until you inevitably meet that rival.

We will eventually get Spence vs. Crawford, Usyk vs. Fury, Canelo vs. GGG 3 and many others, but until a story is being told and we have solid characters in there, we won’t see any records being broken anytime soon. Boxing is without a doubt in good hands at the moment and the sport is thriving with many compelling potential matchups and upcoming fights already signed. The month of April alone is stacked and will carry on into May it seems. Who will be the next big mega star? Davis, Stevenson, Valdez, Benavidez, Charlo, Inoue, Thurman, Spence, Crawford, Garcia? My personal opinion is down the road the next big PPV cash cow will eventually be Xander Zayas. I know it is early in his career and that is a bold statement to make, but with the following he already has and what’s in store for him, we definitely have a star on our hands. The only thing missing so far which I know will come many years down the line is . . . you guessed it, a great rival.

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