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How online influencers are changing the boxing world

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

Jake Paul and Nate Diaz are headed to the boxing ring later this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE PAUL: I've knocked out every single person that I've fought.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Talk to them, baby. Talk to them.

PAUL: Every single person that I've fought.

LIMBONG: If you follow MMA, you recognize Nate Diaz as a veteran fighter. But Jake Paul - well, you probably better know him as the YouTuber who got famous pulling pranks with his brother Logan and building an online influencer empire in the process. Five years ago, he started boxing. And since then, he's ushered in a new influx of online influencers into the sport, something we're talking about for this week's All Tech Considered. Will Coldwell wrote about it for The Observer, and he joins us now to talk about it. Hey, Will.

WILL COLDWELL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

LIMBONG: Yeah. So when Jake Paul first got into boxing, you know, first as an amateur in 2018, then as a professional in 2020, what was, like, the reax among the true boxing heads?

COLDWELL: I mean, I think it kind of provoked people quite a lot. I mean, there's a lot of people felt like it was an insult to proper boxing that these kind of punk kids from the internet were just claiming that they were going to be champions, and that was somehow a possibility.

LIMBONG: And since then, has he gained, like, at least a begrudging respect from fans?

COLDWELL: Yeah, for sure. I mean, Jake Paul seems to - out of this whole kind of new ecosystem of sort of influencer boxers, Jake Paul seems to certainly have gained the most credibility and respect from people in the sport. But I think generally speaking, more and more people are kind of warming to some of the other characters, too.

LIMBONG: And we've been talking a lot about men. But it's not just guys, right?

COLDWELL: No, they also have women fighting, as well - TikTok influencers. There's also been kind of OnlyFans stars, as well. So yeah, it's kind of bringing in influencers from all genders, really.

LIMBONG: Yeah. You know, with this wave of influencer boxing, do they bring their fans with them? And then like, do they stick around to enjoy, like, the other aspects of the sport? Like, do Jake Paul fans now just watch traditional boxing matches?

COLDWELL: Young people that I spoke to when I was at one of the recent matches seem to kind of be following that route that you suggested. They're now kind of watching more other boxing matches, and it's kind of bleeding into to that aspect of the sport, as well.

LIMBONG: Yeah. And I imagine with an influx of new fans comes an influx of money, right?

COLDWELL: Exactly. I mean, it certainly seems to be kind of lucrative, whatever they're doing (laughter).

LIMBONG: Yeah 'cause, like, these aren't, like, bobo events at, like, you know, Logan Paul's backyard. They're, like, packing arenas, right?

COLDWELL: Yeah. So the event I went to was at kind of Wembley Arena. You know, it's a huge venue. And it was filled out with people from early evening. People were there to watch every single fight. The atmosphere was massive. And, I mean, in a way, what's sort of interesting is that, I think, they've really kind of managed to nail that kind of blend of sport and entertainment. And they're not kind of really claiming to be traditional boxing, that it's kind of a spectacle, really.

LIMBONG: You write in your piece that celebrity boxing isn't new, but it used to be more of a degrading spectacle. And now that it's at least a semi-serious sport, right? And I'm curious. What's changed?

COLDWELL: I think this was a big question for me because when you hear about kind of celebrities doing it in the past, it feels like a bit, you know, they've...

LIMBONG: Hokey.

COLDWELL: Yeah, they've run out of opportunities. And OK, fine. I'll just take a check to get knocked about in the ring. These days, it seems more kind of aspirational. If you're an influencer and you get on this racket, presumably, you can kind of build your brand quite significantly. And I think also with these influencers, a lot of it is they're kind of showing their journey and development as a boxer. And their fans and followers are watching that. And that's what, you know, I remember. Some of the fans in the audience I spoke to - they said that's what they liked about it. It didn't really matter to them that they were good at boxing or not. They enjoyed watching them try.

LIMBONG: Will Coldwell wrote about influencer boxing for The Observer. Thanks, Will.

COLDWELL: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gus Contreras
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
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