Logan Paul v Floyd Mayweather is a payday boxing must treat with caution

The phrase “(Person X) ha a punchable face” is a horrible thing. There is so much wrong with it. The idea people have any say in what their face looks like. The suggestion punching is an acceptable human response. It’s degrading. It’s cowardly. It stinks of all the worst parts of the internet, humankind’s angriest medium.

And yet, with all due advisories, and having considered soberly all available evidence, it has to be said Logan Paul really does have a punchable face.

This is not an insult (look above: I have one, pure). In fact it’s a compliment, and a key part of his brilliant success.

Paul is an American YouTuber. Aged 26, he’s worth $19m. He does skits, vlogs, bits. He flies around the world. He hangs out with models. And as of this week he’s scheduled to fight Floyd Mayweather in Miami in June, an exhibition bout against one of the greatest pound-for-pound boxers of the age. It might not qualify as actual sport. But Paul v Mayweather is still, in an alarming twist for professional boxing, arguably the biggest fixed date in the prize-fight calendar. Mainly it’s a major triumph for Paul, whose entire persona is based on the expertly monetised interaction of technology and his own strange quality of moreishness. Paul doesn’t have any obvious talents. He looks like a corrupt Roman emperor disguised as a truck driver. But whatever It is these days, he’s got It.

And it is worth remembering YouTubers aren’t really a new thing – they’re essentially light entertainers, a throwback to those old generalists, people who do a bit of everything and are basically fun to watch just goofing around. They need to be instantly consumable. To look good – or rather distinct, punchable, clickable – on a four-inch square of screen. Combine this quality with a platform that keeps demanding more and it’s not surprising Paul has ended up right at the baseline, a kind of human screen button, a one-touch face-punch revenue generator.

And good luck to him in his disruptive, and no doubt hugely enjoyable, personal journey. But it is still a troubling prospect for boxing, which really does need to do something about all this. YouTubers and boxing is already an established sideshow. Watford’s own KSI was Paul’s first opponent in the ring. Logan’s younger brother Jake Paul is on the same Tuber-boxer-rapper-actor path. Other YouTubers are urgently setting up bouts (RiceGum v Behzinga anyone?). TikTokers and YouTubers are all set for a mass square-off. It is hugely tempting for the established structures of professional boxing to simply wave all this in, what with the ready‑made platform and the vast sums to be made from a thing that doesn’t even have to sell itself.

Actual boxing involves risking your life to get paid. What’s to be lost from a little high-value pantomime? Mike Tyson, for one, welcomes this new frontier. And Tyson is right in many ways. This is energy and interest and relevance for a sport that can at times feel like an improbable hangover. Just take the bright shiny rich thing. When the world gives you YouTubers, make YouTube.

But there is a deeper problem with YouTubers pretending to be boxers. The one great strength of boxing is that it’s real. It may be dirty and muddy. It can be grotesque and absurd, carried along by dubious people and dubious regimes. But when all that noise dies away, what remains is still oddly pure, a thrilling act of bravery and gymnastic art.

Boxing is also incredibly difficult. The level of skill and heart required to do it properly is one of the marvels of professional sport. This is part of what has kept it rolling along, despite the fact it runs counter to all modern notions of wellbeing and approved conduct. People want to feel things, to see human extremity, human ultimacy. And boxing will make you feel things.

Except, now we have this. Fakers, stolen legitimacy, and a genuinely dehumanising spectacle. Context is everything here. A boxer fights because he or she has the skill to make this act of consensual violence a controlled, worthy spectacle. This is the job, a way of earning a living and, yes, finding some kind of glory. Why is a YouTuber fighting? They have not climbed this ladder. They’re fighting because people let them, and because yet more money can be made from an industry that will do anything to get that finger to click – another punch to the four-inch face, another ping of the dollar sign. Watch me hurt myself now. And don’t forget to like.

It is frustrating because there is some really excellent actual boxing in prospect. Joshua v Fury is even supposed to happen at some point, although given they’ve fought twice between them in the past 18 months there is an unfortunate star vacuum here into which Paul-Mayweather threatens to insert itself. Can you imagine, veramente, the horrific spectacle of Mayweather somehow getting knocked down by this great lunk of braggardly ambition, to whom he’s giving up 50lbs and 18 anni? This is one answer. Boxing must apply its strictest possible standards to these hungry outsiders. If you want to fight within the tent, to enjoy the trappings, the sheen of authenticity, then get in a ring with someone who’s ready and prepared to make it real.

The other option is to reject and denounce these theatricals, this easy, destructive new source of revenue. Just because something can happen doesn’t mean it has to. What an irony that it isn’t boxing’s violence or its cowboy governance that threatens to take it into a weird place. It’s light entertainment, the digital mush, the lure of simply clicking on the most punchable face in your eyeline.

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