How influencer fights have turned boxing into just another Marvel movie

Two of my great loves, cinema and boxing, are being destroyed in basically the same way. Both have always been driven by commerciality obviously. They are businesses first, and they need to generate income. But in the last 15 years it has got to the point where there is no longer space for anything other than brazen commercialism, and the overall product is suffering for it.

So, what is it that’s sucking the life out of these two loves of mine? In boxing it is these atrocious influencer boxing events which are occasionally shown on genuine boxing broadcasters, like DAZN or Showtime. In cinema, it’s the proliferation of Marvel movies or, more broadly, IP-based entertainment and ‘universe building’.

However, for the purposes of this piece, I will use Marvel as a shorthand because it’s the most dominant entertainment force in history. It’s like if the US Army were making movies – which they kind of are; if it’s: Top Guns, Iron Man, American Sniper et cetera.

I have written previously that I think Jake Paul is good for combat sport, and I stand by it. But he was first in this generation of influencer fighters and he seems to take it seriously. I’m talking here about the more recent wave of Floyd Mayweather versus Deji Olatunji or Tommy Fury against whatever ‘professional’ he can find to share the ring with him. These are what is sucking the life out of the sport.

(Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

The first through line is the simple fact that these movies are just trying to be – to paraphrase Martin Scorcese – amusement parks for the eyes. Marvel movies are full of big and expensive set pieces, attractive people in capes and quippy dialogue full of broad, unfunny jokes that people without a sense of humor find hysterical. All that they are is something to look at. And even when they aspire to be some commentary on the state of the military-industrial complex (unlikely) or climate change, very seldom do they have anything interesting to say.

I know you’re not watching these movies for their apt social commentary; you watch them to switch off your brain and see hot people fly around and beat ugly people up. It’s the same with influencer events. Nobody is watching these fights because they’re confusing Deji with Roberto Duran. He has three million Instagram followers, so I guess he might as well fight Floyd Mayweather. Why not? There’s no risk to Mayweather and it’s fun to see two people from different worlds collide, even when it makes absolutely no sense.

That mixing is my next through line. It’s boring for anyone with half a brain and, simply, it’s brazenly commercial. I cannot fathom why anyone would absolutely flip out at Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield showing up in a new Spiderman movie. All that they’re doing is taking a potato ricer to a few movies and mashing worlds that are vaguely familiar.

The truly talented directors and screenwriters don’t start with a ‘universe’ they want to add to or a tertiary character they want to build a movie around so they can keep the money spinning. No, Quentin Tarantino and PT Anderson start with a blank page and create a world and characters that you know (or want to know) within the first five minutes of the movie. They don’t just put Ant-Man in China so the Chinese audience can get to know Paul Rudd before Ant-Man gets released in Shanghai. It’s plain to see why these things get put together. It’s a pure audience combination. There’s nothing deeper than that.

My biggest issue is just that. There is no depth to these events. I understand that money rules all and is the number one consideration, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the one and only consideration. It doesn’t mean that the genius of a great director or fighter has to be tossed aside.

The issue is compounded when big broadcasters put these fights on. This takes space and budget away from true up-and-coming professionals. Every highly touted young fighter today has a sparkling amateur pedigree and has been attached to a promoter since their teen years. Where do the other fighters come from? Are these influencer events going to prevent fighters like Marvin Hagler or Bernard Hopkins from coming through unusual paths before finally getting their due? Is there going to be enough money in boxing to sustain these events long term while also allowing promoters and broadcasters to take shots on untested fighters who show flashes? I don’t know. What I do know is that the purse strings in boxing are getting tighter each year.

And I have the same worry about cinema. Every time a talented director comes out with a cheap, incisive indie film, all of a sudden they’re making a Thor movie. And why wouldn’t they? Marvel can blow every other studio out of the water in terms of resources. You’re generationally wealthy after a couple of Marvel movies. Jon Favreau is worth $200 million. Something tells me that’s not from Swingers residuals. Having said that, he now truly is money. I bet he knows it.

It’s a grim time for two of my great loves. I know that these things come in waves and eventually people will want original content again. I just don’t know when that will be. In terms of boxing, I have less faith in the apparatus righting the ship. Very few people have ever been wrong in expecting boxing to shoot itself in the foot at every turn.

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