Is celebrity boxing a roadmap for the UFC? – BE Roundtable 5/16

This week, what can the UFC learn from celebrity boxing fights, and is that novelty wearing thin? Also, Matt Brown's KO record chase and best siblings in MMA.

By: Victor Rodriguez | 2 weeks ago
Is celebrity boxing a roadmap for the UFC? – BE Roundtable 5/16
Imago/ZUMA Wire

Welcome again, kids. Time to take another set of topics to peck at like the cute little birdies we are. This week, we ask what the secret sauce is with these influencer boxing fights and what the UFC can glean from them, as well as Matt “The Immortal” Brown looking to cement his legacy, among other things.

Are there any lessons for the UFC with the success of these freakshows?

Influencer boxing keeps attracting more and more attention, and it’s doing better online metrics than some of the recent UFC Fight Night events. Is there anything the UFC could learn from these other organizations to improve or evolve their product?

Evan Zivin: I think the main thing UFC can take away from the Misfits event on Saturday is to put more focus on the fighters. I get that all or most of the boxers at that event had social media of some sort to promote but I loved how every fighter on the card (prelims included) got to appear and answer questions at the press conference.

I also loved that they did interviews with the fighters prior to their fights as well as after. In a UFC event, the most you ever get is the same generic video package before Random Fighters A and B get thrown into the cage. In some instances, they don’t even talk to the winners. It’s madness that the top promoter in the sport makes such little effort to promote its roster.

One other thing I didn’t mind was the host of the press conference asking the questions instead of media or fans. Granted, I don’t know how many media were there but I assume those in attendance would have just kissed KSI’s ass the way MMA media does nothing but lob softballs to Dana and ask him when their city is getting a UFC event or if they can get an autograph. Pathetic.

Dallas Winston: Having recently returned to MMA and combat sports after a 6-7 year hiatus, honestly, it’s taken me a month to figure out what this shit even is. And maybe, at first, I even had to covertly consult the Googlers to vaguely understand what an “influencer” is and why or how they started punching each other. 

Evan makes a great point above and this has always been the Achilles Heel of the UFC, though it’s a somewhat inconsequential weakness considering their North American market dominance. The core of influencer boxing is the individual, not the promotion … yet the promotion profits by promoting the individual, not the promotion. So, even if it’s a profit-based decision, I would love for the UFC to take notes on that.

Kristen King: Ditto on promotion. Perhaps we see some improvement in that regard now that the UFC and WWE merged. According to UFC president Dana White, the merger means a lot more resources now to reach a wider audience, so let’s see what happens. 

Victor Rodriguez: This one’s tough for me, because Evan laid out a lovely suggestion that I personally think the UFC will not follow. There’s two problems here, with the main one being that the UFC is too stubborn to allow any fighter to reach any level of megastardom that has the potential to eclipse the UFC brand. Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar were good to play ball, and are to this day presumably still on great terms with Dana White. But Conor McGregor will be the last guy you see transcend on a mainstream level like that, and they’ve got him penned in real good these days.

The second problem is more complex, and it’s that the influencer fighting stuff is stupid, but it relies on the genius of audiences gravitating to people with whom they have parasocial relationships. Like I said last week on Level Change, it’s very different seeing someone you see on the daily with peeks into their regular lives (or whatever version of it they choose to present to an audience) getting into a ring compared to Tonya Harding back in the day on Celebrity Boxing.

So, no. It would be great for them to just do maaaaaybe five percent more than what they’re doing to get people invested in the fighters, but it’s like they have an inverse model. You’re here for fights first, then the participants. And for that reason, no matter what good advice we give, they won’t budge.

Fine, but how long will we be dealing with this influencer boxing trend?

Some of these boxing events are doing gangbusters numbers so far, but is there a tipping point coming soon? How long is business going to be this good for them?

Evan Zivin: So these events, just like combat sports as a whole, are star driven, and right now this scene has two major stars: Jake Paul and KSI. I feel like these events will continue to be around and be profitable for as long as the two of them continue to fight. Once they’re both gone? Unless some other megastar arrives to carry things forward (c’mon, Salt Papi…), the scene will probably dry up as influencers get their fighting fix and then go find other ways to whore themselves out to their followers.

It’s very possible that end comes this year. Right now, Paul is set to fight Nate Diaz in August and it sounds like KSI is working on setting up a tussle with Tommy Fury. KSI has already said his endgame is to face Jake at the end of the year, so it seems possible that, win or lose, both men could be on track to face each in a massive showdown at the end of the year.

Once that happens, KSI will close up the boxing chapter of his career and, unless Jake is somehow able to get Conor McGregor or someone of equal stature, there may not be much reason for him to keep fighting either. The circus doesn’t stay in town forever. Finish milking the damn thing and start training for your WWE debut.

Kristen King: That depends on whether or not the top influencers continue to win their fights. So how are those top influencers doing now? Well, we have KSI, who is coming off a win over the ‘toughest test’ of his career thus far in Joe Fournier. The only issue is…it is likely to get overturned since KSI slept Fournier with an elbow, which is illegal. We have Jake Paul, who suffered his first loss against Tommy Fury — though that may not have hurt his stock as much as people wanted it to. I mean, the ‘Problem Child’ is still out here selling tickets and securing himself the most lucrative opportunities out there, so he is good — for now.

He did say he would retire with a loss to Nate Diaz, but Paul has already said that once or twice now, and guess what? He returned, because there is always people to punch and checks to cash. And Paul ain’t missing out on rematches with Diaz, Fury, or a potential clash with KSI. And then we have one of those up-and-coming influencers like Salt Papi, who was hoping for bigger fights with KSI and Paul with a win over Anthony Taylor. That didn’t happen though, as Taylor snatched Salt Papi’s undefeated record. 

These influencer boxing events are not everyone’s cup of tea. And without its biggest stars winning, is there a reason to tune into the spectacle? 

Dallas Winston: I think now that the UFC is considered legitimate in the sporting world and much more widely respected compared to the early “human cock-fighting” days, fans are craving more of a light-hearted spectacle. And sloppier – err, less technical – fights can be more fun for casual fight fans. Many of us get off on analyzing the finite details of MMA: the techniques, what they’re called, which individual martial arts they originated in, the honor, the strategy … it’s like a chess match, you guys! Or whatever. But a lot of folks are in it for the entertainment, not the aesthetics. So influencer boxing might have some legs but will just reform as something else if it doesn’t.

Victor Rodriguez: I’m oddly skeptical that this will fade. There are some truly awful people participating in these events. I’m not gonna name names because it’s not necessary nor productive right now, but I bring that up because we still haven’t really seen the full potential of people playing up their personas to sell these fights.

The money’s good, and there’s a wealth of online personalities with very little to no discernible fucking talent that would love a quick payday to throw a few punches. They don’t even have to have the expectation to win. God, have you seen some of these fights? Some are god-awful exhibitions that are shameful under the eye of a just and loving god, but here we are. 

Look, this thing might stick around forever now. I’ve got a hunch that they’re just starting to figure things out and will probably start getting a bit more loose with it. A kickboxing match or two here and there is not too crazy to consider. If this indeed has a point of fatigue, it looks like it’s far off in the horizon for me. 

Chasing immortality, but in the record books

Matt Brown is closing in on the UFC knockout record, and despite his age and time in the game, does he have a real shot at making it happen?

Evan Zivin: Sure he does. He’s tied for the record right now and he looked pretty good against Court, so I’d be fine with him getting at least one more fight and a chance to claim the record. Against the right opponent, he absolutely can do it.

That’s key, though, is the right opponent. Dana seems to like Matt so I don’t expect he’ll be fed any top ranked or up and coming fighters (I really hope they don’t book him against Ian Garry). Maybe Alex Morono? Either way, good to see the old guard is refusing to go down quietly.

Kristen King: He does. After slumping Court McGee and joining Derrick Lewis as a fellow-record holder for most knockouts in UFC history, Matt Brown is all in on returning and separating himself from the ‘Black Beast’ with one more KO win. And I say he does it. The question is, after Brown does, can he hold onto the record?

The ‘Immortal’ admits that injuries are why he has not fought as often as he used to, so perhaps his time is winding down. And when it is up, Lewis is only a couple of KOs from surpassing Brown. For now, though, my money is on the UFC vet to become the all-time record holder, even if it is for a short period of time. 

Dallas Winston: Yes! Of course he does, and a ton of hardcores want to see it happen. It’s also a great storyline rather than the UFC’s sole fixation on fighters moving up the rankings and getting a title shot. Prospects, gate-keepers, veterans and the potential for unique accolades like this are all interesting spins to spice up the stagnant formula.

Victor Rodriguez: Daniel Cormier pointed out after the fight that Brown still looks sharp for his age and still has that power. He’s correct on both fronts. To me, it seems like it relies on two things: avoiding the injury bug, and how he’s booked. Book him against a guy that mostly wrestles, and it’s gonna be an uphill climb. And let’s not forget how many injuries this guy’s had in his career. Getting injured at this age is a lot different from doing so 6-7 years ago. 

But I hope he gets it. It’s gonna get tougher because nobody wants to be that guy that he earns that record against. It’s not like a pitcher giving up a hit as a courtesy to someone, you know? This shit is for keeps. So for the sake of this conversation, sure. I say he pulls it off. 

Looking good, but can he crack the upper crust?

Jailton Almeida (ranked #12) made short work of a very dangerous Jairzinho Rozenstruik (ranked #9) this past weekend, and is continuing to look impressive. But how well can he fare against the top five now that he’s inevitably going to get a bump up?

Evan Zivin: Almeida is definitely moving up. I’m not sure he’ll get a top 5 opponent next (depends on when Jones and Stipe fight, which will determine what fighters like Cyril Gane and Sergei Pavlovich do next) but anyone currently in the Top 8 will make for a fine next opponent as UFC continues to test him and sees how good he is.

Maybe 5 rounds with Alexander Volkov or Serghei Spivac in another Fight Night main event would be good for his rising star. Tai Tuivasa could work too if UFC is hoping for another submission to add to the highlight reel.

Kristen King: Not sure yet. Prior to the fight with Jairzinho Rozenstruik, what did we see? A highlight-reel of ‘Bigi Boy’ one-punching his way to wins against Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem and Chris Daukaus. That type of power was something Jailton Almeida was weary of, which is why he ‘trained a lot of boxing’ in case he needed to go from Plan A to Plan B. Well, as expected, Plan A was all ‘Malhadinho’ needed. 

That said, there could come a time when Almeida needs Plan B. Some of the names ahead of him include Derrick Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Sergei Pavlovich — and they hit hard. The Brazilian successfully avoided the one-punch power of Rozenstruik, but can he do the same against that trio or others? That remains to be seen. I love that Almeida straight up said he wants to continue to test himself, so that call out of Tai Tuivasa was perfect. 

Victor Rodriguez: I loved that callout, too. It doesn’t seem like he’s in a rush, it’s a winnable fight against a credible top guy, and it’s likely to happen since the title picture is on standby right now until Jon Jones fights Stipe Miocic. Ciryl Gane (#1) was made to look like a rank amateur, Pavlovich (#2) just blew the doors off Blaydes, Miocic (#3) is fighting Jones, Blaydes (#4) is nursing his wounds, and Aspinall (#5) is already booked. This is a “sure, dude! Why not?” type of callout that should be fun, and I’m for it. 

Time to discuss dynamic duos again!

Fabian Edwards defeated former Strikeforce and Bellator champ Gegard Mousasi in Paris last Friday. Seeing as this sets him up against Johhny Eblen in a title fight, we might have two brothers holding belts in major promotions at the same time. Does this cement them as the best pair of siblings in MMA? If not, who?

Evan Zivin: If Fabian beats Johnny Eblen and becomes Bellator Middleweight Champion while Leon is still UFC Welterweight Champion (hopefully he puts down Colby Covington so we don’t have to hear his schtick anymore), that would be quite the accomplishment. Holding titles in two major promotions at the same time is something no other pair of siblings has done so I think that could cement them as the best.

It hasn’t happened yet, though.

If we’re allowed to include non-biological siblings, then I don’t think anyone will ever be better than the pioneering duo of Ken and Frank Shamrock. If we’re talking strictly biological, then it gets a little tougher. The Diaz and Nogueira brothers are the most well-known but are propped up by the accomplishments of one of the brothers.

My choice for the top pair, right now, is the Pettis brothers, Anthony (former WEC and UFC Lightweight Champion) and Sergio (current Bellator Bantamweight Champion), with a close second belonging to the Pitbulls, Patricio (Bellator GOAT) and Patricky (got to be Bellator Lightweight Champion briefly because Patricio felt bad). Seems like a good group for the Edwards brothers to chase.

Kristen King: As the best pair? No. As one of the best pairs? Yes. Listen: The Edwards’ stars are starting to shine now. After years of fighting his way to the top in the UFC, Leon (finally) got his career-defining win and it came against the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter — Kamaru Usman. Perfect timing, right? Leon did it again, and the ‘Rocky’ reign really got started.

And then you have Fabian, who sort of stumbled with losses to Costello Van Steenis and Austin Vanderford, but he found his way and where did that lead him? To a KO of a legendary fighter in Lyoto Machida, a decision against Charlie Ward, a shutout of Gegard Mousasi and now, a championship opportunity against Bellator middleweight champion Johnny Eblen.

Leon and Fabian have shined in recent years, and I expect them to continue do so as they progress in their careers. But before I can crown them the best pair of siblings in MMA, á la the Nogueiras or the Diazes (my top two choices), there is more work to do. And from what Fabian said during his Bellator 296 post-fight press conference, he agrees. 

“We’re here just working,” said Fabian “We’re trying to achieve a lot. I know we already achieved, but we’re trying to achieve a lot. We’re trying to go down as legends ourselves.”

Dallas Winston: Is this a real question? My (ridiculously biased) response:

(2nd place – Noguiera brothers, 3rd – Pitbull brothers.)

Victor Rodriguez: Siblings in MMA are so weird, because they rarely ever end up in a situation where they both become elite. Valentina Shevchenko looked indestructible at flyweight until the Grasso fight. Her sister Antonina? Not so much. Jim Miller is a goddamned boogeyman, the final boss of all gatekeepers. His brother Dan? Didn’t pan out the same due to external factors. Clay Guida was Strikeforce champ, and his brother Jason is mostly known for slapping him up before his fights. You see where I’m going here?

The Nogueiras were great, but Big Nog was clearly the one that was destined for true glory while his brother spent a ton of time on the shelf due to injury. The Diaz boys are infamous, but they haven’t reached that same level of prestige that comes with having major titles outside of Nick having the Strikeforce welterweight belt.

But Leon and Fabian are amazing talents, I just can’t pick them because they’re still works-in-progress. So I’d have to go with the Pitbulls for now. They both hit their stride around the same era, and are still kicking around with jaw-dropping (and jaw-breaking) performances. 

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About the author
Victor Rodriguez
Victor Rodriguez

Victor Rodriguez has been a writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow since 2015. He started his way as a lowly commenter and moderator to become the miscreant he is now. He often does weekly bits on fringe martial arts items across the globe, oddball street combat pieces, previews, analysis, and some behind-the-scenes support. He has trained in wrestling, Karate, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and the occasional Muay Thai and Judo lesson here and there. Victor has also been involved with acting and audio editing projects. He lives in Pennsylvania where he plays way too many video games and is an S-rank dad.

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