Ask any MMA fighter or boxer what their main ambition is from their career and the answer will almost always be unanimous: to win belts and titles.

Of course, it’s a long and winding road to the top of the tree in any fight game, so when a pugilist loses sight of their original goal, it’s no surprise when money often becomes their main focus.

And the worrying truth is that the rise of ‘influencer boxing’, with the riches and fame that can bring, could create an existential threat to the sweet science.

Money Talks

The next influencer boxing card sees the Misfits Boxing and Prime brands, owned by YouTubers turned crossover boxers KSI and Logan Paul, host a sold-out evening of bouts at Manchester’s AO Arena on Saturday.The KSI vs Tommy Fury betting market reveals that it’s Fury, the Love Island star who actually has a boxing record to his name, that’s the 3/10 favourite. KSI is the 11/4 underdog, while the latest boxing odds also make it a 13/10 chance that Fury wins via KO or TKO.

In professional boxing, a defeat can be catastrophic for a fighter’s career – once the sheen of invincibility of an unbeaten record comes to an end, an individual can find it very difficult to replicate their best.

But that’s sport, whereas influencer boxing is strictly business. A defeat for KSI would not end his boxing career nor his ‘bankability’ in the ring, because this is an audience that tunes in to watch the individual fight whether they win, lose or draw – the cult of personality, you might call it.

And boy, do they tune in for these influencer boxing cards in their droves…

Box Office Entertainment

The inconvenient truth for boxing and MMA is that these influencer boxing cards are able to do serious numbers – not an ability that mainstream, professional combat sports have always had the luxury of.

Even though most of the influencer boxing nights are not sanctioned by a recognised body –  the British Boxing Board of Control has shunned the card headlined by KSI vs Fury, it doesn’t seem to affect the level of interest in them.

When Jake Paul fought Ben Askren in 2021, it sold 1.5 million PPV buys around the world. For context, UFC 293 did an estimated 700,000 – despite the fact that the action took place in Australia, which therefore required a box office buy-in from fans in North America and elsewhere.

When you scroll down the list of the most watched PPV events in boxing, the usual suspects are present and correct: Mayweather vs Pacquaio, Tyson vs Lewis and even Ali vs Frazier. But it’s not long before you reach jarring additions like Mike Tyson’s 2020 exhibition with Roy Jones Jr (1.2 million buys) and KSI’s bout with now business partner Logan Paul, which drew an audience of 1.3 million.

For context, 1.2 million watched generational fights like De La Hoya vs Pacquaio and Tyson Fury vs Wilder II, while Jake Paul’s bout with Tommy Fury in February drew 800,000 buys – making it the second most-watched boxing event of 2023 to date.

The truth is that influencer boxing is here to stay, with the potential riches available to otherwise mid-card professional boxers by crossing over perhaps too tempting to turn down – that could have serious ramifications for the sweet science.