When Mike Tyson hauled his musclebound figure out of the gym and into the ring to fight Roy Jones Jr in November, there was a sizeable shift felt across the sport of boxing concerning conventional norms.
‘Iron Mike’ had successfully hosted his comeback fight on streaming service Triller, with Snoop Dogg both performing and commentating on the event.
Yet despite the overall eccentricity of the event and the shock of seeing a drastically slimmer Tyson, 54, roll back the years, there was one moment which struck a note with both boxing and MMA fans.
Decked out in a smart roll neck at the post-fight press conference, boxing’s youngest world heavyweight champion was asked about the impact of YouTuber Jake Paul entering the sport. His answer shocked many, even though most were seemingly numbed to surprises given the night’s activities.
“Boxing was pretty much a dying sport. The UFC was kicking our butt,” the self-proclaimed ‘egomaniac’ said. “Boxing is going back thanks to the YouTube boxers.”
Paul moved to 2-0 on the night thanks to a clubbing right hand sending NBA player Nate Robinson crashing to the canvas on his professional boxing debut, so how exactly is the 24-year-old from Ohio ‘saving’ boxing?
Nick Peet is one of the most respected fight sports journalists in the country, accumulating more than two decades worth of experience covering some of the biggest events in the world.
As host of the award winning Fight Disciples podcast, it is fair to say Peet has seen it all whilst covering both MMA and boxing, a love affair which began when watching Chris Eubank vs Nigel Benn in 1993.
Despite sceptics of Paul’s antics, he has no problem with social media stars stepping into the squared circle, as long as they present boxing in a positive manner outside of the ring.
“The only negative I see, potentially – and I don’t follow Jake Paul in terms of his YouTube antics – is what do they do away from the boxing ring?
“How do they behave then, what do they get mixed up with there? I know Logan Paul has had his issues in the past.
“That’s not boxing’s fault, but as long as there is a divide that shows this is boxing; this is good for your health, this is good for your mentality, it builds self-esteem and it is a positive thing.
“Acting like a k***head on YouTube is over here, they are two completely separate things. As long as that is over there, then listen, I don’t begrudge any man making money!
“Boxing, as a sport, is kind of set up so that anyone can get a boxing license. If you want to make some money, certainly in California, anyone can put on a boxing show.
“We’ve seen it over here with Ricky Gervais against Grant Bovey, Andrew Flintoff boxing and Rio Ferdinand trying to make his professional debut before the British Board of Control snapped down on it.
“As long as kids are watching this and seeing boxing in a positive light, then I am all for it. Why not?”
The younger of two social media sensations, Jake Paul watched big brother Logan step into the ring as an amateur against bitter rival KSI in 2018 in the UK on the undercard and saw just how lucrative the sport can be.
Reports that KSI had earned £80million from the white collar event were dismissed by both men, but it was clear they had both earned a substantial amount of money.
Jake has boxed three times since then, knocking out another YouTube fighter in AnEsonGib before his appearance on the Tyson vs Jones Jr undercard last year.
He then knocked out Ben Askren, a former MMA world champion and Olympic wrestler, who had very little experience in terms of boxing.
Up next is Logan’s exhibition bout against Floyd Mayweather this Sunday.
And while Peet begrudges no fighter for ever putting a roof over his or head from stepping into the ring, he dismisses the idea the influx of YouTube fighters is ‘bad for boxing’.
“If the audience is there, why not? Go after it,” he added. “This is why I find it quite funny with proper, die-hard, hardcore boxing fans who are super upset.
“They’re saying, ‘they’re ruining boxing and taking money out of boxer’s pockets’. And I disagree, maybe the boxer’s should do more social media style antics and YouTube channels and become more like Jake Paul and then they will become main event.
“The obvious one is Ryan Garcia; he’s crossed over to become an Instagram star, he’s got millions and millions of followers now. So when he fights in boxing now, there are tonnes of followers and people come with him to watch the boxing.
“Don’t hate the player, hate the game! Any young boxers coming through, if you are competing or looking to get into boxing or UFC, and you are not smashing your social media as much as you are smashing the bags, then you haven’t got a clue about the world we live in today.”
Johnny Nelson told talkSPORT the emergence of social media stars flooding into boxing would allow the sport to attract a new demographic and to ‘get into more people’s homes’.
Paul has 20.3 million subscribers to his YouTube channel; to put that into context Manchester United have 3.97 million, Tyson himself has only 1.89 million and even Anthony Joshua – the current world heavyweight champion – has 725,000 subscribers.
Peet hopes this influx of fresh eyeballs to the sport cannot be a negative thing, provided this younger generation of fan is inspired to invest time and maybe even their energy into boxing themselves.
He said: “Hopefully, a lot of the YouTube fans tune in to see Jake Paul knockout Ben Askren and lot of them will watch Prograis vs Redkach or may even go to a boxing gym on Monday.
“And when they go to a boxing gym on Monday, whether they want to be YouTubers or not, when they get into a boxing gym they will soon find out they can’t stand in front of a bag with their phone, pretending to hit it.
“The coach and the people who run the gym will be like, ‘Put your phone down, get in line, do as we say and do a bit of boxing.’ And that has got to be a positive thing.”