If the recent trend of social media boxing has taught us anything, it’s that despite how pitiful it may seem, you don’t even need to be remotely good at boxing to sell PPV. Providing that you’re able to check all the other boxes of a superstar of course.
Some Boxing purists will call this a disgrace, instead of the light being shone on those who are most skilled or hard-working, the fame and money are given to the fighters that understand promotion.
However, whether its for better or worse, this is the current landscape of Boxing and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Ultimately, boxing is a business, so fighters need to be just as strategic outside the ring as they are inside. Being simply a great fighter isn’t enough for most boxers.
Be the hated or the beloved
History tells us that either admiration or hatred are the fundamental driving factors behind selling PPVs. Below is a table showing the top 10 PPVs in all combat sports.
|Mayweather vs Pacquaio||4.6 million|
|Mayweather vs McGregor||4.3 million|
|UFC 229 McGregor vs Khabib||2.5 million|
|De La Hoya vs Mayweather||2.48 million|
|Mayweather vs Alvarez||2.2 million|
|Holyfield vs Tyson 2||1.99 million|
|Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson||1.97 million|
|McGregor vs Poirier 3||1.8 million|
|McGregor vs Diaz 2||1.65 million|
|McGregor vs Poirier 2||1.6 million|
At the top of this list, we see a recurring name. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather had a large fanbase during his campaign in the ring. However, the majority of people who were buying his fights wanted to see him lose. He portrayed himself as the cocky, arrogant, unbeatable villain of boxing. His attitude towards other fighters resulted in lots of fans disliking him despite his technical brilliance. Admiration and support can go far, but so can animosity.
The other recurring name on this list is Conor McGregor. Despite his recent losses in Mixed Martial Arts, he still remains the most lucrative fighter in combat sports. While many people dislike him for the same reasons as Mayweather, McGregor’s cult of personality has allowed him to develop an incredibly strong and loyal fanbase. When coming up in the UFC, his charisma and cocky predictions quickly allowed him to reach the pinnacle of the sport. This means both his fans and haters are always tuning in to watch his fights.
How fighters make headlines
Truthfully animosity generates interest. Interest leads to coverage. And coverage is promotion. The media wants headlines, they want views, and they want to make money.
Whoever gets them traffic, they will continue to publish about. This type of coverage is fundamental in captivating a larger audience. Most hardcore boxing fans will watch a fighter based on their skills. However, this is a niche group of people. In order to break into the general public, fighters need to have something special. They need to treat a fight like an event.
The best way of making headlines is by doing unconventional or outlandish things while still being relevant. The public is often drawn to people that can talk and articulate themselves well. Below we’ve listed a few iconic instances that got fights got an enormous amount of coverage and conversation around them:
- Tyson Fury vs Wladimir Klitschko: Fury attended the press conference dressed in a Batman costume
- Floyd Mayweather vs Oscar De La Hoya: Mayweather labels Oscar as the “Golden Girl” as he brings a chicken on stage to face-off with
- Aldo vs McGregor: McGregor’s mental destruction of Jose Aldo in press confrences
- Ali vs Foreman: Pre-fight direct address to critiques
- Mayweather vs McGregor: During the press tour both fighters spoke in a highly performative fashion for several hours in various countries creating “drama”
- Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder: Fury enters the ring after Wilder’s fight and challenges him WWE Style!
- Mike Tyson’s post-fight interview: Mike calls out Lennox Lewis with vicious intent
Copying fighters certainly isn’t a good route, fans nearly always catch onto unoriginal antics. However, the same basic strategy for all fighters is the same, which is to create entertainment. Fighters that can entertain with both their words and fists can often leverage their popularity.
Content is King
In a world dominated by social media, having an online presence can be a great asset in regard to promotion. Social media allows fighters to share their thoughts, promote themselves or businesses, and call other fighters out. However, it can also be used to improve a fighter’s connection with their fans. If people feel like they know you personally and are emotionally invested in someone’s success or downfall, then they are far more likely to make purchasing decisions.
Show off your talents by fighting the best
I think one of the fundamental problems with modern boxing is that many fights aren’t made because of boxing politics. Essentially, everyone wants to be the favourite in terms of money. However, negotiations are tough in boxing and often both parties will walk away because they can’t come to a reasonable conclusion. Also, there are so many various boxing organizations and different types of championship belts that can prevent or force certain fights to happen.
This is why MMA promotions like the UFC have become so popular in recent times. All the best fighters are signed to one promotion and the best fighters will always face the best opposition.
Fighters that are able to negotiate and climb up the rankings without dodging anyone often become the most popular. Boxers/Fighters don’t have particularly long careers, so being efficient with time and opponents is imperative to their success. Having a management team that understands your goals and the direction you want to take in the sport is an excellent asset to have.
Also having a fan-friendly style massively helps. A handful of boxers are able to captivate their audience with their words but for most fighters, an eccentric style in the ring can often prove to be a successful strategy. Take for instance Prince Naseem Hamed, one of Britain’s most memorable and exciting fighters ever. He was an aggressive power puncher who would showboat using his tremendous reflexes and do everything during his fights to please the crowds. Fans want to be entertained, the better you can do this, the more likely they will watch your fights.
Know and Understand your fanbase
For some fighters, simply being patriotic is enough for them to accumulate a fanbase. Embracing your country, culture, or religion in the public eye creates relatability. It acts as the connective tissue between fighters and fans. This also isn’t just limited to fighters. Any celebrity that embraces who they are publicly is likely to generate a fanbase from the specific groups they belong to because the fans can relate to them.
The issue with this is that some people may try to force or even fake certain elements of themselves in order to capture particular groups of people as fans. Not only would this be seen as disingenuous and unethical but it would also be incredibly difficult to do.
Promotion is difficult. Often those who purely look to make money aren’t very successful either. Self-promotion is something that we actually know very little about. Some people naturally have interesting personalities and they are charismatic and can talk well to audiences. For these people, promotion is second nature.
However, for the vast majority, this is something we have to actively work on. Finding the right balance is imperative. Everyone is different, so what works well for the biggest superstars in the business may not work for everyone else. But understanding the different facets of popularity within fighters is a great place to start.