Tag Archives: British Boxing

YouTube boxing – genius or embarrassing?

Former WBA super-middleweight champion George Groves recently blasted the phenomenon of YouTubers infiltrating professional boxing as ‘horrific’ and ‘abysmal’.

He delivered his verdict following American vlogger Jake Paul’s win over FIFA YouTuber AnEsonGib on a Miami show headlined by middleweight world champion Demetrius Andrade. But is it really that bad?

What began as a light-hearted video between two friends has rapidly evolved into one of the biggest – and also the most divisive – invasions of a sport in recent times.

It’s safe to say that the traditional, hard-core boxing fanbase aren’t exactly welcoming this YouTube invasion with open arms, though. Many say that it is embarrassing the sport and stealing the limelight away from professional fighters who have spent years working their way up the ranks.

But, whether people like it or not, the demand appears to be there amongst the younger audience. According to Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn, the fight between Logan Paul and KSI last year sold more pay-per-views than Anthony Joshua’s huge heavyweight rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr.

How did it start?

When Joe Weller – a YouTube star from Brighton – uploaded a video of a boxing match with his friend Theo Baker in August 2017, no one could have possibly anticipated that it would be the catalyst for the whole landscape of the sport to change. And yet here we are.

Olajide Olatunji – better known by his online alias of ‘KSI’ – challenged the winner of Weller and Baker’s bout to a fight, perhaps not initially realising at the time how big it would become.

His fight with Weller ended up selling out the Copper Box Arena in London and clocked over 23 million views on YouTube. This, inevitably, prompted another fight between two internet stars; this time between KSI and Logan Paul.

This took things to a whole new level. Their first fight sold out the Manchester Arena and generated over 1.3 million pay-per-view buys worldwide. The rematch was made into a fully-fledged professional fight, picked up by streaming service DAZN and promoted by Eddie Hearn.

It’s been quite the journey and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of this train slowing down anytime soon.

What’s the problem, then?

The most recent fight between two YouTubers: Jake Paul – brother of Logan – and AnEsonGib – ‘Gib’ for short – was hardly the sweet science. And that’s being polite.

The Saudi Arabian-born Gib used a bizarre stance in the early exchanges of the fight in an attempt to crouch out of the way of a barrage of wild, flailing punches from Paul. However, his evident lack of defence and general boxing ability meant that he struggled to keep his balance and was an easy target for the American to just pick off.

After Gib touched down on the canvas three times in quick succession, the referee decided that he’d seen enough of the farce that was unfolding in front of him and declared Paul the winner by technical knockout in the first round.

KSI stormed the ring after the fight for a face-to-face confrontation with Paul. We can all see where this one is going, can’t we?

‘There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing’

These events have undoubtedly attracted fresh eyes on the sport – but at what cost? Is it worth putting on such farcical, comical shows just to get a few more people watching? And, realistically, how many of those new fans are going to stick around for the ‘proper’ fights?

This could be a slippery slope for boxing. Singer Robbie Williams has already called out former rival Liam Gallagher for a fight, and pop sensation Justin Bieber has expressed an interest in fighting KSI. The old cliche is that ‘you don’t play boxing’ and yet a lot of celebrities seem pretty keen to do just that and, perhaps more worryingly, there are also people out there who are capable of making it happen.

If this is what it is going to take to bring the sport into the mainstream, I’d rather we left it as it is.

There seems to be a certain level of naivety from these online stars as well. They strut around like they are Conor McGregor at press conferences but when the head guards come off and the 10oz gloves go on, it is no longer a game.

It’s not a YouTube video that you can just re-film if you make a mistake, it’s a proper fight. And in proper fights, people who don’t know what they’re doing can get hurt. This isn’t a charity football match where celebrities can just join in for a laugh, this is the professional fight business, where one well-timed punch can render an opponent unconscious and in need of urgent medical attention.

Less than six months ago, a promising young fighter in Patrick Day lost his life. In a chapter of the sport where safety is a topic that should be more prominent than ever before, it seems an odd time to start the trend of catapulting novices into the brutal world of pro boxing.

So far, it’s been YouTubers matched against other YouTubers. But who’s to say one of them might not get a couple of wins under their belt, start to believe their own hype and chase after fights against more seasoned pros? It could easily become more than something to poke fun at. It could start to become really dangerous.

Tommy Fury, the younger half-brother of Tyson, who is decent professional plus a Love Island celebrity, appeared to call out KSI in November, saying: “I’ve heard he wants to continue fighting so if he wants a real fight, he knows where I am.

“We are both from that influencing world — he is from YouTube, I am from Love Island. We both have a great following here in the UK. Why not make it a ‘Battle of Britain’?”

At the end of the day, there’s money to be made and that doesn’t even necessarily need to be a bad thing. Although it’s not great to watch, there’s clearly a market for this sort of stuff and it would be foolish to ignore it completely. And if these guys genuinely want to box and they’re willing to put the hard graft in, they should be able to.

It was easier to stomach, though, when it felt like a bit of fun. A fake rivalry, a bit of trash talk, nothing dangerous, nothing serious. It didn’t need to go any further than that.

There’s a time and a place for ‘celebrity fights’ – but that place is not in the world of professional boxing.

Featured image via: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H65ZxeDAysg

Jamie Speight on the life of a journeyman boxer

Sport may just be about winning for some – but for former Southern Area champion Jamie Speight, boxing involves so much more than that.

Most young, up-and-coming fighters dream of lifting world title belts aloft or earning Floyd Mayweather money, but reality for the vast majority can ultimately be quite different.

After eight victories in his first eight fights as a professional, Jamie Speight probably had similar ambitions. But, with 26 more defeats than victories on his record in a career now spanning a decade, he has a different perspective on his role within the sport these days.

Speight – a scaffolder by trade – usually fights out of the away corner and is what many would describe as a ‘journeyman’ boxer – a role commonly misunderstood, especially in an era where just one loss can devastate fans’ perception of a fighter.

By his own admission, Speight was a “wimp” as a young kid; often pushed around and bullied by his classmates. He used boxing as a way of toughening himself up.

“I was one of these quiet, polite kids who didn’t want to upset or hurt anyone. I got bullied by the same five kids every day – it was just nit-picking, name-calling, not letting you in the group, being picked last for everything. And then it started to become a bit more physical as time went on, ” he says.

“My old man said ‘the school’s doing nothing about it, it’s time to take you down the boxing gym’. It was just to toughen me and so I could defend myself and I never looked back.”

From contender to away fighter

After a solid amateur career, Speight turned professional in 2009, defeating Pavels Senkovs on his debut in Bristol, and going on to win his next seven contests.

He went on to box a close fight with a current world champion in Josh Warrington in 2013, and picked up Southern Area belts in both the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions.

However, back-to-back defeats on Sky Sports in 2017 made Speight reconsider the direction of his career.

“I boxed Reece Bellotti for the WBC Silver International title live on Sky Sports at the O2 Arena. It was a good fight. Reece is a good kid, he broke my ribs in the sixth and stopped me in the eighth,” says the former English title challenger.

“After that, I got another shout for a Sky Sports show at the York Hall, where I boxed Joe Cordina. I knew Joe prior to this fight, I’d sparred him when he was an amateur, it was 50-50 and a good spar, it went well. I took the fight thinking I’d be fighting the Cordina I’d sparred as an amateur, but he was so much better.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent… the best time to learn is on the job.”

He continues: “That’s the point where I went ‘that’s me, then’. I’d done my best, the best I can possibly do. I just thought ‘this is where I’m at now, I’ve had a good roll of the dice, I’ve had a good time, so let’s now earn some money and try helping some people along the way’.”

The role of the ‘journeyman’

The ‘journeyman’ role is an often confused and yet crucial job. You’re not necessarily there to win, but you can’t be a bad boxer. You’ve got to be durable, tough, technically sound and avoid getting stopped regularly in order to keep the British Boxing Board of Control off your back.

Speight ticks those boxes, although the term ‘journeyman’ doesn’t necessarily describe his role in the best way. He’s more of an in-ring mentor to younger fighters coming through the pro ranks.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent. I’ll be saying ‘tuck that left hand up a bit more, don’t do that, don’t do this,’ and try and give them advice, as the best time to learn is on the job.” the 31 year-old explains.

Speight travels here, there and everywhere, all over the country, trying to pass his knowledge and experience onto rookie pros with only a few fights to their name, despite never really being given much chance of glory in the ring himself.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me”

“You’ll hear people say this a lot: ‘Boxing is the most corrupt sport on the planet’ and that’s one of the truest statements ever made. I’ve had promoters tell me ‘Don’t beat this kid, move him round, don’t beat him, don’t hurt him’. You’re actually given instruction on what to do and what not to do,” says the veteran pro.

Just imagine Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asking Jurgen Klopp to kindly go easy on his current Manchester United side… And that’s not even mentioning the limited notice some of these ‘journeymen’ get for some fights.

“The shortest I’ve had is when I was at home on a Saturday morning, dropped my partner at work, I came back, just picked up my bag to go to the gym, my phone rang and it was my manager.

“He said ‘I need you to fight, get up to London [from Plymouth].’ I got changed, got straight in the car up and boxed that afternoon. So it can be that late, up to a few hours’ notice,” recalls the experienced fighter.

The future

If the grassroots, small hall level of boxing can verge on the farcical at times, what keeps people like Speight in the sport?

“The best way I can describe it is the sport is like a drug. And it’s the most addictive drug you’ll ever have. It’s what I call living,” he says.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me.”

Despite his love for the sport, boxing is a notoriously dangerous game. Many fighters have paid the price for going on too long, and the recent, tragic passing of American boxer Patrick Day underlines and emboldens the peril involved in the sport of boxing.

“If I’m being foolish, I can make it last as long as I want because I’ve not burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve not been out every weekend like a lot of fighters,” says Speight.

“The more and more these things happen, the more it puts the fear of god into you. I value my life more than I value boxing, as much as I love it. I’m going to finish this year, give it one more after that and then that’s me.” he wraps up.

It’s likely that the role of fighters like Speight will never truly be understood. Fans will look at his record, see 41 defeats and go ‘he must rubbish’. But without guys like him, the sport as we know it doesn’t exist.

‘Journeymen’ keep the sport ticking over and they deserve a lot more respect.

Photo credit: mikeyray2013 via Instagram. You can follow Jamie Speight on Twitter.

‘Doing TV is harder than boxing’

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Elephant Sport gets an exclusive interview with former cruiserweight world champion Johnny Nelson.

Nelson who now works for Sky Sports, talks about the highs and lows of his boxing career, the current ‘golden era’ for British boxing, David Haye’s return to an open heavyweight division, and the feud between Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte.

He also reveals how he considered a one-off comeback nine years after his retirement, and just how hard he found transition from being in the ring to working in the media.