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“This is supposed to be an exhibition!” Apollo Creed’s trainer helplessly screamed seconds before the fighter succumbed to a fatal beating at the hands of Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.”
Whether it be in real life or movies, boxing exhibitions have been regular billings since the first recorded prize fight in 1681.
Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and George Foreman have engaged in the theatric form of fighting. Even Oscar De La Hoya once mixed it up with Shaquille O’Neal on national television for the sake of entertainment.
During the past year, high-profile exhibitions seem to be all of the rage again in sweet science, and another high-profile sparring session will unfold in Miami Gardens on Sunday night when Floyd Mayweather Jr. returns to the ring to fight social media star Logan Paul.
The cash king nicknamed “Money” is back for another heist because he’s selling the bout with the equally brash Paul as a “legalized bank robbery.”
There will be no judges scoring the eight-round event, an official winner will not be announced, but knockouts will be legal when the pugilistically inept Paul faces the greatest fighter of his generation without any headgear.
Former NFL star Chad Johnson is adding to the attraction and spectacle by making his boxing debut.
Showtime will produce the fight on pay-per-view for $49.99.
Welcome to boxing’s revived trend, when people with star power can strap on a pair of gloves for a quick cash grab.
“I get paid the biggest bucks because I kick a— and I beat the biggest names out there. We’re talking about real fighters. This is a YouTuber. C’mon now,” said Mayweather, his braggadocio still in prime form.
“Logan is working hard, like the Russian in 'Rocky IV.' Keep training like Ivan Drago, it's not going to work.”
Mayweather was always a No. 1 mainstay as Forbes’ highest-earning athlete during his heyday. The longtime Las Vegas resident said he already hit the jackpot against Paul with a $30 million minimum.
More money will materialize once the final PPV buys are calculated. Not a paltry purse for a 44-year-old grandfather who hasn’t beaten a boxing world champion since 2015.
Paul is best known for creating slapstick YouTube videos. Ugly offenses have included him filming a suicide victim in a forest.
Mayweather promises to punish Paul for all of his wrongdoings by using his “Z” game.
The 26-year-old Paul will be primarily tasked with bringing his Gen Z audience of nearly 50 million to watch him put up a hapless fight against a boxer who beat Canelo Álvarez, Manny Pacquiao and De La Hoya during a Hall of Fame career that reached a perfect 50 wins and zero losses.
Mayweather has remained semi-retired after his last professional boxing match in 2017, a drubbing of former UFC champion Conor McGregor that generated more than 4.3 million domestic PPV buys and $600 million.
The clash perhaps offered a preview into the current craze of crossover events, and the cash cow it presents when two transcendent personalities converge.
After the McGregor beatdown, Mayweather returned in 2018 for a one-round, New Year’s Eve mauling of Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa for a reported $9 million payday.
Outside of Paul making his pro boxing debut in a loss to fellow YouTuber KSI, 2019 was mostly a quiet year of combat sideshows.
Then 2020 happened, when everything went haywire. The pandemic proved that when fans are starved of live sporting events, they can become fiends looking for a quick fix.
Many people got lost in nostalgia during the doldrums of lockdown and eventually found alternative forms of entertainment.
For sports, “The Last Dance” documenting the 1990s Chicago Bulls arrived at the most opportune time for those looking for a TV lifeline. The series reminded everyone of Michael Jordan's demigod status.
Soon after another demigod named Mike resurfaced to rekindle the interest of masses.
After an explosive workout video went viral, Mike Tyson seized the momentum and returned to the ring at age 54 to fight the retired Roy Jones Jr. during an entertaining exhibition that netted nearly 1.6 million PPV purchases and $80 million.
Logan’s younger brother Jake Paul, however, took social media by storm that night when he viciously knocked out former three-time NBA Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson.
The floodgates have opened ever since for crossover bouts, celebrity boxing and senior circuit tours.
Evander Holyfield wants to fight Tyson in a trilogy. De La Hoya announced he was coming back for a since-delayed bout. Long-retired greats like Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Miguel Cotto all threw their gloves in the exhibition ring.
In a more uncomfortable and perhaps exploitative PPV, former Lakers star Lamar Odom and entertainer Aaron Carter will engage in a June 12 exhibition for a company that promises stars a 16th minute of fame.
Although many may decry the quality and volume of these events and the health and safety concerns of the participants — Odom and Carter are both recovering addicts — there still appears to be an appetite across the board.
“It was almost inevitable that social media stars would break into sports,” said Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza. “Celebrity today clearly means something very different than years before. There is a long history of celebrities competing in athletic events, like with ‘Battle of the Network Stars.’ We’re now in version 2.0.
“We recognize a good party when we see it … There needs to be a level of quality and seriousness that we’re going to adhere to put our brand on it. Our credibility is paramount to us.”
The Harris Poll recently surveyed 2,072 American adults to see if fans had heard about boxing matches before they’d unfolded.
Forty percent of respondents were already aware of the Mayweather-Paul fight, while 30% knew of Jake Paul’s knockout of former MMA champion Askren in April.
In comparison, the 2020 heavyweight rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder drew a 29% response, and Canelo Alvarez’s recent KO of Billy Joe Saunders garnered 23% awareness.
Mayweather’s knack for reality TV and entertainment throughout the years with WWE, “Dancing With The Stars” and unapologetically showing off his lavish lifestyle makes him a natural fit for his upcoming assignment.
The proof is in the pudding that the pair of Pauls are the perfect dance partners. They move the needle and reach a new audience boxing wants to reach — digital native cord cutters who are looking for thumb-stopping content.
UFC president Dana White, on the other hand, refuses to participate in the hullabaloo and prefers to only promote MMA. He labeled the last event headlined by Jake as a “mind-boggling ... freak-show circus.”
Jake is now 3-0 as a pro with all three fights ending in KOs worthy of garnering hundreds of millions in impressions. His next boxing match is yet another intriguing one, an Aug. 28 fight with former UFC champion Tyron Woodley on Showtime PPV. Jake is already considered a favorite to win by most sportsbooks.
Jake inserted himself into his sibling’s exhibition storyline by stealing Mayweather’s hat during a recent press conference. A WWE-like brawl mirroring a Royal Rumble broke out between both camps, and the histrionics somewhat got serious when Mayweather threatened to kill Jake.
“Anytime there is an event with my brother, or myself involved, it's going to go down, unfortunately,” said Logan. “Shoutout to my brother for selling the fight for me.”
What appeared to be perfect promotion was played up as a much more punishable offense by Mayweather.
“I'm going to tighten his a— up for disrespecting,” said Mayweather. “Somebody can seriously get hurt by disrespect. I ain't nothing to play with. I'm not for jokes. Keep f— with me and next time you'll end up in a neck brace. … I know how to fight. I know how to entertain. I kick a— for a living. After this fight, they are going to call me a Paul-bearer.”
The Rated-R script is fitting for premium cable programming.
With HBO out of the boxing business, Showtime is one of the principals tasked with being a tastemaker for what’s considered purchase-worthy, crème de la crème combat.
The network with 35 years in the sport now competes exclusively with ESPN, FOX, DAZN and boxing’s latest upstart in Triller, the purveyor of Tyson’s comeback as well as Jake’s previous two fights.
The summer schedule of real boxing fights is undoubtedly beginning to heat up after the Mayweather and Paul circus leaves town.
Fury and Wilder will fight on July 24. Pacquiao will continue his legendary career against top champion Errol Spence Jr. on Aug. 21. The pound-for-pound king Álvarez will look to become an undisputed super middleweight champion against Caleb Plant by September.
Later this month, Showtime will feature Mayweather-protégé Gervonta Davis during a separate PPV bout.
In what presented itself as a perfect platform for Mayweather to promote his pupil, Davis was missing from the stage and spotlight all week and lost an opportunity to boost his own profile.
“This is not a fair fight. I'm six, seven inches taller than Floyd. Thirty pounds heavier. Eighteen years younger," Paul said. "Saying I fully intend on beating the greatest boxer of our generation, it can't be computed. They hear that and say, 'This kid is a moron.' Hey, I agree with y'all. I'm a delusional optimist.”
Logan will likely be asked to absorb Mayweather’s beating until a Brink’s truck is backed up and ready to haul away the money.
“[Exhibitions are] a new niche of the sport, which may or may not be a niche for the long term. It may be bigger than a niche, but there is clearly a demand and interest in the audience, and financial viability in the events,” said Espinoza.
The real boxing event on Sunday, however, follows the fight when “The Kings” premieres on Showtime.
The four-part docu-series details the revered 1980s rivalries between the quartet of Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard.
One can only hope the nostalgic presentation of boxing's golden era inspires the present pool to deliver fights that will merit documentaries, decades-long discussions and “Rocky” like movies down the line.
The desire for the previous generation to engage in lukewarm competition won’t exist if fighters in their prime command an audience by consistently fighting archrivals, much like their predecessors.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.