Celebrity Boxing: When Did It Become a Thing, and Who’s Doing It?



Celebrity Boxing: When Did It Become a Thing, and Who’s Doing It?

Many people think celebrity boxing started in 2018 when popular YouTubers – KSI and Joe Weller – faced off against one another in the ring to settle their beef. However, celebrity boxing has been around for much longer than you may think.

From Justin Trudeau taking on Patrick Brazeau to Conor McGregor fighting Floyd Mayweather, celebrities have picked up boxing gloves to prove their mettle for charity, promotion, rivalries, etc. People from all over the world tune in to see if their favorite icons have what it takes to step in between the ropes and prove that they are more than the roles they play. 

Read on as we closely examine the rise of celebrity boxing, famous celebs who put on boxing gloves, and some memorable celebrity matches from recent history that brought new life to the trend.

The Rise of Celebrity Boxing

The concept of celebrity boxing has been around since the 1970s when Muhammad Ali first took on Lyle Alzado in 1979. Then in 2002, Fox debuted their original show called “Celebrity Boxing” where stars from all across the industry would face off against one another in boxing matches. However, the show did not gain much traction and was soon canceled only after two episodes, earning a spot in TV Guide’s “50 Worst TV Shows of All Time”. 

Celebrity boxing

Though several celebrity matches took place between the years 2000 and 2010, it was quite clear that not a lot of people were interested in it. There was a general lack of intrigue from people as they thought that these matches were nothing more than just a glorified spectacle or a PR stunt.

Today, the landscape of celebrity boxing is very different, and that is primarily due to the influence of internet personalities like KSI and the Paul brothers.

It is quite common to see internet celebrities, mostly YouTubers, settle their score with one another under the stipulation of official boxing matches. This shift has had a prominent impact in the current era of pop culture as thousands of people from all over the world tune in to see their favorite content creators fight it out. 

Famous Celebrities Who Boxed

Celebrities picking up boxing gloves from time to time for either training purposes or staying fit is nothing unusual. However, you’d be surprised to know which celebrities actually decided to step into the ring and slug it out with their fists. Here’s a list of some of the most surprising celebrities that have boxed in real matches. 

Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais, arguably one of the funniest and most prolific British comedians ever, competed in a boxing match against businessman Grant Bovey for a charity event on December 29, 2002. While it may feel odd to imagine Ricky Gervais ever putting on boxing gloves and physically fighting someone, he did so for the sake of charity.

Ricky prepared for the fight by practicing with professional boxing coaches. And to our surprise, he trained very hard and is actually quite good. As for the match itself, it was an intense three-round fight where both celebrities held nothing back.

In the end, Ricky Gervais was declared the winner in a split decision. He donated the £5,000 prize money to Macmillan Cancer Support and hung up his boxing gloves for good.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba is a globally renowned superstar who is not only known for his excellent acting skills but also as someone who can do it all. The four-time Golden Globe and five-time Emmy nominee is also a talented musician, DJ, and kickboxer. So, when the match between Idris Elba and Lionel Graves was announced, fans were astonished to know that the two would be competing in a boxing match. 

The fight between the two took place at London’s York Hall in 2016. There is also a documentary made by Discovery Channel called Idris Elba: Fighter, that highlights the actor’s personal journey as he prepared for the fight.

Many thought that Lionel Graves would best Idris as he is younger and faster than the veteran actor. But to everyone’s surprise, Idris took the match in the first round with a TKO. Is there anything Idris Elba can’t do?

The Kardashians

Yup, you read that right. The Kardashians also have a history of participating in boxing matches. Most notably, Kim and Rob Kardashian decided to fight it out in the ring for a charity event in 2009. As a matter of fact, there is even an episode on Keeping Up With the Kardashians that features these fights.

Kim was matched up with Russian actor, Tamara Frapasella, and Rob was scheduled to fight amateur boxer, James Taylor. Unfortunately for the two of them, both lost their respective matches. However, as it was for charity, the event successfully raised a lot of funds thanks to the contribution of the Kardashians.

Top Five Recent Celebrity Boxing Matches That Shook the World

Since 2018, celebrity boxing has seen a massive resurgence. New life was breathed into it as popular online content creators revitalized the trend. Let’s look at some of the most prominent celebrity boxing matches that took place over the past few years.

1. KSI vs Logan Paul

KSI’s heated rivalry with Logan Paul set the stage for the current era of celeb boxing. What initially started as a personal beef between the two would then soon spill over for the whole world to see. The two internet celebrities then decided to put everything on the line inside the boxing ring. 

KSI and Logan Paul had two professional boxing matches against one another. Their first match was held on August 25, 2018, and to the dismay of their fans, ended in a draw. KSI disputed that he should have won which resulted in the two scheduling a rematch on November 9, 2019.

This time around, with KSI’s training, he had an upper hand on his long-time rival. And just like the first match, the fight went all the way and was concluded on a split decision, giving KSI the win. 

The era of KSI vs Logan Paul is cemented as one of the most iconic internet beefs of all time. With a constant slew of drama coming from both celebs, it left the internet gasping for a conclusion.

Finally, after two fights, the saga was put to rest. Thankfully, the two popular online celebs are on great terms now and are also business partners for their own brand of hydration drinks. 

2. Jake Paul vs Nate Diaz

Nate Diaz was one of the UFC’s top talents with a record of 22-13-0. So, when it was announced that the UFC icon would take on one of the most influential internet celebrities of the modern era, Jake Paul, fans couldn’t wait to see what the outcome of the match would be.

Prior to the fight against Nate Diaz, Jake had already competed in several other boxing matches and held a record of 6-1-0. While Jake is not a professional fighter, his tenacity and skill in the ring cannot be ignored. But given Nate Diaz’s experience with MMA, fans were expecting the match to go his way.

Finally, on August 5, 2023, the 10-round bout was set between the two celebrities. Both fighters came in hot from the start, as Jake and Nate didn’t hesitate to go all out. Jake’s impressive power and well-placed punches chipped away at Nate, even scoring a knockdown. Nate would then try to turn the tide against the amateur with his fighting experience.

Unfortunately for Nate, it was already a bit too late by then, as he was overwhelmed by Jake’s raw power by Round 10. In the end, Jake Paul won the match with a unanimous decision from the judges.

3. Deji vs Fousey

Who doesn’t love a good redemption arc? KSI’s younger brother Deji, also known as ComedyShortsGamer, has competed in a total of five boxing matches as of the time of writing.

Throughout his time in the ring, his fans would ridicule and mock him for being scared and cowardly. And after suffering four consecutive losses, nobody would have blamed him if he never stepped into the ring ever again. However, that is not where the story ends. 

On August 27, 2022, Deji was set to take on Fousey, another popular and highly controversial internet personality. While many thought that Deji would continue his losing streak or become shaken up, something was different this time around. 

When the match started, Deji showed a display of confidence and aggression that no one had ever seen. His aura of being the cowardly guy who would do anything to not get punched was not present at all. He showed an exemplary performance in the ring as he danced and weaved around Fousey’s punches, even scoring a knockdown in Round 2 of 4.

By round 3, Fousey was getting demolished by Deji’s constant pressure, and soon, his side decided to throw in the towel, giving Deji his first professional win.

4. KSI vs Joe Weller

The bout between KSI vs Joe Weller was the fight that initially reignited the trend of celebrity boxing again. The two internet celebrities were at each other's throats as they were making video after video calling one another out. This would then go on to finally be decided by a boxing match on February 3, 2018.

The lead-up to the fight was full of plenty of trash-talking and intimidation tactics from both sides. As a result, this event caught the attention of the whole internet as more than a million people from all across the world tuned in to see the final outcome. 

When the bell finally rang, both fighters left everything in the ring as the entire match was a slug-fest. However, it was quite obvious that KSI had the upper hand as his power was overwhelming Joe from the get-go. The match was cut short in Round 3 as the referee decided he had seen enough and gave the win to KSI in a controversial TKO decision.

5. Tyson Fury vs Francis Ngannou

When the WBC Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury decided to take on the former UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou, fans of combat sports stopped and gasped. Both Tyson and Francis are two of the top athletes and celebrities in their respective fields. Hence, a clash between the two was surrounded by a lot of hype.

The match between the two juggernauts was set for October 28, 2023. Tyson started the match strong with a composed aggression against Ngannou, hoping to throw him off his game. However, Ngannou dealt with the pressure like a champ and soon started to dish out his own servings of jabs and hooks. By round 3, Ngannou really started to dominate the match and was able to knock the seasoned Heavyweight champion down. 

After a grueling 10 rounds, the fight went to a split decision where Tyson Fury was declared the winner. Many fans were left a bit disappointed as they believed that Ngannou should have won, while others argued that Tyson was the clear winner as he had a better overall performance. Regardless of which side you fall on, there is no doubt that the clash between Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou was one of the best combat sports celebrity match-ups to be ever broadcasted.

Celebrity boxing

Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank via Getty Images

There’s no hiding the fact that celebrity boxing has changed significantly from what it was a couple of decades ago to what it is now.

Whether you enjoy it or think that it’s just too much drama, it is true that these events have carved out a unique niche in the realm of entertainment and sports. While critics argue that these matches trivialize the sport of boxing and prioritize spectacle over skill, their impact on pop culture cannot be ignored.

Overall, one thing is for sure, as long as celebrities are willing to step into the ring and audiences are eager to watch, celebrity boxing will remain a prominent part of the industry.

Bren Gray is our resident Kiwi, and has been writing about sports since he could first string words together. He first fell in love with boxing when David Tua took on Lennox Lewis in 2000, and hasn't looked back since.