Like the financial economy, the attention economy has its winners, its losers, and its suckers. And as in the financial economy, the latter two have a lopsided numbers edge. So much so that sociologists, philosophers, and rogue economists have spent enough time, brain protein and typewriter ink to half-fill the Grand Canyon with black sludge asking why we don’t just gang up and eat our pampered billionaire overlords.
The answer usually boils down to how the police, penal codes and prison system back the rich bastards up, but ask yourself: is that really enough to stop us teaming up and turning Jake Paul and Logan Paul into jambalaya?
Now, look. I’m not here to incite anymore violence than your average combat sports columnist. And this is not just another whine about Mrs Paul’s baby boys. At least they prove what we boxing fans have long suspected: that the public actually do want to watch two people punch each other in the face, and will pay to do so if incompetent promoters will simply step aside and let them.
No, the Pauls are just symptoms – festering mucous wads, if you will – of a far more serious pandemic. You want proof? Observe, dear reader, this petri dish across the pond.
Recently in the UK, Ben Davison (Tyson Fury’s former nutritionist and, I suppose, trainer, whose tactical master-plan nearly got Fury knocked clean out in the first Wilder fight) went on a BBC podcast and told Steve Bunce the reason for his mystifying rise to the top of the fight game:
“I feel like the level of coaching is poor in this country. [The other trainers are] lazy – that’s the reality of it. I outwork them – that’s the reality of it. They may have 30 or 40 years on me but the amount of time I spend studying the sport, my fighters, the opponents, it’s unrivalled work.”
Davison’s coaching of undisputed light-welterweight king Josh Taylor was compared to taking a ready-made meal and putting it in the microwave – a criticism which, after the Scotsman’s hiding from underdog Jack Catterall, now seems complimentary. But he’s realised the key (only?) ingredient for celebrity status these days is to make loud, brash, and insulting statements to a big enough audience. The more cretinous and baffling, the better.
His name soon trending on Twitter, boxing’s answer to Gillian McKeith then doubled down by re-tweeting Conor McGregor’s famous apology – “to absolutely no-one!”
We might call this the Post-McGregor Era – “post” because McGregor was a genuine top-level talent, and actually funny to boot.
He is now neither of those things; nor are his imitators, such as the Pauls, Davison, Prince Patel, James Gallagher, Dillon Danis, or Maurice Adorf. They’re just irritants.
The sizzle is nothing new. Even before Muhammad Ali – who, as the most famous sportsman of all time, cannot but be an influence on almost everyone afterwards – you every so often had big personalities like James J. Corbett or Jack Johnson. But where’s the steak? Even Naseem Hamed, who won’t crack many all-time top twenties, could bang as well as brag. By contrast, in the Jake Paul vs Ben Askren fight, you could’ve boiled a pan of water in between Jake starting to throw the knockout punch and it actually landing.
What’s the point in dedicating your life to becoming an apex boxer, trainer, or martial artist when you can get rich acting the idiot? Why bother out-fighting Tyson Fury when you can out-earn him, as Jake Paul did last year? Tyson’s brother Tommy, very nearly another one of Jake’s victims/beneficiaries, is one of the most recognisable boxers in the UK not because of his paltry 7-0 record but his antics on the reality TV show Love Island.
Even less edifying than watching these bozos clowning around is seeing actually talented fighters deign to attempt it. The usually mild-mannered Canelo Avarez’s trash-talk with Demetrius Andrade in May last year felt about as natural as a syringe of clenbuterol. Meanwhile, over in the MMA world, Kamaru Usman – about as legit a fighter as they come – has resorted to copying McGregorisms in an attempt to bump up his profile. That a pound-for-pound number one with a record-setting win streak feels the need to debase himself thus is indicative of a contagious narcissism. (Or Dana White’s relatively low rates of recompense for even the cream of the UFC crop.) Imagine Wladimir Klitschko responding to Shannon Briggs’s taunts by breakdancing in between rounds or gangster-rapping at press conferences and you have some idea of the unbridled cringe.
Perhaps this is a self-solving problem. After all, Muhammad Ali and Conor McGregor became superstars because they were unique; sooner or later, a market saturated with their sad wannabes will stop incentivising them.
Unfortunately, the attention market’s transformation into the outrage carnival goes far beyond combat sports: social media algorithms that start by selecting articles that annoy you can end putting a YouTube star at the top of a boxing card or a real-estate huckster in the White House. While it would be nice if the suckers stopped letting the rest of us down and actually paying (or voting) for this crap, you know what they say about a fool and his money.