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Jake Paul’s boxing odyssey shows the growing power of social media influencers

As YouTube star Jake Paul gears up for his third professional boxing match, many fans of the sport are wondering how it all came to this. There is a nervous shuffling of feet among many involved in boxing when fights featuring YouTubers and other celebrities begin to get more publicity and more pay-per-view sales than some high-profile bouts between experienced professionals, and these strange new-age happenings in the sport clearly rankle with many fans of a more traditional disposition.

But disregarding any speculation of whether or not Paul should have had such an easy path to fighting professionally, he has lived up to the billing in his first two fights, winning both. The first came against fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib, with Paul clinching the victory by TKO in the first round. That set the tone for a follow-up win against basketball star Nate Robinson, with Paul’s opponent lasting just two rounds. They were the kind of performances that made certain sections of the boxing community sit up and take notice, and ponder whether Paul’s boxing career is all smoke and mirrors or if there is a genuine desire to build a reputable legacy in the sport.

Paul’s next fight will be the most challenging of all, as he is taking on someone who is already a professional fighter. Although Ben Askren is a mixed martial artist, he is someone for whom the culture of fighting is already ingrained within him, and he’ll have his sights set on bringing Paul’s unbeaten record to an end. The Ben Askren vs Jake Paul betting odds are extremely close to call in the build-up to the fight, with the YouTuber narrowly edging it, but there’s no denying that this is an extremely difficulty fight to predict.

Part of this unpredictability boils down to the basic nature of who is fighting. In one corner you have someone who, just a few years ago, was a YouTuber making daily content for his fans, with no hint that a foray into the professional boxing world was on the cards. In the other corner, it’s difficult to know what to expect from Askren, as this is a change of scenery for him too, albeit not quite as dramatic a change.

But the fact that Paul’s fights get so much attention is indicative of the power now wielded by YouTube and social media stars. Often without even realising it’s happening, followers of these internet personalities get swept interestedly into their lives, to the point where everything they do becomes a must-see event. To use a British-based example, when Joe Sugg was a contender on Strictly Come Dancing, the vast majority had never heard of him, and yet there were millions of his fans tuning in eagerly to see their favourite YouTuber on a show they would never have watched otherwise.

The same can be said of Paul and other internet stars, such as KSI, who have plunged themselves into the world of boxing. They will attract a whole host of viewers who aren’t all that interested in the fight itself or the sport of boxing, but are absorbed in the world of the individual taking part.

Many have questioned whether this is good for the sport. On one hand, you have a younger generation being drawn in to boxing, and these YouTuber fights could ultimately be the inspiration for young people to become more and more engrossed in the sport. But then there is an argument that these kinds of fights detract from the purity of combat sport, and encourage the kind of cult of personality which can be damaging for the sport’s integrity.

In the end, it’s clear that there is a demand for this type of contest, and while many will turn up their noses at it, there are plenty of people who are thoroughly engrossed in Paul’s fortunes in the professional boxing world.

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