Over the past decade social media has revolutionised the way we communicate on various levels, but has its impact on boxing been more positive than it has negative. The boxing community has adopted it more than any other sport as a means of promotion and communication. You only need to look at past eras and ask yourself how many of the mildly hardcore to strong casual fans of yesteryears remember the lightweight who never fulfilled his potential or the middleweight gate keeper who was the acid test prospects had to overcome to achieve world honours. The answer is probably none.
Why is this? Bad promotion? All of the limelight on the stars of other sports? Money? The answer is none of the above. Outside of the mainstream media with the exceptions of a small number of boxing publications, there was no coverage. DeGale vs Groves would not be a fight that would still be talked about by all types of fans seven years on. The internet has helped to develop interest in the sport beyond the marquee fight nights and create crossover superstars which has made a massive contribution to the emergence of what looks like a golden age for our sport.
Social media has provided a greater reach to a public beyond the average boxing fan. Popular football news and other popular social media pages regularly post and retweet news from the boxing world. The boxers themselves do great jobs with Q&A’s they do with fans reminding everybody they are normal people who for the most part do not live in a superstar bubble.
There is however two sides to every coin and some would argue social media serves more as a minefield as it does a force for good. Mike Tyson on his “Bite the Mic” podcast quite comically stated had there been camera phone in his face from which pictures of his every movement could be uploaded during his boxing career, there would have been quite a few “altercations”. We have in recent times seen fighters threaten to do the unthinkable, make wild accusations, overstep social boundaries with trash talk and in some cases just express opinions that should be kept private.
We possibly lost two prime years of one of the most talented heavyweights Britain has ever created, partially due to the furore created by public over exposure from social media. In no way is this intended to justify tweets sent out by Tyson Fury, but as a fan I can’t help but think; have we just missed a period in which we could (and in my opinion would) have seen the self proclaimed gypsy king beat Wladimir Klitschko even more decisively in a rematch and go on to unify against Deontay Wilder to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis.
Fury himself confesses to not consider himself a role model, but the wider public is always going to expect higher standards from those their children idolise and rightly so. Had Fury not had a tool by which he could reach millions at his fingertips would he have used his limited opportunity for publicity to express those views? That may have been a rare interview in a national paper or a thirty second segment in the ten o’clock news on the back of a fight or major announcement.
More recently in the heat of trash talk we saw Ohara Davis spark outrage through the Merseyside boxing community and beyond with an indirect and massively undereducated comment. In making comments which included the hashtag #BuyTheSun as a tongue in cheek jab at rival Tommy Coyle’s use of #DontBuyTheSun, I do not believe he understood the relationship the Merseyside community has with this particular publication because of events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy. Coyle himself is from Hull and has had separate grievances against the tabloid paper he however no doubt sympathises with the views of the Liverpool community as many across the country do.
Davies was as a result dropped by his promoter Eddie Hearn from a supporting slot on the 3rd Feb Okolie v Chamberlain card at the o2, suspended by his training and management team (later parting ways) and turned into somewhat of a pariah in the boxing community. How did this happen? One ill-advised comment designed to get under a potential opponents skin.
Why did he say it? Because bad blood sells.
Why is he trying to sell a fight, is that not the promoters job? Because social media provides a platform for the public to see a disagreement blossom into a full blown feud.
Why is the idea of two talented fighters facing off to see who the best man is not enough? Because the revenue generated to pay these men what they deserve for putting their future ambitions and health at risk would be nowhere near enough.
How is this stopped from happening again? It probably cant be.
Boxers are almost always from working class backgrounds, with similarities to our national sport of football. Boxers however are not members of local and national institutions that football clubs essentially are. With this comes a code of conduct to be abided by. The British Boxing Board of Control tries but essentially shoots themselves in the foot when it comes to consistency. A prime example in recent history being is Peter McDonagh; banned for eight months for what was at best a mild altercation with Shayne Singleton during a pre-fight weigh-in last September. Why did it happen? Largely to create a buzz for an undercard fight, by creating a viral social media event. Again this is not to justify McDonagh’s actions, however a reprimand so severe brings the sport into disrepute more than the Galway boxers actions ever did.
Now consider David Haye striking Tony Bellew at the press conference for their first fight and Dereck Chisora throwing a table at Dillian Whyte in recent years which via social media , spiced up the promotion and probably created more PPV buys. In these cases fines and suspended bans were handed out by the board. The BBBoC’s intention is clearly to send a message, but you cannot operate by a inconsistent standard. Why has an example been made of a fighter, whose fight purse was probably less than 1% of that of any of those names mentioned? A man in the latter stages of his career whose everyday livelihood depends on his ability to box.
Going back to direct social media events should fighter’s social media accounts be managed by professional media teams? Well just look at the reaction to Anthony Joshua letting rip at his rivals via Twitter a few months back. So many were relieved to see their hero and the man who is arguably the current face of boxing worldwide, is actually human. He can be riled and wound up the same way you or I. Many saw his social media output to be verging on almost too perfect and terms like manufactured are mentioned, a term I despise being applied to boxers because of the connotations of fakeness. When it comes to boxers and their backstories it is as real as it gets.
Aside from trash talk we’ve also seen the likes of Amir Khan use the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ principal, accusing his wife of having affair with AJ on Twitter and Snapchat. Khan who is no stranger to washing his dirty laundry out in public, obviously at the time going through difficulties in his personal life, and having been out of the ring for nearly eighteen months effectively decided that he needed to grab on Joshua’s coattails in order to maintain some public relevance, his decision to go into the I’m a Celebrity reality TV show only reinforces my opinion. While he came across well during the show, as a boxing fan and fan of Khan (in the ring) it can’t help but be said, could he not have just brought forward his return to action by three months instead of chasing mainstream notoriety he already had.
Platforms like Twitter allow the public to get to know the person behind the fighter they only otherwise see competing across twelve by three minute rounds or less once every few months. It has helped dispel age old boxing stereotypes, where characters such as Paulie Malignaggi have been able to demonstrate their intellect and in doing so redefine punditry and analysis standards.
We are now at a point with this new technology to recognise the pitfalls it brings. A joint responsibility has to be adopted by all involved from coaches to promoters, friends to managers, the fighters families and last but not least the boxer themselves. Not because of political correctness but because boxing loses when these incidents occur. Drawing back to the case of Tyson Fury, there is no better example of how boxing lost.