With the internet changing the cultural standards for what it takes to become a star, it is no surprise to see social media influencers reaching the same heights as traditional celebrities. From making their breaks in music to appearing on popular late-night TV, anyone can become famous from the comfort of their own home. Especially now, with the recent boom of YouTube and TikTok, content creators are fighting their way to mainstream fame — literally.
Spurred in 2018 when infamous influencers Jake and Logan Paul challenged Deji and KSI to a fight, the boxing trend is picking up steam. Viewership for influencer boxing matches is only continuing to grow as more creators from platforms such as YouTube, TikTok and Triller publicly provoke one another. With the help of backing from an ample number of investors, these platforms are bringing new competition to the ring.
The Paul Brothers
Over the years, Jake and Logan Paul have become some of the most recognizable influencer names. Their careers originated on Vine, a now-defunct video-sharing social media platform. However, the Paul brothers were also quick to infiltrate YouTube, rapidly posting daily content ranging from vlogs of their rambunctious parties to tasteless “pranks” on their roommates and even diss tracks targeted at other creators. At the height of their infamy in 2018, even people unfamiliar with internet influencers and YouTube creators were aware of the havoc the duo was wreaking both online and in real life. It seemed as though we couldn’t go a day without news outlets reporting on the latest Paul brother controversy.
Amid all of the mischief, there was a notable shift in the way both the general public and mainstream reporting outlets viewed celebrities who built their careers on social media. It signified the beginning of an era where creators once confined to the internet could now make waves in the realm of the traditional celebrity — in a very uncanny way.
The Beginnings of the Boxing Trend
Following a slew of controversies such as hosting wild house parties, posting inappropriate content for child audiences and even run-ins with the law, the Paul brothers sought to capitalize on their unruly personas by challenging fellow YouTube creators KSI and Deji to a boxing match. Though the challenge initially seemed like a cheap dig for publicity and clout, many soon realized the notable increase in viewership catalyzed by boxing.
The first match, held in August 2018 in a Manchester arena, amassed a full house. It is estimated that, in physical tickets alone, the fighters brought in $3.5 million — and that’s not including revenue from pay-per-view screenings of the fight. After several more matches against rival YouTube creators, the Paul brothers’ careers took an interesting turn. Seeing value in the boxing world, they each began challenging renowned UFC fighters in main card fights.
Jumping on the boxing bandwagon, fellow YouTube creator Austin McBroom and TikTok influencer Bryce Hall are also slated to compete in a “Platform vs. Platform” showdown. Triller is expected to play a big part in shaping and commercializing the new era of influencer boxing.
TikTok Versus Triller
Founded in 2015, Triller is a social media platform centered on sharing short videos set to music using artificial intelligence software. Initially, the app did not gain much traction due to its similarities to TikTok, but despite this hurdle, Triller has found a unique way to set itself apart from its competitor.
In July 2020, Triller announced a partnership with Mike Tyson’s Legends Only League for an exhibition boxing match between Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. Triller would handle distribution of the pay-per-view boxing match and carry a documentary produced during its preparation. Since Triller is a short-form video platform, it teamed up with pay-per-view outlets to maximize viewership. USA Today reported, “Mike Tyson’s return to the boxing ring has generated more than $80 million in pay-per-view revenue, based on the latest figures. His exhibition match against Roy Jones Jr. on Nov. 28 sold more than 1.6 million pay-per-view buys — priced at $49.49 apiece — according to Tyson’s Legends Only League.”
In efforts to captivate younger audiences, Triller also partnered with Snoop Dogg to create a boxing league called The Fight Club. The league is expected to hold multiple pay-per-view boxing cards combining boxing, performances from chart-topping artists, influencer endorsements and appearances from mainstream celebrities.
Influencers Breaking Into Traditional Celebrity Spaces
With Triller and TikTok growing more mainstream, it is easy to see their appeal to creators seeking virality. They hold particular potential as a springboard for other opportunities, much like the way the Paul brothers are using Triller as a base for boxing matches. In an interview with Forbes, Jake Paul spoke about his motivation for pursuing boxing: “We’re just at the start of where this potentially could go. You can make millions of dollars on YouTube and it’s lucrative, but there’s a cap. You can only get to a certain threshold. You look at the highest-paid boxers, and it’s Floyd Mayweather. That’s why boxing is my focus. I’m excited about the upside of it.”
Triller is rapidly expanding its presence and power with the help of big investors. Business Insider reports that, as of October 2020, the app has raised $100 million at a $1.25 billion valuation and has garnered investments from Proxima Media and Silicon Valley’s Pegasus Tech Ventures.
Triller has also developed its “four quadrant entertainment” strategy to pull in massive audiences and investors. Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of parent company Proxima Media, spoke to Ed Dixon of SportsProMedia about how Triller plans to draw viewers back into boxing. Kavanaugh stated, “The concept really is to weave in pro bouts that even the best boxing purists would want to see, but to do that in the context of four quadrant entertainment. As we evolve and grow, you’ll continue to see social media tie-in, music and more of the entertainment-based fights.”
Performances from a lineup of widely popular artists such as Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Saweetie and more bolstered the appeal of the Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren fight. Appearances from personalities such as “Saturday Night Live” comedian Pete Davidson and TikTok stars Addison Rae and the D’Amelio sisters rounded out the lineup that ultimately led to the accumulation of approximately 1.5 million pay-per-view purchases.
This change in the celebrity space combined with the incorporation of boxing illustrates how internet influencers are raising the stakes. The Paul brothers, and creators like them, founded their careers on the fleeting world of conflict and internet drama, and they are aware that they have fostered audiences eagerly waiting to watch them up the ante. They even know how to drum up the right amount of hype to pull in viewers that do not regularly keep up with their content. Partnering with Triller and enthralling fans with celebrity lineups has created a new era in entertainment that will put influencers in the traditional celebrity limelight.
Whether you are watching because you’re curious, you want to see your favorite artist or celebrity, or for the sake of seeing a Paul brother take a few jabs, it is undeniable that internet influencers are slowly becoming household names through televised boxing matches.