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Dave Hannigan: Grotesque Tyson-Paul spectacle the very antithesis of a real sporting event

The shame of all involved in presiding over or taking part in such a freak show should endure

To understand why Mike Tyson is fighting Jake Paul in Texas in July, you only need to wander around any major American supermarket and marvel at the shelves of caffeinated swill called Prime.

Even though the initial mania surrounding desperate tykes splurging pocket money on the energy drink has died down, the upstart still sells enough to be an official sponsor of Arsenal and UFC.

Saunter into the sweets section then and gaze upon the cornucopia of Mr. Beast Feastables. Vastly inferior to Cadbury’s or Hershey’s, the kids aren’t buying these chocolate bars for the taste as much as for the name on the packaging. It’s the YouTubers’ world, the rest of us are just living in it.

Since the joke shop bout was first announced, footage has been popping up on social media showing a dynamic Tyson, supposedly in serious training, conveying the impression he remains a fearsome, violent prospect at 57 and this will somehow be a legitimate contest.


It’s the kind of slick marketing that has put Jake Paul (whose burgeoning portfolio includes a gambling company and a boxing promotion outfit), KSI and Logan Paul (co-owners of Prime), and Mr Beast (who started as a gamer and now flogs chocolate, burgers and a whole lot more) on their way to being YouTube billionaires.

These very 21st century plutocrats possess extraordinary influence over malleable children for whom staged gimmickry has become a love language. These human algorithms could convince the impressionable youth of the merits of just about anything.

Little wonder Netflix chose to partner with Paul on this forthcoming grotesquerie at AT&T Stadium on July 20th. Undeniably, depressingly box office, win, lose or embarrass himself, he will bring eyeballs to screens and subscribers to the service.

The demographic who’ve grown up in the thrall of the Paul siblings and the rest of the online barnstormers weren’t even born when Tyson was demolishing heavyweight contenders in the mid-80s. They never witnessed his decline in the ring and his subsequent imprisonment for rape, a crime that used to (quite rightly) be considered a career-ender.

To Gen Z, the former champ is a lovable, clubbable cartoon character from The Mike Tyson Mysteries, a weed merchant, and roguish pitchman in television commercials. Notwithstanding his occasional use of a wheelchair for sciatica issues, his physical or mental fitness for this fight matters not a jot to them or to Paul as long as he contributes to the spectacle.

The show is the show is the show. The organising principle of modern online celebrity. A population whose average attention span has shrunk to a mere eight seconds (less than a goldfish) must be constantly entertained by the next new thing, then fleeced for it. Fast. Furious. Transactional. Never mind the flimflam, feel the grift. The quest for just-add-water instant gratification is ongoing and lucrative.

Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid, has floated the idea of shortening soccer matches to make them more attractive to young people who can’t or won’t sit through 90 minutes. A serious concern.

With an ageing fan base, Major League Baseball has already changed the rules to speed up the pace of play to try to appeal to youngsters. In Hollywood studio executives warn writers to simplify plots that aren’t “second screen enough” for an audience now permanently multitasking and too distracted to process complexity.

Event junkies and novelty addicts, the highlight reel generation lack the patience or emotional bandwidth to experience real sport in real time. Preferring the fast-food option of the best bits spliced together in a hurry, they crave the giddy titillation of freak shows.

Over the next couple of months, Canelo Alvarez, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Tyson Fury and Gervonta Davis, among the very best of this fistic generation, each have decent fights coming up. None of their bouts will garner anything like the viewers or attention afforded Tyson-Paul, a showdown that is the culmination of society’s inevitable descent into reality show, a dystopia prizing ersatz versions of sporting contests over actual ones.

Davis is the lightweight world champion, has won titles in two other divisions, and remains an undefeated 29 and 0. Yet, the largest audience of the American’s decade-long career, by a multiple of four, came the night he fought Francisco Francesco on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor abomination in Las Vegas. Something those criticising the wisdom of Katie Taylor’s involvement in this Texan circus should perhaps reflect upon. She will never have access to widespread exposure on this scale again.

That Mayweather and McGregor earned more money from that forgettable farrago than any other contests in their careers demonstrates the enduring power of the hard sell and the value of stunt casting. Carnival barkers extraordinaire, the YouTubers have made bank obeying those very dictums.

Two of the top 10 pay-per-view matches since 2019 were Paul contests. A man who took up boxing as a lark has outdrawn the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Deontay Wilder. To his credit, he has also used his leverage to transform the financial fortunes of Amanda Serrano, procuring Taylor’s nemesis the first six and seven-figure cheques of her career.

Earlier this week, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, not the strictest such body in America, sanctioned Tyson-Paul on July 20th as a proper professional fight, in which the combatants will wear 14 oz gloves and box eight two-minute rounds. The result will go on their records. As is only right. The shame of all involved should endure.