So as you’ve no doubt had it beaten into every cell in your body by combat sports media by now that the dumber-looking Paul brother, Jake, fought ex-ONE FC champ, 2x NCAA champ, Olympic contender, and UFC vet Ben Askren in a… boxing match, this past Saturday.
Now the first draft of this article had me being a fairly big hater about this event. I personally dislike both Paul siblings quite a bit, and I know that this whole production will increase their reach, win or lose. And a retired MMA fighter known for everything BUT his striking being the co-star doesn’t exactly excite me for the highlight reels.And as it turns out, the results held to that story.
Askren got TKO’d in the first round, and Jake Paul gained more notoriety to call out more fighters and take up more of our collective attention. Fair on him for doing what he said he’d do, but I’m not sure the long musical numbers and slap-fight MC’d by Ric Flair can soften the headache.
There’s a ton I could say about this stupid, stupid event, and I will eventually, but I’d like to use it as a focus for a larger conversation about the latest internet trend:
Celebrities boxing each other.
Kicked off by Twitch streamer and Youtuber KSI challenging a number of his peers (most famously Jake’s brother Logan Paul) in the boxing ring, these “beef fights” have generated millions of views on YouTube and other online platforms the past few years. Cards have been filled with a mixture of e-celeb brawls and legit pro boxing matches, showcasing the sport to a new crop of fans.
“Boxing was pretty much a dying sport. UFC was kicking our butts. Now we got these YouTube boxers boxing with 25 million views. Boxing’s going back. Thanks to the YouTube boxers,” Mike Tyson said on the YouTube boxing craze following his fight with Roy Jones Jr.. While other experts vary in opinion, there’s no denying an entirely new generation of combat sports fans is now up for grabs.
With all that attention boxing is getting, I think it’s high time some of these folks flavored some of the other wonderful combat sports in need of some fresh eyeballs. Maybe with some grappling, perhaps?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love boxing. The sweet science is one of the coolest martial arts ever conceived, and throwing a punch is about a billion times harder than it looks. But watching a bunch of guys who don’t really know how to do the same thing is starting to get old. I’ve no doubt that all of these people took their matches seriously and trained hard to prepare. But boxing done by armatures, even armatures with millions of Instagram followers, is still just bad boxing.
A great way to keep the model exciting is to open the idea up to other sports, giving fans the ability to see their favorite stars in different scenarios. Shifting to grappling could bring in a ton of eyes to the sport just like it’s seemed to do for boxing. I doubt any BJJ player would complain about more money to go around the competitive scene.
The rise of MMA has given professional jiu-jitsu a degree of notoriety, but that number could explode with something like a celebrity showdown. And it’s not like it hasn’t been teased plenty of times in MMA already. Floyd Mayweather made a promo video of him in the octagon following a rumored MMA bout between him and Connor. The Paul brothers have gotten in on it, too, with Jake claiming an MMA fight would follow the un-materialized boxing match between him and Bellator fighter/BJJ black belt Dillon Danis.
Now, where can BJJ fit into this madness? Fairly easily. One, less risk of serious injury to newcomers.
Even with amateur boxing match headgear, throwing punches still leaves plenty of opportunities for massive injury for any celebrity in question. Putting forth a combat sport with less chance of breaking noses and giving concussions may entice several people still on the fence about the enterprise.
BJJ also has the added benefit of more mainstream movie stars/celebrities recently getting hooked. Figures like Henry Cavil, Demi Lovato, Jonah Hill, Jason Momoa, and more have all been publicly documenting their jiu-jitsu journeys on social media. Combined with higher visibility in action movies like the John Wick series, the planets seem aligned to make celebrity grappling work.
Not convinced? Allow me to take you on a little trip to the underground…
One of the premier grappling organizations operating today, Submission Underground, has proved that importing stars from different sports for submission grappling matches can yield great results. Showcasing fighters from promotions like the UFC and Bellator against famous jiu-jitsu athletes, SUG has graced the combat sports world with electrifying match after electrifying match.
(Vinny/Craig tag team match notwithstanding.)
The craziest part? The Paul brothers would be the perfect people to kickstart this crazy idea! Aside from being insufferable assholes, they’re both former high-level high school wrestlers from Ohio, with Logan even having a fifth-place finish at the state championship to his name. And after posting a video to Instagram of him scrambling a bit with BJJ black belt and UFC fighter Paulo Costa, it’s clear some of those skills are still at Logan’s disposal.
On the BJJ side, we have a wealth of iconic figures and terrific showmen to match anyone on the celebrity side. Folks like Boogeyman Martinez, Craig Jones, and Gabi Garcia have tons of experience building hype for matches and bouncing off their opponents in the press. Forget Askren; some of these grappler’s trash talk is in a league of their own. (Hate that it matters that much, but it does).
And unlike boxing, having retired grapplers come out for a match won’t potentially end in a beloved athlete getting knocked out cold. Grappling can go to that crazy pace with a fraction of the risk to everyone involved.
The critical feeling behind all of this is potential. Young people are becoming interested in combat sports thanks to these carnival attractions, and BJJ could reach some kids who really need it.
So the ball’s in your court, Paul Brothers. You have the chance to help out a niche sport gain a whole ton of new fans. Wanna help your scattershot PR? Then put down the gloves for a sec and dust off those singlets.
Aces BJJ Blog staff writer and BJJ Blue belt under Edward “Scissor Hands” Berberich of Soulcraft BJJ. Kevin has been training BJJ for four years and complaining about Star Wars for over 20. Follow him on Instagram @kbrads_bjj