BJJ Advice & Opinions

History Repeats Itself: High Profile Celebrity Fights

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The art of fighting is as old as time. Hieroglyphics of ancient Egyptian boxers and sculptures of ancient Greek wrestlers appear throughout history. Every life form on earth has fighting instincts, and through the years, these tendencies have progressed in humans. Now, many art forms of fighting that we practiced in the past have become sports viewed by the masses. 

It’s 2021, and a Youtuber just fought an unbeaten boxing world champ that is arguably the greatest boxer of all time. Understandably, many purists are against these events, but they can’t stop watching. And the Paul Brothers were not the first celebrities to do it either. Many previous events have involved a star with no fighting background against a trained professional fighter or a fighter going outside their comfort zone competing in a different ruleset than their field of specialty.

Before UFC 1, an event considered the first Mixed Martial Arts fight with a mass audience, there was “The War Of The Worlds,” featuring boxer Muhammad Ali and Japanese professional wrestler Antonio Inoki. It took place in Tokyo, Japan, in 1976. 

Inoki wanted to set this event up to display that pro wrestling was the dominant martial art. Japanese pro wrestlers take their training seriously and learn the art of catch wrestling before becoming a pro. Antonio Inoki trained under Karl Gotch, nicknamed the “God Of Wrestling” in Japan because of his significant influence in Japanese pro wrestling. So, the media took notice of the match.

Ali’s handlers agreed to a worked match that initially had him contracted to lose by a count-out, but the fake match became a real fight after Ali’s protests. He didn’t want to lose, even in a fake match. So just days before the match took place, both of their representatives renegotiated new, modified rules that weren’t “Wrestling vs. Boxing” anymore. Inoki wasn’t allowed to tackle, and Ali wasn’t allowed to jab. 

Unfortunately, the fight devolved into Inoki going for leg locks and sweeps from the ground and Ali taunting Inoki to stand up. Fifteen rounds of this fiasco ended in a draw and, even though the match was not the most entertaining, it did give curiosity on which martial art was the most dominant.

In 2009, former Major League Baseball player, Jose Canseco, was scheduled to make his professional mixed martial arts debut against Choi Hong-man (Who is famous for being 7 ft 2 inches tall and over 350 lbs) at Dream 9 in Japan. Jose Canseco is no stranger to controversy with multiple arrests, steroid allegations, and street fights to his name. He was the “Problem Child” before Jake Paul was even alive. 

There are many rumors behind why he took the fight, but it turned out to be fast money after losing in a minute by TKO. He also boxed in February 2021 and got knocked out in the first round. Then president of Barstool Sports, Dave Portnoy, said that he believed that he threw both fights for a paycheck.

Pro-Wrestling did similar things in the 1980s when comedian, Andy Kaufman, started his bizarre wrestling career. A comedian from Long Island, Kaufman is known for his role on the sitcom “Taxi.” 

He adopted a “bad guy” persona by challenging women to wrestle him and developed a gimmick proclaiming himself the “Women’s Wrestling Champion Of The World,” challenging women at wrestling events around the country and even on late-night talk shows. 

Most of his matches were staged unless a volunteer opponent tried to attack him, but the publicity started a rivalry with Memphis pro wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler. Kaufman was eventually slapped on “The Tonight Show” during a live broadcast by the king and competed in a match everyone believed was real, because of Kaufman’s uncanny ability to sell himself as the heel, a wrestling term used to describe the villain.

The fighting community and the pro wrestling community have a lot in common surrounding celebrities on their shows. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is notorious for having stars compete against their wrestlers. I covered this topic in a previous article, “Pro Wrestling is Athletic Theatre, And You Should Watch It.” But, it was a significant part of their growth. Bringing celebrities brings a mainstream eye to the world of pro wrestling and fighting.

Having MMA fighters compete against boxers in a boxing match helps build MMA fans. Many boxing fans were curious about MMA right after the Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather fight. It was the biggest payday in McGregor’s career, earning him $100 million total, bringing up another topic fighter pay in mixed martial arts. 

Ben Askren was a very dominant champion in the sport of MMA but earned more in that one boxing match against Jake Paul than he made in his MMA career combined. The sport of MMA is constantly growing, but the pay is staying the same. Many fighters are viewing these YouTuber boxing matches as a lottery ticket. You can’t be a purist if you don’t want what’s best for the fighters that risk their bodies to entertain the viewers, and as much as I hate to say it, Jake Paul is getting everyone paid. He’s challenging MMA fighters instead of professional boxers, even though boxing is just a tiny part of mixed martial artists’ arsenal. 

So as we wait for Jake Paul vs. Tyrone Woodley’s boxing match on August 28th, 2021, we all have to agree that the fight purses they will earn will be a win for both of them, and history has proven, celebrity matches bring more eyes to promotions, which is good for everyone.



Gian Carlo is a 10th Planet Blue Belt and a comedian from Puerto Rico. He currently resides in Albuquerque where he trains under "Nasty" Nate Harris, and hosts 2 podcasts (Unemployed Commentators & The Shoot)

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