Combat Sports and Entertainment on a Collision Course

People have enjoyed the collision of combat and entertainment for generations. Professional wrestling is a huge example, but one could make the same case for older traditions like bullfighting or even gladiators within the Roman Colosseum.

In competitive, (real) professional sports, fighters and their sponsoring organizations make plenty of money, but seem to get stagnant over time. After all, how many die-hard fans can truly appreciate the art of combat in its purest form— two people fighting each other? Nowadays though, the fights with the most views have more entertainment value than just two people beating each other up. Lights and smoke. A captivating story of the two fighters leading up to the actual fight. To sell the highest number of tickets, it seems that two people beating each other up isn’t enough anymore. The casual viewers want a compelling story. They want a hero and a villain. They want a spectacle; something to talk about with their friends before, during, and after the fight. For better or worse, these stories sell tickets.

Case in point, YouTube celebrities Logan Paul vs. KSI. Two people who, by most standards, have no business fighting in a professional setting with loyal fans watching. Yet, this somehow became a real event. Not too long ago, such an event under such circumstances would have been inconceivable. How did we get here? How did this happen?


In the past, fight organizations were the only way for a skilled fighter to reach an audience and make money. For a fighter to make money through an audience, fight organizations and promoters would have to connect them. But with the development of the internet and social media, fighters can now reach their audience through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or anywhere else. Better yet, they could do this for free as long as they brought to the table something worth remembering. With Logan Paul and KSI having nearly 20 million YouTube subscribers, you could bet that some of those subscribers would pay to watch some sort of event if the story was intriguing enough. In this case, a real fight in a real stadium where people could watch the event unfold live. They didn’t need a fight organization’s approval; they already brought their loyal following along with them. In this day and age, your platform and audience has serious leverage. With the right kind of entertainment or value given to your followers, you get to cash in on this audience.


Take a more believable example in Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather. Maybe the fight shouldn’t have happened, but both are world class fighters in their own disciplines (MMA and Boxing, respectively). Yes, McGregor’s punches are lethal in a UFC fight, but beating Mayweather at his own game? Unthinkable. Any expert could predict that this wouldn’t have been a good fight and under boxing rules, Mayweather would be unbeatable. After enough speculation, this fight finally became an event, and both of them walked away with nine-figure paychecks.


Very strategically.

First, both of these fighters were arguably the biggest stars in their respective disciplines. Anyone who knows boxing knows Floyd Mayweather. Likewise, anyone who watches MMA has undoubtedly come across Conor McGregor.

Second, both Mayweather and McGregor could be considered controversial figures in their sport. Neither of them have issues playing the villain in the match up. To their advantage, controversy brings attention. Love them or hate them, they are damn good at giving you something to cheer for, and that sells tickets.

Third, it had all the elements of a compelling story. The young, notorious trash-talking underdog with a lethal left hand shot goes up against an undefeated defensive genius out of his prime. The outrageous trash talk leading up to the actual fight. No one in combat sports has created an event with this much attention on such a large scale. Watching McGregor vs. Mayweather meant witnessing arguably one of the biggest crossover events in combat sports history, and people were hyped for months on end. So, what can we learn from the massive popularity of these two events?


People have more leverage than ever. They have control over what they want to watch, and with the internet and social media, they sometimes have the option to cut out the middle man by using a separate platform altogether. Of course, this isn’t limited to combat sports though. For instance, writers can choose between a conventional book publisher or self-publishing. Musicians can either get a record deal or get direct support from their fans through Youtube. However, these middlemen will still exist, and you’ll probably see people continuing to choose both options. The middlemen will continue to be selective and, to the extent that their expertise allows, ensure higher quality work. The moment they miss the mark on what the people truly want, however, is the moment they collapse.

In this new economy of attention that we seem to be moving into, viewers and consumers have far more say in what they want to see. The new world is a market that’s more open than ever. If enough people want to see it, someone will show up to give them what they want.