For boxing fans, it must be sad to watch what Showtime has become.
Five years after forcing HBO to say “No mas,’’ to boxing and inheriting the mantle of the go-to destination for big-time fights, the network’s pay-per-view arm, supposedly the place to catch their premium boxing events, has become a dumping ground for freak shows.
Four years ago, they gouged you for a hundred bucks to watch Floyd Mayweather Jr. play pattycake with a novice boxer named Conor McGregor.
This Sunday, they offer you a relative bargain — 50 bucks to watch an eight-round exhibition between Mayweather, now 44 years old, and six years removed from his last “real’’ fight, and someone named Logan Paul, who in the grand tradition of modern social media, is famous simply for being famous.
Or in other words, YouTube famous.
The Mayweather-Paul “event’’ — one could hardly call it a fight — would have been bad enough on its own.
But it comes on the same night that Showtime, on its premium cable platform, will present Part 1 of “The Kings,’’ its four-part documentary about the nine-year round-robin between Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, and Thomas Hearns, probably the greatest non-heavyweight rivalry in boxing history.
Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Over the course of one night, the good people at Showtime will present both the best boxing has to offer and the worst it can scrape up.
“It’s an unfortunate bit of scheduling,’’ admitted Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime sports who is both an executive producer of “The Kings,’’ and the ringmaster of what he ruefully admitted was “a circus.’’
“I get it that maybe this is offensive to the boxing purists that we count as our core audience,’’ Espinoza said. “But I think it’s two completely different audiences. I see it as a fun spectacle that no one is taking too seriously.’’
No one but Logan Paul, who has one professional boxing match — a loss to another YouTuber — on his resume but is guaranteed a reported $20 million to “fight’’ Mayweather, which is precisely double the amount Roberto Duran made for his most lucrative bout, his epic win over Leonard in 1980 that set The Kings era into motion.
Douchebaggery, of course, has always sold well in boxing, and in the real world, and this “bout’’ between Paul and Mayweather could well be billed as for the Shitbag Championship of the World, a title Mayweather retained when he stopped McGregor, himself a shitbag of the first magnitude, in 10 phony-baloney rounds in August 2017.
If Mayweather-McGregor was a smackdown of a would-be Johnny Rotten, Mayweather-Paul is going to be the spanking of a low-rent Jeff Spicoli.
Paul naturally qualified for the first shot at the crown with a lifetime in which he has desperately sought fame through, well, being a douchebag. Mayweather, of course, brings his own credentials, having a long and well-documented history of abusing wives and girlfriends.
Really, the only satisfying outcome a reasonable person could hope for in Mayweather-Paul is a double knockout.
Since 2015, when he “discovered’’ the YouTube path to fame and fortune, Paul has managed to offend women, the families of suicide victims, the LGTBQ community, the Flat Earth crowd, the ingesters of Tide Pods, the owners of tropical fish and the keepers of pet rats.
And if rewarding Logan Paul with a one-night payday roughly equal to every purse Smokin’ Joe Frazier earned in his entire career wasn’t irritating enough, Espinoza and Showtime have also signed his brother, Jake Paul, to fight Tyron Woodley, an MMA has-been who has been soundly beaten four times since his last win in 2018.
Clearly, Showtime is determined to tie up the highly-coveted Douchebag Demographic.
After all, Logan Paul has 23 million YouTube subscribers and another six million Twitter followers. Jake brings another 20 million YouTubers to the table.
“I think I’m a little old to explain their appeal, but I understand the business that they do,’’ Espinoza said. “They have a legion of fans. It is a good business decision.’’
But under prodding, Espinoza, 51, allowed as how, “As a society, maybe we should ask ourselves who we are rewarding, and why?’’
Espinoza will shelve that question until June 7 at the earliest. Judging by the success of previous freak shows — Mayweather-McGregor drew a reported 4 million-plus pay-per-view buys and an exhibition between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones (NOT a Showtime debacle) drew 1.6 million — there is little doubt about which of Sunday night’s attractions will pull in more eyeballs.
And that is a shame, because “The Kings’’ is a marvelous documentary, crammed full of great fight footage, candid interviews with the main attractions, and just enough historical context to remind you of what a mess the world was in the late 70s and early 80s.
And yet, it is being forced to serve as the undercard to a sparring session between a middle-aged former champion and a guy who couldn’t fight his way out of a Santa Monica tea room. Logan Paul fights with his hands down, his head up, and swings his arms like someone slinging a laundry basket. If Mayweather doesn’t KO him in the first round, he should be sent for neurological testing.
“If there’s anyone to blame for this, blame social media,’’ Espinoza said.
I prefer to blame the enablers.
Blame Espinoza, who crossed over to the dark side by giving a plum Showtime main event to McGregor, who, despite having no qualifications for the job, was guaranteed $30 million and may have pocketed as much as $100 million after all the PPV loot was divvied up.
Blame Mayweather, who could have canceled McGregor and put an end to the myth of any equivalency between real boxing and its comic-strip cousin by blasting out its biggest name. Instead, he carried McGregor for nine rounds, creating the impression in the feeble-minded that McGregor could actually make it in boxing, too.
And blame the current-day boxing public, who can’t tell the difference between Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather but surely knows the difference between Logan and Jake.
One guy who can tell the difference is Duran, who is being trotted out by Showtime to hype The Kings. Duran admitted to me that he hadn’t yet bothered to watch a single episode of it, but will watch Mayweather-Paul, although he doesn’t expect to see much of a fight.
“If this was a tough fight, Mayweather wouldn’t be taking it,’’ he said.
Espinoza, however, said he hardly expects Showtime’s core boxing fans to turn out in force. “I think our boxing audience is sophisticated enough to know what this is,’’ he said. “They won’t be tuning in.’’
To the suits at Showtime, Mayweather-Paul is the main event. But real fight fans see it for what it is: A walkout bout.