When the great Muhammad Ali changed the face of professional boxing, most fight fans didn’t even own a color television. Ali used the power of the media to build his own persona in the ring, even though his options were severely limited by today’s standards.
In the modern day, television still has a part to play in press conferences and in weigh ins, both of which have the potential to be as entertaining as the fight itself. However, it’s social media that has revolutionized the way fights are promoted, whether it’s boxing, MMA or any other form of combat sports.
The Best of Ali
Muhammad Ali was responsible for some of the most memorable press conferences in boxing history. It’s almost impossible to find a winner but the pre-fight briefing with Joe Frazier ahead of their 1971 match up takes some beating.
(Ali knew how to taunt his opponent)
Smokin’ Joe played his part in a conference that was based on true trash talk but Ali was the undoubted star of the show. He set up the fight as a case of a good amateur taking on a real professional and the scene was duly set.
Frazier has his say but Ali rules the day with his ad libs and sharp comebacks. It was pure theatre and, while Muhammad Ali was already comfortable in front of the cameras, this was one of his finest moments.
Press Conferences Peak
Fast forward to the present day and the antics of the Paul brothers have taken pre-fight press conferences to a whole new level. As YouTuber turned boxer Logan Paul prepared to face down the great Floyd Mayweather, sibling Jake stepped in and stole Mayweather’s hat.
It was playground stuff, pretty embarrassing in the eyes of most people and the champion boxer did well not to overreact. It didn’t end well for Jake Paul, however, as Mayweather’s security staff grabbed him and Jake took some surface damage.
The Paul / Mayweather incident highlights perfectly the role that social media has to play in boxing and other combat sports. In fact, here we had a man who had made a living as a social media star and the exposure was enhanced by YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest.
Benefits All Round
The pre-fight press conference and the weigh in may be seen as an entertaining sideshow but both have an important role to play in the promotion of the fight. MMA and Boxing are big business, and the battle will always attract a huge audience but the promoters have a duty to maximize that potential.
It’s not just about the people in the arena: The biggest match ups of them all are picked up by Pay Per View television which adds considerable revenue to the overall fight income. Side industries such as merchandise sales benefit, while those who like to bet online will always be drawn to the big events.
We’ve seen how YouTube can directly influence the world of combat sports, but the other platforms have also played their part. Twitter is especially powerful as fighters can, and do, directly Tweet at their upcoming opponent. As with the confrontations at the conferences and weigh ins, this is designed to stir up the animosity between the two and to build expectations for the battle ahead.
Snippets of those press conferences can also be shared on Twitter and Facebook for greater notoriety.
Harnessing the Power
Muhammad Ali set the standard for pre-fight press conferences but who are the fighters who have taken on his mantle? Among those who have harnessed new media outlets to the optimum degree is Conor McGregor who is more than happy to stir up bad feeling between himself and future opponents.
The man known as ‘Notorious’ has even taken to social media to taunt the whole of the WWE. As he teased a possible appearance as a pro wrestler, McGregor claimed that he could ‘slap the head’ off their entire roster.
Another top MMA fighter to use today’s media to his advantage is Colby Covington. It’s fair to say that his comments have crossed the line at times, but Covington isn’t shy of using digital platforms to boost his notoriety and if we’re being honest, he has fabricated this personality to sell fights through the use of social media.
Over in the boxing ring, World Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury is another man with an active Twitter account. Anthony Joshua and his three-time opponent Deontay Wilder have previously been caught in the sights of the Gypsy King.
All Publicity is Good Publicity
Boxing purists and those with long memories may find it distasteful to see two boxers start the fight before they even enter the boxing ring. Weigh ins and press conferences can have a tendency to descend into chaos so is it all going too far?
Opinion will be split on that question, but today’s crop of boxers and mixed martial artists certainly know how to harness the power of publicity. Many are as talented on the keyboard as they are in the ring or the Octagon.