A Brief History of Celebrity Boxing

by James Murphy in Entertainment  / June 30, 2019

  • There’s a ton of ‘buzz’ about a proposed fight between Justin Bieber and Tom Cruise.
  • It’s unclear what Bieber’s ‘beef’ is with Cruise or if it is just a PR stunt.
  • Inexplicably, UFC President Dana White is giving the ‘fight’ a veneer of legitimacy.

Every year there’s at least a couple of incidents of celebrities at various levels of stardom ‘calling each other out’ or otherwise proposing some type of formal fight. The most recent is the downright bizarre Tom Cruise v. Justin Bieber fight which looks more like a PR grab by Bieber and Dana White of all people than a legit fight. Cruise and his people have been silent throughout the process and until that changes there’s not going to be a fight regardless of the histrionics of Team Beebs and Dana White. A couple of years ago, it was Chris Brown vs. Soulja Boy and that ‘beef’ got Floyd Mayweather involved until he was distracted by more interesting and lucrative pursuits.

Although it sounds like the proposed Justin Bieber vs. Tom Cruise bout (I’m ashamed to even be writing that line) is slated to be a MMA fight the celebrity scraps to date have all been boxing matches. This no doubt has the Marquess of Queensberry rolling over in his grave. Celebrity boxing is a lot like having sex outdoors. It sounds like it might be harmless fun and potentially very exciting. In reality, it ends up being a miserable experience and more trouble than it’s worth. If you know anything about boxing you know that there’s nothing worse than watching two untrained combatants try to box each other. The Q scores of the bumbling would-be pugilists doesn’t negate this fact.

THE CELEBRITY BOXING ‘BOOM’ OF THE EARLY 2000S

For some inexplicable reason, celebrity boxing became a ‘thing’ in the early 2000’s thanks to two TV specials that featured matches between what can be charitably be referred to as ‘C-List’ celebrities. The ‘fighters’ were matched due to some sort of perceived ‘heat’ or ‘rivalry’ between them–for example, Danny Bonaduce (who played a kid on the ‘Partridge Family’ TV show) faced Barry Williams (who played the oldest son Greg on the ‘Brady Bunch’). For what it’s worth, Bonaduce dominated Williams and knocked him down five times before his corner mercifully threw in the towel. The two shows generated the same type of curiosity as a big traffic accident involving semi trucks on the highway but there’s little to suggest that there was any serious interest. The fact that TV Guide rated it #6 on their list of the ‘Worst TV Shows of All Time’ is really all you need to know. If you’re interested in watching this dumpster fire there’s plenty of footage online. If you’re curious, here’s the list of matches from the two ‘Celebrity Boxing’ specials:

Danny Bonaduce vs. Barry Williams
Todd Bridges vs. Vanilla Ice
Paula Jones vs. Tonya Harding
Darva Conger vs. Olga Korbut
Dustin Diamond vs. Ron Palillo
Manute Bol vs. William Perry
Joey Buttafuoco vs. Joanie “Chyna” Laurer

The first thing you’ll notice is that all are way down the celebrity food chain. That added a ‘desperation vibe’ that made the entire fiasco come off as cruel and exploitative. The boxing (assuming it deserves to be called that) was miserable and the participants wore headgear and oversized gloves.

For all of the social media beefs and fight challenges there’s really not much in the way of ‘celebrity MMA’ that has actually taken place. Former baseball slugger Jose Canseco fought legit 7’3″ K-1/MMA fighter Hong Man Choi in Japan. Not surprisingly, Canseco didn’t fare particularly well.

James Murphy

James Murphy is a preeminent authority on the international gambling industry and has made frequent appearances in the mainstream media including the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes, Entertainment Weekly, CNBC and NPR. He has previously worked as a radio and podcasting host where he broadcast to an international audience that depended on his expertise and advice. Murphy also serves as an odds making consultant for sports and ‘non-sport novelty bets’ covering the entertainment industry, politics, technology, financial markets and just about everything else.

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