Among YouTube influencers and to his legion of fans, Logan Paul is something of an institution, his fame undimmed no matter how many tasteless viral stunts he pulls. But at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, the cartoonish, blond bohunk might as well not exist. To them, he’s a tomato can.
The venerable institution serves as a touchstone to the sport’s glory days and the oldest temple to the sweet science still standing in New York City. Paul has entered their purview because of his presence in what promises to be one of the highest-generating pay-per-view fights of the year, no matter how little it resembles a real match. On Sunday, he’ll take on the undefeated and now-retired boxing legend Floyd Mayweather at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida.
The rejected Flat Earth conspiracist has boxed before—a beef-settling 2018 defeat at the hands of YouTuber Olajide Olayinka Williams Olatunji, better known as KSI. Carnival-like silliness or not, the fight raked in millions of dollars and an eight-figure audience. So why not repeat the formula? Paul’s opponent has never been known to turn down an attention-grabbing payday either, particularly when Mayweather has been short on funds.
If this spectacle represents a shameless new low for the sport, it’s worth recalling that the same was said back in April. That meme-ready fight pitted Paul’s infamous e-celebrity brother Jake against a retired UFC fighter. (Donald Trump Jr. was an ardent booster.) Despite multiple women accusing Jake of sexual misconduct, per an investigation by The New York Times, it didn’t stop Showtime from inking him to a multi-fight deal in May. Naturally the cable network is broadcasting the Mayweather-Paul tilt, too.
Paul won’t prevail on Sunday, of course, but in reality he can’t lose. Because this isn’t a competition; it’s a performance—one for which he and Mayweather will both be very well compensated, even if the pros and die-hard fans don’t seem inclined to watch their sport turned into a sideshow.
Bruce Silverglade is the owner of Gleason’s Gym. For 80 years, boxing legends, strivers, and enthusiasts alike have worked the same heavy bags and maybe taken one on the chin. It’s been located in Dumbo since 1987, thanks to a generous reduction in rent provided by the real estate developer David Walentas. At the time, the more or less abandoned section of North Brooklyn barely qualified as a neighborhood. Silverglade wasn’t the only beneficiary of Walentas’ largesse. The billionaire developer had been buying up gobs of then-relatively worthless properties in Dumbo starting in the late 1970s. Until all the rezoning permits came through, Walentas provided industrial spaces to artists and other cultural institutions for little to no cost. It was in many ways the first attempt at planned gentrification, and a successful one at that. Walentas’ grand scheme took a few decades to bear fruit, but Dumbo is now home to some of the pricier, more desirable zip codes and Gleason’s is situated a hop, skip, and a jump away from one of the most Instagram-ready spots in the country.
The COVID-19 regulations had put a crimp on Silverglade’s business over the past year—not just the social-distancing rules but the reduction in tourism, which also helped keep his head above water. Masked attendance on this day is sparse.
“He’s been very nice to me and has been over the years,” Silverglade said of Walentas. Paying the bills on time has meant turning to the banks for loans. Nowadays, “The rent isn’t what it used to be.”
On a Wednesday afternoon, the 75-year old Silverglade was tucked into his back office, surrounded by stacks of medical tape, file folders, half-opened boxing equipment, and gobs of boxing memorabilia, including a championship belt perched on the top shelf. While he knew Mayweather would be fighting an amateur, that represented the bulk of his knowledge about Paul. He called him a “disk jockey” at first, before settling on the correct job description: influencer.
I mentioned a few of Paul’s past indiscretions—the much-criticized trip to Japan gawking at a suicide victim, the botched apology tour, and ongoing fame. Silverglade shrugged. As someone who’s seen the best and absolute worst the sport has to offer, Mayweather scoring a huge purse in exchange for keeping an amateur upright for a few rounds didn’t rankle him much. He planned to watch, maybe. “For a boxing fan and a sportsman, it’s worthless,” he said.
What kind of harm Mayweather might inflict was a concern, though. “Is he an athlete?” Silverglade asked. No, I replied, but he did, by all appearances, seem to be in good physical condition. Silverglade wasn’t impressed. Paul has a serious size advantage over Mayweather, and is definitely younger, but at least Conor McGregor was a pro athlete.
“You know, you die in the ring,” he said. Pick a sport, any sport. No matter how little intended physical contact, injuries are a necessary byproduct. Often they’re permanent. Combat sports like boxing are another matter altogether. He’s sure the Florida Boxing Commission is aware of the risks. The rules put in place for the exhibition—no judging, eight rounds in total, no winner declared—seem to suggest as much. That said, sometimes events can spiral out of control. “I have fellas on the wall here,” he said gesturing at the 8×10 glossies and faded promotional posters that stretch to the ceiling of his office, “that died in the ring.”
Carlos Acevedo, a boxing reporter and editor at Hannibal Boxing, said via email that Mayweather may drag the proceedings out to ensure the hoi polloi doesn’t get too riled up after shilling out $49.99 in pay-per-view fees. (Back when he fought UFC star Conor McGregor in 2017, Mayweather boasted he’d done as much.)
“All Mayweather needs is muscle memory to embarrass Paul,” said Acevedo. “But the script might call for something a little more subtle. After all, Mayweather learned a lot about kayfabe from his short stint in the WWE.”
Lack of skill or not, Paul has mastered one ancillary part of the gig: drawing attention to himself. A clip of Jake making a big show of grabbing a hat off Mayweather’s dome and the ensuing pseudo-brawl during a May press conference got people talking. Naturally, Mayweather threatened Jake and Logan responded in turn. Paul has since promised in varying ways that he’d shock the world, or that he’d “decapitate” Mayweather in round one. Both brothers continued to needle Mayweather, insisting that profits equaled legitimacy, and he needed them more than they were gaining anything by taking on the ex-champion.
Exhibitions like these fit in snugly with the entirety of boxing’s less-than-storied history, Hamilton Nolan, a longtime boxing writer for Deadspin and HBO Boxing and writer for In These Times Magazine, told me over the phone. For example, while still in the prime of his career, the great Muhammad Ali danced around with the legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. That same year, heavyweight Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner lost to Andre the Giant, a battle that was quasi-recreated onscreen by Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan in Rocky III.
Though it didn’t grab nearly as many eyeballs as the McGregor fight (various interested parties are still bandying about the idea of a rematch), Mayweather trekked across the globe in 2019 to take on Tenshin Nasukawa, a popular Japanese kickboxer some 20 years his junior. The match in Tokyo lasted about 90-odd seconds and put another $9 million in his pocket, according to Mayweather at least.
Jake Paul knows the score, too. In between mumbling to The Daily Beast about COVID-19 being a “hoax,” he clocked undersized former NBA player Nate Robinson. It was kind of sad but if you’ve got $10 million lying around, the moment when Robinson lands face-first on the canvas can be purchased as an NFT. So no, boxing hasn’t hit rock bottom. “The nadir of boxing was probably when the mob was fixing all the fights,” said Nolan.
Back at Gleason’s, trainers and aspiring boxers are less willing to give Mayweather the benefit of the doubt. Mayweather’s unreconstructed misogyny, history of domestic violence, and his open homophobia didn’t come up. They were, however, irked by the disrespect Mayweather was showing to the sport, though they begrudgingly understood his motivations.
“It’s an insult to fighters. Real fighters that come here and shed blood, sweat, and tears…”
Raul Frank stands perched just outside the ring. The Georgetown, Guyana-born Brooklynite has been a fixture at Gleason’s since 1989. He reached No. 1 overall in the USBA rankings in 1997 before switching to training when his career came to an end. “This is my home,” he said. Solidly built and sporting a full, bushy black beard, he said of Mayweather-Paul: “It’s an insult to fighters. Real fighters that come here and shed blood, sweat, and tears,” without getting anything close to the kind of recognition—let alone money—netted by Paul.
Another Gleason’s fixture, Delen Parsley (“aka Blimp,” he stressed) has trained 18 world champions and was seated on a small stool with his arms crossed. “I love this crazy-ass game,” he said, but won’t be tuning in on Sunday. “Why would I pay for such nonsense like that? They’re killing the game. Killing the game!”
The brutal calculus is undeniable. “$100 million just for fighting a guy on the computer. Would you do it?” asked Parsley. (Mayweather will reportedly earn $10 million plus half of the pay-per-view buys.) I said yes, if someone handed me that big a check I probably would be OK with getting beaten to a bloody pulp. Nolan agreed. “99.9 percent of the people who try to do this are going to take much more damage than they get any financial reward,” he said. So if Mayweather wants to take part in a “circus stunt,” more power to him.
Where Parsley differed from everyone else I spoke with, however, is he was impressed by Paul’s ability to throw a punch and the power behind it. He’s friendly with the pros that Paul has been training with, and says the YouTuber is putting in the work required to go the distance. Most objective observers and the oddsmakers aren’t giving Paul a puncher’s chance, ample size and age advantages notwithstanding. And if this is a grift—as most seemed to agree—well, even the suckers are deserving of some empathy.
“The only people I feel for are the Logan Paul superfans,” said Nolan. “They’re the ones who are getting ripped off.”