Name the four belts Anthony Joshua currently holds. Too tough? Ok, name the one belt Tyson Fury won from Deontay Wilder on February 22nd. You can’t? Don’t worry, few can. More importantly, fewer still care.
Belts come from a bygone, pre-internet era when physical things still mattered. People collected Panini football stickers, traded baseball cards and glued newspaper cuttings in scrapbooks. They were physical, tangible items in a world were information and connectivity was scarce. You saw your boxing heroes when they fought, possibly twice a year, and you prayed every day when you opened the newspaper that there would be a story you could cut out and keep. Not any more.
Today, we judge our boxers as much on their characteristics as their victories. Social media allows us to tune in and follow our heroes all day, every day, everywhere, forever. We can see them, hear them, and more often than not, talk directly to them during live chats.
The hero judging system has changed. We don’t care how many belts they have, we are interested in how many followers they have and what platforms they are on.
This Saturday, Anthony Joshua fights Kubrat Pulev for Joshua’s WBO, WBA and IBF belts. Sure, the belts look good hanging off the big man, but is that the reason you’re going to tune in and watch the fight? Of course it’s not.
Now, think about this. Instead of belts, both men fight for ownership of each other’s social media channels. If Pulev wins, he collects Joshua’s 14.6 million followers and is allowed to delete AJ’s accounts. Now it’s interesting.
The entire world would tune in to watch AJ’s Instagram account disappear under Pulev’s victorious thumb. That’s genuine jeopardy, and it’s something anyone under the age of forty can understand. Non title fights could simply be for ownership of one platform, or maybe they even fight for each other's brand endorsements - Pulev gets to be the face of Lynx if he knocks AJ out, that sort of thing.
Or he gets to post a fake watch advert every ten minutes to give the impression it’s been hacked. Ok, we’re getting carried away now, but you get the point. It’s 2020, not 1920, and the fans want more than just a decent streaming service, they want a sport that relates to their everyday concerns. And that isn’t a big stinking leather belt that you can see from space.