The Beltline: Interviewing boxers in the age of clickbait, content and no context
Portsmouth’s Michael McKinson will be in Texas this weekend to fight Vergil Ortiz Jnr, one of boxing’s top prospects. But is McKinson an easy fighter to ignore? asks Elliot Worsell
ALTHOUGH little of what boxers write on social media is readable, insightful, or tasteful, once in a while, if you look long and hard enough, you might be surprised.
Last week, for example, Portsmouth welterweight Michael McKinson took to one of various social media platforms to tweet that he was “going to start respectfully refusing interviews” and my attention has been for once attracted. Of course, that had as much to do with the shocking nature of the tweet as anything else (a trick of tweeters in general), but there was also, I realized, despair in McKinson’s statement, seeing as it was a cry from the hallway of the asylum.
In essence, he was using Twitter, that platform people flock to when they want the world to recognize them, to complain about an interview he recently gave to one of the 1,286 YouTube boxing channels currently live. activity. He then declared, following this experience, that he was no longer going to play the game: interviews, publicity, attention, sales.
The reason for his annoyance, it seems, had less to do with the interview itself than with the fact that the interview was then cut up to be used in installments, the first of which, published last week , came in the form of a clip of McKinson discussing a potential fight between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn.
Frustrating as it must have been, the way it happened was simple: McKinson was asked the question and he then answered that question. It’s also clear to see why the question was originally asked, despite the fact that McKinson has no direct connection to Eubank Jnr or Benn. Context irrelevant in content quest he was asked about the pair simply because the prospect of Eubank Jnr vs Benn was hot at the time and because unfortunately Michael McKinson discussing Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn is renowned by those looking for clicks to be a far more enticing prospect than Michael McKinson discussing his next fight.
Why? Contents. That’s all.
No less ruinous than the other C-word, most now know that content only leads to saycontents. Never art. Never insight. Never something worth keeping or caring about. In fact, Martin Scorsese perhaps said it best when, in an essay for Harper’s Magazine, he wrote: “As little as 15 years ago, the term ‘content’ was only heard when people were talking about cinema on a serious level, and it was contrasted and measured against form. Then, gradually, it was increasingly used by media takeovers, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that they should.
“‘Content’ has become a trade term for any moving image: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl ad, a superhero sequel, a TV episode. It was tied, of course, not to the theatrical experience but to home viewing, on streaming platforms that came to overtake the cinematic experience, just as Amazon overtook brick-and-mortar stores.
Although ostensibly about the film industry, Scorsese’s words have a wider reach, and for someone like McKinson, 22-0 (2), a boxer trapped in a world of content, the lay of the field around 2022 is understandably infuriating. His next fight, after all, isn’t just any old fight. This is actually a fight against Vergil Ortiz Jnr, who happens to be not only one of the brightest prospects in the sport, but a man McKinson has been linked with for some time. It’s a fight with a backstory; one previously canceled when Ortiz fell ill. It’s an intriguing clash of styles. It’s the kind of fight we should enjoy, not patronize or ignore.
Yet as much as all of this is true, what is also true is that Ortiz, 18-0 (18), has yet to become a world star and McKinson, though a skilled and underrated boxer, has yet to yet to become something of a name in Great Britain. He has, for better or worse, been spared the scrutiny and attention received by the likes of Eubank Jnr and Benn and therefore not enjoyed the privileges given to sons of famous fathers. He’s had to do it the hard way instead, an approach exemplified by the fact that he’s now heading to Texas to try and beat Ortiz this Saturday (August 6).
If the lack of credit he receives for this doesn’t seem fair, it’s because, like most things in boxing, it isn’t. But that’s the reality nonetheless for a fighter like McKinson and it’s something he was no doubt reminded of when an interview about his upcoming fight was pressed until only the juice was left. : his opinion on two boxers considerably better known than him but with absolutely no interest for him.
Then again, as hurtful as it may have been, it’s one of those situations where no one is really at fault. Such is the game, the interviewer and editor weren’t wrong to cut the interview as they did in search of a headline and clicks, and McKinson wasn’t wrong either for then making a fuss and expressing his disappointment. To invent a lame phrase used in such videos, “It is what it is”, and unfortunately nowadays, in a sport in which promoters in the purest sense have disappeared, McKinson and others have been left to themselves. They focus on building professional records rather than social media and, for their lack of discernment, do not get the attention or accolades their talents deserve.
Their stories must of course be told. But how and to whom? Such is the waning power of old journalism and the different agenda of “new media” these days, it’s hard to say. Indeed, often the pre-fight press conferences, formerly places of access, formerly platforms of expression, are today sometimes entirely supported by a promoter, who will go so far as to ask questions on behalf of “media” invited to attend. In some cases, I admit, given the media that do to attend is not necessarily a wrong thing, but it still makes an amateur storyteller from a professional seller (the promoter) and finding a hook more difficult for anyone who knows how to find such things.
Even interviews sometimes fall victim to the power struggle. Recently, for example, I was asked on the day of an interview not to interview a boxer on various topics, which was, for what it’s worth, the first and only time this had happened to me in 19 years. . A polite request, it did not come from the boxer himself but rather from those who organized interviews on his behalf; that is, with no understanding of what it is to be a boxer and no understanding of what it is to be a journalist either.
It was therefore to my relief and satisfaction that the boxer, despite these stipulations, began to bring up one of the forbidden topics within five minutes of our conversation, probably doing so because (a) he wanted to settle the matter off his chest (b) our story trumped the do’s and don’ts and (c) he was smart enough to know it was a much more interesting topic to talk about and write about than his fight at come.
Rest assured, cases like that of Michael McKinson are not symptomatic of a failure on the part of a journalist or a media. They are rather symptomatic of a failure on the part of a promoter. Because who, after all, is responsible for promoting these fighters and their fights if not the promoter? Nobody. This is the answer.
However, only serving to complicate matters, the fact that the promoter’s role has arguably changed. This has changed mainly due to the rapid rise of social media, which has, in effect, allowed promoters to ease off and become complacent. Now, rather than working to promote their fighters, they prefer to stress the importance for fighters to master the art of self-promotion (do it yourself, in other words) in order to hide their own shortcomings in this area.
An art never taught, boxers typically emerge from working class backgrounds without the tools to speak in public, but over time they have been driven to believe that the only way to succeed in the sport is to seek the attention, to embrace it and monetize it. Without it, they are told, your boxing skills will not suffice. “Really?” they might ask. “Yeah,” says the promoter, invariably richer than he’ll ever be and, for some reason, ten times as many on social media. “It’s just business, I’m afraid.”
If so, the profession of promoter in the business of boxing no longer exists. In its place is just an event handler and self-promoter, someone whose main goal is to increase the visibility of their own brand in hopes that the trickle down effect will perhaps improve the lives of the many Oliver Twists who are asking for more. It’s an approach fueled entirely by hope – and therefore chance – rather than skill or effort. It’s an approach seen as new, or “new era”, in the short term, but totally unsustainable once the next generation of boxers begin to realize that to achieve this – really to do so – will require an ability to: one, take provocative selfies; two, becoming an outspoken, self-absorbed monster on social media; or three, ride a famous dad’s tailcoats. Otherwise, “You’re all alone, kid,” the promoter will tell them. “It’s like that.”