TWO famous people want to have a boxing match and boxing, rather than show them the door, the rulebook or the back of its hand, will once again spread its legs, roll out the red carpet and allow them to do their worst at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, on November 9.
Two years after Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor took us for an expensive ride in Las Vegas, YouTube stars KSI and Logan Paul are set for a professional boxing match and there’s nothing you, I or anybody else can do to stop it.
Paul, according to Wikipedia, which is as far as my research will stretch, is “an American internet personality, actor, director and musician. He first gained fame through videos shared on former internet video service Vine, later moving to Facebook and YouTube after the platform’s shutdown.” KSI, meanwhile, can be summed up as follows: “Olajide William ‘JJ’ Olatunji, better known as KSI, a shortened version of his online alias KSIOlajideBT, is a British YouTuber, internet personality, actor, rapper and professional boxer.”
KSI, 26, and Paul, 24, have history, by the way. In August 2018, they squared off in a ludicrous and lucrative white-collar bout, which, because it ended in a draw, opened the door to an equally ludicrous and lucrative rematch. That is just one of the reasons why boxing now lingers beside them like an old pervert but the primary one is this: 20.4 million YouTube subscribers for KSI and 19.7 million for Logan Paul; 16.3 million Instagram followers for Paul and 6.5 million for KSI; 5 million Twitter followers apiece.
They are popular and successful, then, the numbers don’t lie. Yet to offer the pair’s move into pro boxing as proof the sport is thriving is to say journalism currently thrives because lots of people are writing tweets and sharing news on Facebook. It’s an illusion, nothing more.
For if boxing truly was thriving it would be more inclined to treat a scenario like this with the contempt it deserves. Like your condescending big brother, it would encourage it, pat both boys on the back and wish them luck before ultimately turning the other cheek and leaving them to it. But no, not boxing. Other sports have the luxury of behaving this way, but not boxing.
If, for instance, KSI and Logan Paul fancied having a race in a couple of cars, it’s hard to envisage Formula One bosses saving them a spot on the track ahead of a Grand Prix. Similarly, if the duo wanted a knockabout with tennis rackets, it’s unlikely the All England Club would grant them freedom of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
Athletics, too. Back in July, Logan Paul hosted the Challenger Games at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, California, but sold it as the ‘YouTube Olympics’. Consequently, no one confused ‘internet celebrities’ sprinting in spikes with the actual Olympics. There were no Olympians on track. Nobody had to turn ‘pro’. It was harmless stuff because it stayed in its lane.
Boxing, on the other hand, is famously welcoming and will always attract and entertain opportunities like this. A fistfight, after all, is a language universal. It doesn’t take much to understand what one entails, and it doesn’t take a lot more to set one up.
What’s more, everything in boxing is assessed in the context of it making business sense – or making rich people richer – rather than in the context of the damage it might do to the sport’s reputation and its need to be taken seriously.
But these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. An event like this, for example, can and will do both. It can be an inspired business move for a fortunate few and it can also represent another stain on a sport forever trying to scrub itself clean in an empty bath.
“Thirteen months ago when the first (KSI vs. Paul) fight took place I smirked and pondered how embarrassing it would be to stage this event in a 20,000-seater arena,” said promoter Eddie Hearn. “What I saw was a phenomenon; a sold-out arena, over one million pay-per-view buys, but, more importantly, an energy of a new audience to the sport of boxing.
“When I was asked to be involved in the rematch it got me excited, but I had some requests to help integrate the two audiences. I requested that both fighters turn professional and undergo the same medicals any other fighter would. I asked that the fighters lose the headguards and use 10oz gloves. If we are going to do this, let’s do it properly.
“This event will be huge, a world championship card beneath an event that will create a hype for boxing not seen in the US for a long time.”
The need to integrate two audiences is relevant only because professional boxers will be competing on the same card as those playing dress-up. (As a standalone fight, there would be no crossover, meaning no need for integration.) Even so, one suspects boxing fans will have zero interest in the YouTube fight and, equally, disciples of KSI, 0-0 (0), and Logan Paul, 0-0 (0), will turn a blind eye to Billy Joe Saunders, 28-0 (13), outboxing someone for 12 rounds on the undercard.
Talk of a new audience, therefore, will remain just that. There will be a sizeable one, no question, but not an audience designed to support boxing in the future. It will instead be a gathering of youngsters the brain trust at DAZN hope will be too distracted or forgetful to cancel their subscription after purchasing the event.
Which is why, rather than consulting beneficiaries for insight, you’re better off canvassing the opinion of boxers. Real ones. Angry ones. Not KSI and Logan Paul but the ones left behind. The boxers who juggle selling tickets to justify their place on a bill with the hard training necessary to keep them safe on fight night. The boxers resigned to stomaching paydays so paltry they often have to pursue a day job.
Boxers like Maxi Hughes, for instance, who took to social media to write: “This mocks everything us fighters do. (We) give our life to the sport to achieve our dreams and two silly c***s come in from (the) internet and headline a televised show probably earning a fortune.” And ex boxers like Tyler Goodjohn, who followed with this: “Professional boxing has officially sold the f**k out!!! @KSIOlajidebt & @LoganPaul are disrespecting every young kid that dreamt of being a pro boxer one day after a tough amateur career and they’re gonna make millions doing it #Disgraceful.”
It upsets them and other boxers only because they care. And they care because they realise there is more to boxing than pay-per-view events and famous names and because they see boxing – the concept, the business – making people money but fear these people, the fortunate few, aren’t necessarily boxers.