KSI v Logan Paul II: Intrigue surrounding the biggest boxing event of 2019
Two YouTubers with a following of 40 million headline a sold-out event in Los Angeles - but what affect will it have on the sport?
On Saturday night at a packed-out Staples Center in Los Angeles, the biggest boxing event of the year will take place. A card featuring two world championship fights will be headlined by two global superstars with genuine disdain for each other. Eddie Hearn, the promoter of the event, has said that pre-buy figures for pay-per-view are “absolutely huge on all platforms”.
Yet, this is not any typical boxing mega-event. The global superstars heading the bill are not world champions but two YouTubers competing in their first professional fights.
KSI and Logan Paul II, with a combined 40 million subscribers on their YouTube channels, will settle their long-standing grudge within the confines of the squared circle. The pair have faced off before, in an amateur fight in August last year that generated an estimated – and eye-watering – £150 million (Dh 710m). There were more than one million pay-per-view buys on the dedicated YouTube channel.
For many it is nothing short of flabbergasting how two entertainers of limited boxing skill and experience – one made famous for uploading video game clips, the other for tasteless frat-boy pranks – can attract that much interest and revenue.
Except this time the stakes are even higher. It will be a fully licensed pro fight over six rounds, so no head guards and lighter gloves thus increasing the chance of a knockout. It will not be broadcast on YouTube, but Sky Sports Box Office in the UK and DAZN in the United States.
The interest from within the YouTube community is at obsessive levels, from the wider boxing and sports public, one of intrigue. Either way, millions will be tuning in to watch the spectacle.
Unsurprisingly, it has caused plenty of debate within the boxing community, even when setting aside concerns over how the California State Athletic Commission even agreed to license this fight in the first place, given the grave dangers boxing presents even for the most experienced of fighters.
There are many who oppose the fight, believing that it cheapens the sport and provides a slap in the face of many far more skillful boxers who would never be able to earn what KSI and Paul stand to make on Saturday.
“I think it makes a mockery of the sport in that these two YouTubers are headlining a big show,” world champion Katie Taylor said this week.
Acclaimed British boxing pundit Steve Bunce wrote on Twitter: "I had no trouble pushing Paul v KSI when it was a prank ... It’s trickier now that they are in my business – a business of honourable and hardened professional boxers. There should be no shortcuts."
These are sentiments shared by many boxing fans, yet equally there are plenty within the sport who view this as a golden opportunity to get boxing in front of a new audience.
Britain's Billy Joe Saunders, one of two world champions fighting on the undercard, actually sees this event as a chance to raise his profile in the United States.
"I'm far from insulted," Saunders told IFL TV. "If I can nick maybe 5,000 new fans then financially it's a pretty good bill to be on."
Devin Haney, the other world champion on the bill, also sees the benefit of fighting on a bill that is sure to have millions of viewers, saying: “I knew who they were from the last fight they did: the numbers they generated and how much buzz they got so I was with it right when [promoter Hearn] brought it to me.”
Most tellingly is the u-turn of Hearn between the first fight and now. Last year, the head of Matchroom Boxing insisted: “I don’t think I could stand up there and sell, and be a part of that.”
Now on the inside and standing to earn millions for his company, Hearn's tune has changed, describing the August 2018 exhibition bout as “a phenomenon, a sold-out arena, more than 1m pay-per-view buys but more importantly an energy of a new audience to the sport of boxing".
Whether KSI v Logan Paul actually generates any new long-term boxing fans is debatable. After all, these two fighters are not delivering a premium product and many of the millions tuning will be far more interested in who gains bragging rights than the method of how those bragging rights are gained. It could be settled over a game of paintball and it would still generate millions of views and dollars.
Essentially boxing will likely neither benefit nor be adversely affected by this event, which should be treated for what it is: an entertainment spectacle.
Updated: November 8, 2019 10:37 AM