KSI vs. Logan Paul II fight: How two YouTube sensations are taking on the boxing world
The pair of Internet stars are hoping to grow their brands on Saturday night in Los Angeles
For better or worse as it pertains to the world of professional boxing, a pair of world-renown internet personalities will trade punches in a fight that's all but guaranteed to draw equal measures of attention and derision from those loyal to the sweet science.
With a combined following of over 40 million subscribers on YouTube, Logan Paul and Olajide "JJ" Olatunji (better known as KSI) have each looked at Saturday's six-round cruiserweight bout in Los Angeles (9 p.m. ET, DAZN) as an opportunity to settle a grudge and launch the winner closer to his dream of becoming the biggest entertainer in the world.
The sport of boxing, meanwhile, has traded a portion of its soul in exchange for renting the fame and attention of the social media superstars in hopes of financial gain, which has for so long been a combat sports tradition (see pro wrestler CM Punk's UFC career) that it would be hypocritical to complain.
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Only in the carnival world of the fight game could a professional event involving celebrity amateurs take over top billing as a virtual pay-per-view main event in 2019 -- and force actual professionals to want to be part of it.
So how exactly did we get here?
KSI, a 26-year-old native of London who has also dabbled in both gaming and hip hop, chose to settle a grudge with fellow British YouTube Joe Weller in a 2017 amateur boxing match that drew 1.6 million live viewers and 21 million in the first day alone on YouTube. Following his third-round TKO win, KSI called out Paul, the 24-year-old from Westlake, Ohio.
Paul, an aspiring actor who has drawn plenty of controversy for the content of his YouTube clips, claimed the feud never became personal until the press conference ahead of their August 2018 amateur bout in Manchester, England, when KSI heckled him on a personal issue the two had agreed would be off the record publicly.
Their six-round bout headlined a sold-out card at Manchester Arena comprising of fellow YouTube stars, including a match between the younger brothers of the main eventers. Most surprising about the majority draw (57-57 twice, 58-57 for KSI) between Paul and KSI was how much it got onto the radar of mainstream boxing after promoter Eddie Hearn reluctantly took part.
Priced competitively at $10, the PPV was also a huge smash and did just short of the reported 1.1 million buys that the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin middleweight title rematch did the following month. Maybe even more importantly as to how we got to Saturday, the fighters also showed a great amount of respect for the sport with a performance that looked like anything but the kind of toughman contest or celebrity boxing shown previously on American television.
"We absolutely did shock the world," Paul told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast last month. "When you hear a YouTuber fight is going to be taking place, you think it's going to be some kind of circus pony and horse act, but we literally trained for six months straight, two times a day, and came out and looked like an actual fighter."
For the rematch, both fighters agreed to do it the right way, which means under professional terms. The headgear has been taken off. Both fighters will wear 10-ounce gloves and be subject to the same drug testing and medical screening by the California State Athletic Commission as fighters like Haney and Saunders.
The initial reaction within the boxing world when the fight was announced was split.
"I'm getting it from both sides and a lot of people think this is ridiculous because they have trained all of their lives to get to this point and we just skipped and have gone straight to the top point," KSI told CBS Sports last week. "I understand that."
For everything the fighters have done to act the part of professional to gain respect from the boxing regime (and make their version of celebrity fighting look anything but amateur), they have done just as much to ruin said goodwill.
KSI mocked Paul's dead dog during the initial press conference (streamed live on DAZN) to announce the fight. Paul countered by bringing his mother out to "confirm" that KSI was lacking key male genitalia before both devolved into hand gestures more appropriate in a middle school locker room. The last straw for boxing itself seemed to be when both bragged in recent weeks about knocking out pro fighters in sparring.
"Getting out of hand some the shit I am seeing and reading these YouTubers say about professional boxing," former junior middleweight champion Liam Smith wrote on social media. "Have you fight, then fight a proper boxer, otherwise take your money, your big viewers and f--- off. Making a show of our sport what people have dedicated there lives for."
Some just haven't been able to get past the idea of supporting a public figure like Paul who nearly had his YouTube channel deleted in early 2018 following outcry over his insensitivity toward suicide victims when he uploaded a vlog in Japan showing a recently deceased corpse hanging from a tree.
"There is definitely a perception of Logan Paul when you hear the name and aren't subscribed to any of my content," Paul said. "I definitely play the villain online except in this fight, I think it's safe to say KSI is also a villain. This is not a villain and hero story. This is two characters who are larger than life with egos growing out of their body and it's going to be a day of reckoning."
DAZN, the all-sports streaming app which has spent hundreds of millions to disrupt the boxing market by signing big stars and announcing it has "killed PPV," believes broadcasting the fight will be a big boon to subscription. In all reality, it probably will, especially considering DAZN's affordable entry of $19.99 for a single month.
Both fighters have revealed talks about future fights on DAZN provided Saturday's rematch does well. Paul, who was an accomplished amateur wrestler, is also hoping the attention he gets leads to his dream of fighting in the UFC.
Yet despite all of the circus nature surrounding the fight, both aren't certain their careers can survive a loss on a stage this big. It's part of the reason why both have trained at such an extreme level.
"My whole career [is at stake] essentially because everything has come to this point," KSI said. "If I lose this, I'm going to be a laughing piece for years and years and maybe for the rest of my life. I'm going to have to see memes of me getting knocked down or out and I'm going to have to see countless videos of people tormenting me. It's not like a normal boxing fight where you fight and win or that's it and nothing else really happens. It's constant reminding of what happened.
"With this fight, I want to use it to push my music career and YouTube career. It just allows me to push to a new level. That's why I spent hundreds of thousands to make sure I'm in the best position to beat Logan Paul."
It may come as no surprise that both fighters believe they won the first meeting and each has guaranteed a knockout (or in Paul's case, "murder") in the rematch. So who wins?
Paul established himself as the more credible boxer last August but gave KSI respect for rallying by turning the bout into more of a brawl. This time both have improved their craft considerably yet the removal of headgear likely means this celebrity slugfest comes down to who can land the biggest punch first.
"Imagine two villains with the biggest egos in the world going head to head where their first match was a tie," Paul said. "This is the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder II, this is that fight. We are going to go f---ing ham and cheese and I'm going to hurt this man badly. It's going to be f---ing biblical."
In the co-main event of this card will be WBO super middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders defending his title against Marcelo Coceres. Plus, WBC lightweight champ Devin Haney returns to take on Alfredo Alvarez in a key showdown at 130 pounds.
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