Jonathan Nagioff delves deep into the KSI vs Logan Paul rematch to ascertain whether it is good or bad for boxing
With Anthony Joshua bound for a career-determining rematch against Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia, looking to regain the heavyweight championship of the world, there is another fascinating rematch on the horizon making huge noise in the boxing world and far beyond: KSI vs Logan Paul II. Who?
There is a fine line between the so-called ‘casual’ boxing fans and the ‘hardcore’ contingent. The hardcore lot are staunch boxing followers, inherently committed to the sport, closely anticipating all fight weeks and remain committed to the careers of an Anthony Joshua for instance, instead of jumping on the gravy train for a huge Wembley title fight. Historically, this group are highly suspicious of casuals and the announcement that YouTubers, KSI (real name Olajide Olatunji) and Logan Paul will face each other in a hugely compelling November 9 rematch at Staples Center live on DAZN and promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, turning ‘professional’ in the process, has split the boxing community.
Hearn was hugely critical of the first bout between the internet sensations, which ended in a draw at the Manchester Arena last August. It was a white-collar match with both fighters wearing headguards.
However, the Matchroom boss was quickly convinced after a sell-out crowd populated the 20,000 seater arena, whilst YouTube pay-per-view figures read in excess of one million buys. Granted, the cost of the YouTube show was far cheaper than those on Sky Sports Box Office, with viewers in the UK only having to fork out £7.50, compared to £19.99.
Some boxing fans remain completely stubborn in their rejection of this event, but are they being too archaic in their reactions? And is there a genuine market for this rematch to take place under professional rules and on DAZN in the US?
A new audience can only be positive?
It is not the first-time lucrative bouts between two successful YouTubers have surfaced. KSI’s fight with former friend and fellow internet star Joe Weller back in February 2018 at the Copper Box Arena was the first of its kind and the catalyst for further internet-driven rivalries and contests. It appears, rightly or wrongly, that more and more of these grudges are being settled in a ring. There is certainly more interest in the sport than anyone could have imagined as a result. If there are more eyes on the product and boxing in general, then surely everyone’s a winner? Many would suggest the first outing between the pair would have encouraged a wave of interest in the professional scene, however, there seems very little evidence to support a shift. Yet, a highly awaited rematch can only drive more numbers and potentially a fresh audience, which also gets on board with the other professional fighters set to be on the bill. The highly charismatic and controversial two-weight world champion Billy Joe Saunders and American star Devin Haney, should he come through his fight against Zaur Abdullaev on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, are both rumoured to be on the undercard.
As far as Eddie Hearn is concerned, the fight is a no-brainer and potentially a very easy sell. In the UK, KSI is one of the highest grossing internet personalities after bursting on to the scene in 2009, meanwhile Logan Paul has a strikingly similar fanbase in the US. The pair have a combined subscriber base of almost 40 million on YouTube; frankly astonishing figures which provide a level of security that the fight will generate similar, if not higher viewing numbers than the previous bout, with the official YouTube account for the fight currently on 17 million viewers.
Disrespect to Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney?
In boxing terms, Saunders is unquestionably the highest achiever. The 30-year-old has captured world titles in two different weight divisions and, following his move from Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, the big fights he has yearned for may no longer be out of his reach. Huge money-spinning contests with the likes of middleweight future Hall of Famers Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, plus a super-middleweight unification with Callum Smith are now easier to make than ever with all fighters on the same broadcasting platform, DAZN. Some might question why Saunders is playing second fiddle to KSI and Logan Paul, who are yet to even have a professional boxing match. Lightweight contender Devin Haney is still building his profile in both the States and the UK, however he is one win away from facing pound-for-pound great Vasiliy Lomachenko, with the Californian becoming mandatory challenger to the Ukrainian genius with a win on Saturday. Haney, like Saunders, has had to put in the hard yards in both his amateur and professional career, winning seven national titles, whilst the latter competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as an 18-year-old.
All about money?
It’s perhaps a simple jibe at two of the highest earners in history from the YouTube scene. Both KSI and Logan Paul have earned fortunes from their respective channels and of course there is natural suspicion over this bout and whether it is all about the pound note. The first KSI vs Logan Paul contest raked in a reported £150m. The rematch will surely exceed this figure and for two men that have never had an amateur boxing fight, this all seems utterly ludicrous. However, who are we to question the purses these fighters are receiving, when they are putting their lives on the line. Either way, there remain question marks as to how seriously both men are taking this, but having said that a fight of this magnitude is naturally going to generate huge money, perhaps more credit should be afforded them for actually having the courage to step into the ring.
On balance, the idea that two YouTubers can command such astronomical purses and audiences should be questioned, but also commended rather than completely lambasted by the boxing community. The potential for a new wave of boxing fans is exciting for the sport and whilst the bout is not yet available to fans in the UK, Sky Sports Head of Boxing, Adam Smith, is said to be seriously considering airing it on the UK platform. Only time will tell if the show has the long-lasting impact it hypothetically could.