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6 Dec 2019 18:42
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  •   Home > News > International

    What does the Logan Paul vs KSI rematch fight mean for boxing?

    Two YouTube stars are about to fight in one of the biggest bouts of the year to an audience of millions. But why? And what does it mean for boxing?

    Things are starting to get pretty exciting for boxing fans, with a host of huge bouts on the horizon in the coming months.

    You might think the most anticipated of the flurry of fights scheduled around the end of the year is Deontay Wilder vs Luis Ortiz on November 23, the end result of which will be a rematch between Wilder and Tyson Fury after their stunning draw last year.

    No? Maybe the rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Junior in Saudi Arabia in December?

    Perhaps Australian audiences are pumped for the November 15 "bout" between long-retired AFL hit man Barry Hall and more-recently retired Cronulla Sharks tough guy Paul Gallen — if not Jeff Horn's December 18 rematch with Michael Zerafa in Brisbane.

    In fact, it is not any of those that will likely garner the most interest.

    The biggest audience for a fight this year is expected to be between two men who will be making their professional debuts over six rounds, having only ever fought once before as amateurs.

    Who are these guys?

    Logan Paul is a 24-year-old American who made his name on six-second-video-sharing service Vine before amassing almost 20 million subscribers on YouTube, where he developed a following despite, or perhaps because of, his tendency for posting controversial content.

    KSI — real name Olajide Olatunji — is a 26-year-old Brit who started off posting YouTube videos of him playing FIFA, before diversifying into, among other things, rapping to his 20.5 million subscribers.

    If you don't know them, ask your kids. They probably do.

    The pair are, it is safe to say, not your standard boxing headliners.

    Yet the two YouTube stars will be the headline fight at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles on November 9, relegating a world title fight — Billy Joe Saunders's defence of his WBO super middleweight title and his USA debut against Marcelo Esteban Coceres, "two of the most talented boxers in the world" according to promoter Eddie Hearn — to the undercard.

    Why is a genuine world title challenge playing second fiddle to a novelty, white-collar contest?

    Logan Paul-KSI I

    Well, that the pair have over 40 million combined subscribers on YouTube has probably helped.

    That and the fact that they quickly sold out the 18,000-capacity Manchester Arena for their first (amateur) fight in August last year — as well as getting more than a million people to pay for the privilege of watching live from home, with a similar number estimated to have watched via illegal streams.

    The full fight is now available for free on its own dedicated YouTube channel — and has been watched nearly 20 million times.

    A mini-documentary by fight broadcaster DAZN, 40 Days: Logan Paul's Countdown to Fight Night has been watched more than 5 million times in less than 10 days.

    KSI's own version already has 6.6 million views, and has been the focus of a Sky Sports boxing documentary entitled KSI: Can't Lose.

    To say that the contest is the one boxing fans are most looking forward could be erroneous, but the numbers don't lie. This fight is going to be popular — perhaps even a game changer.

    "This isn't really, necessarily about the live event," Hearn told YouTube channel iFLTV in Los Angeles during the build-up to the fight — which is a good thing as seats remain unsold in the 21,000-capacity Staples Centre, home to two NBA teams and an NHL team.

    "This is about the numbers online, it's about the people streaming, it's about the people following, liking and subscribing on YouTube.

    "The numbers are huge. The numbers are tracking bigger than any pay-per-view we've done this year."

    What do boxing fans think of the fight

    At the time of the first fight, UK-based boxing journalist Steve Bunce was scathing about the spectacle, describing it as a "joke", a "shambles", "ridiculous" and "a donkey derby" between two people who are "not even poor imitations of boxers".

    Northern Irish WBO interim featherweight champion Carl Frampton bemoaned in a tweet that "proper" champions were being overshadowed by "a couple of YouTube dick heads."

    Bunce doubled down on his conflicting views in a later tweet, saying he was fine with the high-profile fight in the amateur arena, but it was different now that they are in the professional scene.

    For the record, Billy Joe Saunders, whose World Championship fight is taking second billing to the YouTubers, had nothing but praise for the pair.

    "I hadn't heard of KSI or Logan Paul but people should take their hat off to them because they have come from nowhere.

    "That demands respect because they have both done great business."

    Changing opinions

    "Great business" is at the heart of why some have changed their tune about the fight.

    Hearn is promoter of some of the biggest names in the sport, and admitted to initially hoping the first fight between the pair would fail, describing it as "embarrassing", but in the end said he could not dismiss the clear interest in the contest.

    "I saw the pictures and I could not believe what I was seeing, a sold-out Manchester Arena … 1.2 million pay-per-view views," Hearn said earlier this year.

    "You can't just be so dismissive about events that are going to bring in new fans to the sport of boxing."

    It was for that reason that Hearn insisted on putting on a spectacle, a "proper, professional fight".

    "This is a chance for boxing to bring in new fans, and if we're gonna bring them in, we need to show them the greatness of our sport," Hearn said.

    "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.

    "If we are going to do this, then let's do it properly."

    That meant ditching the headguards and wearing lighter, 10-ounce gloves. The boxers will fight six, three-minute rounds.

    "This event will be huge," Hearn said.

    "It will have a world championship card beneath an event that will create a hype for boxing not seen in the US for a long time."

    But are they any good?

    Judging by the first fight, not really — not in the ring anyway.

    Hearn told iFLTV that despite the questionable quality, the fight will still be hugely entertaining.

    "They're not Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvin Hagler," he said.

    "It's not going to be the greatest boxing match you've ever seen. But it's going to be dramatic and … exciting."

    But in real terms, how good are they?

    "I reckon they'd beat 5 or 10 per cent of current professionals," Hearn said.

    Not a ringing endorsement, but nevertheless, the YouTubers' real strength is their self promotion, something boxing and boxers are increasingly reliant upon.

    And, with enormous viewing numbers expected for the fight expected, the promotional opportunities are similarly massive.

    "I am going to break you," KSI said, channelling his inner Ivan Drago at an ill-tempered, cliche-filled press conference.

    "Everything I do will have intent and you will notice that and you will feel that."

    Paul's response: "I wish I felt anxiety, I wish I felt nerves, it would make me feel human. Unfortunately you are no longer dealing with a human, you are dealing with an animal."

    Cliched probably doesn't cut it, but the over-hyped barbs and Twitter feuds are selling subscriptions — and have the potential to sell boxing to a new audience at the same time; a new audience that could help fuel boxing's resurgence.

    "I've just got to be honest and say the numbers are huge," Hearn said.

    "It's great fun, it's a different audience and we're doing it."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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