SAN FRANCISCO: A boxing bout between YouTube celebrities Logan Paul and KSI has appalled aficionados of the noble art but left the two protagonists laughing all the way to the bank.
More than 15,000 fans crowded into Britain’s Manchester Arena on Saturday to watch boxing novices Paul and KSI – real name Olatunji Olajide – clamber into the ring for a six-round contest.
A further 773,000 fans were reported to have paid US$10 each to watch a stream on YouTube, numbers that make it likely Paul and KSI stand to earn millions from a fight that ended in a “majority draw” for KSI.
With a further 1.2 million fans estimated to have watched the contest on pirated streams, a rematch between the two men, who have 37 million YouTube subscribers between them, is a question of when, not if.
The interest in the spectacle comes solely from Paul and KSI’s outsized, and frequently obnoxious, Internet personas.
Paul, a video blogger, has regularly courted controversy since he rose to prominence on the Vine social media platform in 2012.
In December, he triggered outrage after uploading video to his YouTube channel showing the corpse of a young man at a notorious suicide spot in Japan.
He later posted an apology and pledged US$1 million to suicide prevention charities.
KSI meanwhile faced repeated criticism earlier in his online career for his attitudes toward women, standing accused of trivialising rape and showing misogynistic attitudes in video interviews.
Paul and KSI spotted the commercial possibilities of a boxing bout after KSI fought fellow British YouTube personality Joe Weller in London in February, attracting around 1.6 million viewers online.
Joke, shambles, ridiculous
But while there appears to be a clear demand to see internet personalities bludgeoning each other inside the ropes, the traditional boxing world is so far keeping its distance from the niche market.
The British Boxing Board of Control refused to sanction Saturday’s bout, noting that neither Paul nor KSI were licensed to fight.
WBO Interim featherweight champion Carl Frampton meanwhile bemoaned the fact that the Paul-KSI bout had overshadowed WBO super bantamweight champion Isaac Dogboe’s title defence against Japan’s Hidenori Otake in Arizona.
“@IsaacDogboe made a successful first defence of his super bantam title with a 1st round demolition of the seriously tough Otake last night,” Frampton wrote on Twitter.
“A proper champion who went on a world tour before he got his shot. But today people would rather talk about a couple of YouTube dick heads.”
Veteran British boxing journalist Steve Bunce decried the Paul-KSI event as “a joke, a shambles, ridiculous.”
“They are not boxers and what’s more they’re not even poor imitations of boxers,” Bunce said.
Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said the Paul-KSI fight turned his stomach, even if he had a grudging admiration for the hype surrounding the contest.
“For me, I can’t stand it. It makes my skin crawl, but as a business, I think it’s genius,” Hearn told thaboxingvoice.com.
“As a fight fan and pure boxing man, I can’t stand it. But as a business model and a commercial project, I take my hat off to them.”
Hearn, who manages world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, said neither Paul nor KSI had any chance of fighting as professionals.
“That’s not the interest,” he said. “The interest is not KSI in a six-rounder against a fighter; the interest is KSI against Logan Paul, that’s what sells.
“They couldn’t go to any particular level as a pro, that’s fact.”