Last February I was in Budapest, Hungary, on a trip with my girlfriend. Having retired on our stools from a hectic second day of sightseeing, souvenir hunting and goulash sipping, I decided to try and find a stream for the evening’s boxing – romantic, I know. Lawrence Okolie vs Isaac Chamberlain landed inside London’s O2 Arena that evening, with the promised British grudge match at cruiserweight supposedly worthy of such location and grandeur. Regardless of how terrible that fight – and card in general – turned out to be, it was the difficulty in finding a relevant stream, or local channel, which lasted in my memory to date.
After settling for a slow-motion (even for an Okolie fight), grainy – and from what I could decipher as being – German sports channel, it dawned on me why this fight was receiving little-to-no attention in the online realms I had become reliant on. That evening, just a 15 minutes drive north of the River Thames, the YouTube revolution had arrived as KSI and Joe Weller went head guard-to-head guard inside London’s Copper Box Arena.
Now, as a 29-year-old I find myself locked amidst the in-between stage of the social media breakthrough. Old enough to remember my teenage years without a world of likes, shares and subscribes, but also young enough to understand the role it plays in the next generation. This being said: I didn’t have a Scooby who or what KSI and Joe Weller were. That evening last February, the two YouTube ‘stars’ with a combined 25.2 million subscribers sold out the Copper Box in London, with 1.6 million viewers tuning in to see seven and a half minutes of a white-collar amateur boxing bout. Within a day they had gained 21 million views on the fight and the precedent to what has followed had been set.
The following August, KSI and another YouTube ‘sensation’ Logan Paul declared they would meet inside the ring for another white-collar amateur fight, this time selling out the 21,000 capacity Manchester Arena for what they had decided to launch as the ‘YouTube Boxing Championship Title’ – a title Mauricio Sulaiman and Gilberto Mendoza had, I assume, already lined up behind the ‘Mayan’ and ‘Man of Triumph’ belts. You snooze, you lose, chaps.
Receiving a total of over 1 million pay-per-view buys worldwide on Youtube, this fight generated roughly $11 million, plus $3.5 million on the gate, making it the largest non-professional boxing match of all time.
Enter Eddie Hearn.
Eddie Hearn – as we’ve become to learn over the past decade – is a walking, talking salesman. He’s the controversial mouthpiece for Matchroom Boxing and DAZN, with his strong opinions frequently being caught in the crossfire of hypocrisy. Mayweather vs McGregor went from being a “complete disaster for boxing” to being picked up by his long-standing partner Sky Sports, hence his position on the bout changing into a “fascinating opportunity.” Hearn would then turn a complete 360 late last year in describing it as a “disgusting con job” to GQ Magazine.
KSI vs Logan Paul is following a similar trend. Hearn admitted to this kind of event making him feel “sick” last year, but when the news broke yesterday that DAZN and Matchroom Boxing would promote this rematch, it was of little surprise. Money talks and Hearn is all ears.
He’ll dress is up as supporting “entrepreneurship” having met with KSI on an episode of his BBC Sounds podcast titled “No Passion, No Point.” Here, Hearn speaks with the YouTuber allowing him infrequent time on the microphone, with the rest of the pod taken up by the promoter making loose comparisons to their very different lives. There was a strong undercurrent of boxing narrative during the 32-minute chat – early indications of the Matchroom machine beginning to churn with a new cog in the wheel.
Matchroom and DAZN’s caveat, to what is effectively a celebrity scrap, is that both KSI and Paul will “turn pro with no head guards and fight with 10-ounce gloves.” This is an obvious attempt to bridge the gap between the complete novices that they are and the professional game that we adore. The fact that these two can claim to turn pro after a combined three amateur bouts between them is farcical – reliance on the help of one of the sport’s top promotional companies is painstakingly obvious.
“DAZN is excited to team up with KSI, Logan Paul and Matchroom Boxing on such a unique event,” said Joseph Markowski, DAZN EVP, North America. “Both men have enormous fan bases and we look forward to bringing best-in-class production and programming to this new group of potential DAZN subscribers around the world.”
Another caveat in an attempt to distract us from November 9th’s headline act is the inclusion of a credible undercard. Devin Haney and Billy Joe Saunders are set to feature inside the Staples Center, with DAZN looking to gobble up subscribers from all angles across the United States. Perhaps, it’s this cross-breeding of professionals and YouTubers that sits most uncomfortable with me.
I titled this piece “Better the devil you know?” in an attempt to dig out the positives in giving YouTube boxing a share of the platform we tune in to view week-in-week-out, but as the truth is laid bare, it becomes harder and harder to justify.
Fundamentally, our sport is treated like a business. Fast-tracking these two opportunists sets a dangerous precedent of future leaches looking to suck a quick buck out of boxing to the detriment of those who have dedicated their lives to the craft. How do you explain this to the thousands of young fighters up and down each country putting their lives on hold to learn the professional craft? To the kids who, from as old as they could walk, have laced up a pair of gloves in an attempt to climb the slippery mountain of the amateur game?
As a one-off or an amateur bout which stayed in their YouTube lane, it was easy enough to ignore. We’ve seen similar events in the celebrity world which gather fleeting interest – usually for a charitable or worthwhile cause – Freddie Flintoff and Rio Ferdinand’s attempts more a case of chasing egos. Now, as KSI and Logan Paul enter our sport, it makes it near impossible to support, champion or accept. The argument that this fight will bring a new audience to boxing is complete nonsense – can you imagine a living room of 16-year-olds inspired by the footwork of a Billy Joe Saunders unanimous decision 20 minutes before their ‘heroes’ collide? Swarms of kids running down their local ABC the morning after to learn how to master a Devin Haney looping overhand right? The legacy of this fight will not trickle down the boxing pyramid – it will only serve as an inspiration to celebrity shortcutting.
There should be zero shortcuts in boxing. A sport of honour, commitment, sacrifice and professionalism should not be allowed to be undermined by such easy insanity; insanity that is being dressed up – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Matchroom Boxing and DAZN have subscribed, but I won’t. Stay in your lane, and we’ll stay in ours.