YouTubers KSI and Logan Paul set to make millions from stage-managed showdown – is this where sport is heading?
Stunt bout claimed as ‘the biggest event in the history of the internet’ stunt has generated more interest than most major sporting events
The internet will grind to a halt on Saturday night in the UK as two young men made famous on account of their YouTube videos go mano a mano at Manchester Arena.
These two amateur boxers are expected to fill the 21,000-seater stadium more often used for major boxing bouts and have millions watching through their pay-per-view online.
American Logan Paul, 23, is most famous for a video of a dead body that he uploaded from a Japanese forest notorious for suicides, while Briton KSI, real name Olajide Olatunji Jnr, is a 25-year-old former Fifa video game streamer who has not been without his own controversies.
They have nearly 40 million YouTube subscribers between them and have already made millions from YouTube advertising and spin-off merchandise.
The undercard features their younger brothers battling one another alongside a handful of other vlogger-based contests.
That the biggest sporting event of the weekend is essentially a “white collar boxing” match is a credit to the marketing savvy of those involved and the changing face of sport.
Tickets cost between US$112 and US$663 and the official YouTube stream is US$10 – as if to prove how big a deal it is there are those that refuse to pay and free streams are popping up online.
The mainstream media have gone in hard on the spectacle, with where to watch primers and blow-by-blow coverage of the build-up, while the bookmakers have also got in on the action.
The Independent reports that hundreds of thousands of pounds will be bet by the time they touch gloves, even though no one really has a clue how the contest will go as witnessed by the odds shifting from KSI to Paul as favourite.
Not everyone is happy. UFC fighter Michael Bisping, who was filmed training with KSI in the six-month build up to the fight, pulled no punches.
He called it “insulting” in an interview with the Believe You Me podcast while Tyson Fury – whose comeback fight last week did not generate the same interest with gamblers – called the headliners a “pair of b******s” in an interview with the BBC’s Newsbeat.
The stirring up of the “rivalry” between the combatants has been as cynical as anything that the real boxing industry has dreamed up over the years, Mayweather vs McGregor or the suits that coined the term “sports entertainment” at the WWE.
The release of “diss tracks” as in the music industry has stoked the rivalry and racked up tens of millions of views and more videos of people reacting to them – one video of another YouTuber reacting to Paul’s “Goodbye KSI” diss track has 2.6 million views.
There’s an element of theatre to this as often the “beefs” between rival rappers was as real as their lyrical content, dreamed up by marketing executives to shift units.
Similarly the fisticuffs between Jake Paul and Deji Olajide at their press conference could have been taken from many a boxing promotion.
KSI’s video of him sparring Manchester rapper Bugzy Malone, a man who knows a thing or two about diss tracks, has almost two million views.
That could be a lesson taken directly from the Turner corporation owned WCW wrestling promotion partnering up with rappers from rap label du jour No Limit Records in the late 1990s, before it went from WWE rival to being a part of Vince McMahon’s empire.
They know what they are doing and what will resonate with their fans and followers.
Some 3.7 million people have watched the official weigh-in video and almost the same again a version on Paul’s YouTube channel – that’s equivalent to the population of Hong Kong, all tuned in to witness the recording of a weight check.
Manufactured animosity and people watching to see if the person they want to lose takes a bit of a beating. It’s a trick that the WWE turned into a billion dollar industry and these 20-somethings have earned their right to a slice of the pie.
The “YouTube Championship” belt might not be as prestigious as those given out by boxing’s governing bodies but it is worth plenty.
KSI is the holder after defeating another YouTuber, Joe Weller, in February – a fight that tens of millions of people watched live or on the platform since – while Paul has not boxed before but points to his wrestling career in his home state of Ohio.
As a sporting spectacle it might be almost worthless but there’s another fight scheduled for next year in the States.
Car crash TV it may be but the YouTubers will be laughing all the way to their online banks.