Perhaps it was inevitable that after the biggest white-collar fight in history between YouTube “gamers” Olajide William Olatunji – or KSI, as he is known – and Logan Paul at Manchester Arena last August generated £150 million in revenue, a rematch would pique the interest of opportunist promoters and broadcasters.
Moreover, after it ended in a controversial draw, it had all the ingredients for a second instalment, on a more mainstream platform. But the opportunism has blurred the lines for professional fighters.
The first KSI v Paul fight, a six-round affair which was “amateur” in every way, and included the use of headguards, went out on YouTube against a backdrop of fan frenzy in the arena, drawing an estimated 20 million viewers live. Although the contest was priced at £7.50 to stream live, it broke all fight industry pay-per-view records.
The fight industry was there on the margins: Michael Buffer, the emcee, had announced the contest; Shannon Briggs, a former world heavyweight champion, had hosted a build-up press conference.
But the line between professional boxing and YouTube gamers effectively having a duel for their subscribers has been blurred beyond all recognition with the announcement of a second fight – this time with them as “professional” boxers.
After bids from a number of broadcasters, a deal has been struck. A second fight will take place on Nov 9 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, without headguards, promoted by Eddie Hearn and his Matchroom USA outfit and aired in the US on DAZN, the digital streaming service.
Again, they will fight over six rounds. Again, it is likely to draw astronomical numbers, with genuine boxing stars on the undercard, potentially World Boxing Organisation super-middleweight world champion Billy Joe Saunders and rising American lightweight star Devin Haney. Is this an event for boxing fans or YouTube followers? A real event or an insult to genuine professionals?
Some argue that the YouTube stars will bring a new audience to boxing. But it seems more like a one-off marketing ploy.
KSI, from Watford, is certainly an internet sensation, his YouTube channel having accumulated more than four billion video views and 20 million subscribers, making him one of the top hundred most subscribed users on YouTube. He has, incidentally, also called out retired footballer Rio Ferdinand for a fight.
Paul, meanwhile, from Ohio, remains a controversial figure online, having once filmed an apparent suicide victim and posted the footage on his YouTube channel. He has since apologised. They are part of the new wave – and boxing promotion is happy to adapt to that.
Promoters have always looked for opportunities. But where will this end? Spare a thought for the real professional fighters, who grind out careers sacrificing their bodies and minds over years to pay mortgages and feed their families. Like mixed martial artist Daniel Straus, who competes in San Jose on Saturday night in the round of 16 at the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix Tournament, having almost destroyed himself in a motorcycle accident 20 months ago.
Initially paralysed, having being told by doctors he might never walk, let alone fight again, he has battled back to resume his career. There are days when his neck still pains him, and even days when his legs fight him when he walks.
No doubt he watched that fight between KSI and Paul and shook his head. Fight sports will always be business; supply and demand. Unfortunately, we will never get away from that.