It may have polarized opinion among boxing’s establishment, but the KSI vs Logan Paul 2 fight in Los Angeles proved that, if done right, celebrity boxing could become a legitimate new avenue for big-time promoters
To a longtime sports reporter, the thought of two YouTube stars headlining a boxing card that included world championship bouts seemed completely backward. But in 2019, it’s the old-school thinking that perhaps needs to change.
Back in the day, when meritocracy ruled in fight sports, the best fighters were always at the top of the card. But now, in this “entertainment era” that is driven by pay-per-view sales, it’s not necessarily about the best fighters. It’s about the most popular ones.
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Of course, the best fighters often end up becoming the biggest stars. Canelo Alvarez has a huge following through his successes in the ring, while the likes of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are megastars, not just in their native UK, but globally.
But when those fighters aren’t fighting, the lines get a little more blurred, and you get situations like this weekend, where a pair of boxing newbies headlined a big boxing card. And, on the basis of their pulling power at the box office, they deserved to.
Both KSI and Logan Paul were making their professional boxing debuts and, to some, the mere thought of the duo headlining over the likes of WBO super middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders and WBC lightweight champ Devin Haney seemed wrong.
But while Saunders and Haney could probably defeat KSI and Paul with one hand tied behind their back, the truth is that in 2019 ticket sales and pay-per-view buys aren’t directly linked to boxing ability. Instead, it’s about who draws the biggest audience. And in that regard, Saunders and Haney aren’t on the same planet.
KSI and Paul both have in excess of 20 MILLION subscribers on their respective YouTube channels. Their individual YouTube videos pick up the sort of viewership that many live sporting events would consider pretty respectable.
But their combined reach helped give promoter Eddie Hearn and broadcasters DAZN and Sky Sports the opportunity to pull big pay-per-view numbers, and a whole new audience.
Those who bought the KSI vs Logan Paul 2 pay-per-view on Saturday night will have come from a variety of demographics, with a sizeable chunk of those watching coming from KSI and Paul’s respective YouTube fanbases, along with a boxing fans who were intrigued to see how the fight might pan out (while also keen to see the two world title fights on the undercard).
Hearn spoke about hopefully converting some of those KSI and Logan Paul fans into repeat boxing fans but, in all honesty, that number is likely to be pretty low.
However, what Hearn certainly has tapped into is a brand new business vertical. For Hearn and his broadcast partners, celebrity boxing can offer a new, yet familiar, product that they know is guaranteed to sell.
And while the boxing purists might turn their noses up, the truth is all the while superstar celebrities with huge followings are prepared to step through the ropes and fight, there’s likely to be a sizeable audience who will pay to watch it.
And if the celebs involved put as much into the promotion and the fight as KSI and Logan Paul clearly did, putting on shows like the one we saw on Saturday night will only add to the sport of boxing, rather than detract from it.
“There has to be a narrative, there has to be some preparation, there has to be a respect for the sport, which these guys have done,” Hearn told Sky Sports after the fight.
“They’ve been through it. They’ve done proper camps, they’ve fought before, they’ve signed to the commission, they’ve done drug testing, they’ve done the media scrums, the huddles, the public weigh-ins.
“So we’ve got to get it right. Would I encourage more of this? I have to say yes, at this moment in time. I would, but at the right time, at the appropriate time while still respecting the code of sport.”
And Hearn hinted that KSI vs Logan Paul 2 might not be the end of that particular story, with some high-profile names lining themselves up to step into the ring next.
“I’ve had five or six calls this week from probably the highest-profile people in their fields, from sport, music, acting, who said: ‘Look, don’t say anything, but can I fight the winner?’ so now we have to look at that, and by the way two or three of them can really fight,” said Hearn.
“For now, it was an experiment that went really, really well. People criticized it, then people started getting on board, then people started benefiting from the numbers and the audience, and the next thing everybody loves it.
“Anything that grows this sport that we love, I’m all up for, whilst making sure we always respect the code.”
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