Last night two internet personalities, KSI and Logan Paul donned boxing gloves and fought to a draw in front of 21,000 people in Manchester and millions around the World. In today's blog I talk about the journey that led me to tune into the fight and the fights implications on the future of combat sport.
I have a secret. A guilty pleasure. One I share no doubt with many people. I going to confess it in this post.
My secret is I spend too much time on YouTube.
Your vice my be Facebook or Instagram or even Steemit. Mine, at the moment is YouTube.
I'm subscribed to a few YouTubers. Mainly people that post on cryptocurrency and sport.
However the volume of content they put out means I can spend at least an hour a day on YouTube.
Despite telling myself I will stick to YouTubers I like, once I start watching YouTube, I invariably go down the rabbit hole of 'Related Videos' and end up watching all kinds of unrelated nonsense.
That one hour extends into two.... or three.
YouTube, and video content online can be dangerously addictive.
Virtual stars and internet statistics
For all the time I spend on YouTube, I must confess I'd never heard of KSI and Logan Paul.
I tell a lie, I heard, in passing about a boxing match KSI had with another YouTuber and Logan Paul did something controversial with a dead body in the woods. (Information gleaned from the 'Related Video' rabbit hole).
Despite my passing familiarity, by all accounts these two characters are kind of a big deal in the world of "Internet Celebrities."
Until this week I viewed the 'Internet Celebrity' and 'InstaFamous' with a healthy dose of scepticism. Yes these guys have 'millions' of subscribers and 'views' however there are lies, damn lies and Internet statistics. I'd known for the longest time that people bought followers on Fivver.com and that there are no doubt more sophisticated ways to game and hack the social media culture for inflated popularity ratings and internet marketing dollars.
Real fights and real numbers
However, this week these two guys have fallen firmly onto my 'real life' radar.
It started when I saw some instagram posts from @michaelvenompage about his training sessions with KSI. As I know @michaelvenompage is a real fighter, this set me down a rabbit hole of finding out who KSI was training for. I learned that his opponent, Logan Paul, who actually looks like an athlete has a background in wrestling. I saw a couple of videos of press conferences where there were hoards of 'actual people' in the audiences lapping up the performances of the the YouTube protagonists.
What was in reality a white collar boxing match had taken on the status of the 'celebrity boxing event of the year'. Having been drawn in, I watched it last night.
I wasn't the only one. The content had 21,000 people fill the Manchester Arena. 800,000 people paid $10 to watch the PPV on YouTube. At least a million more watched on Twitch and other streams.
I had stumbled across an event, with a subplot that involved the main protagonists brothers (Deji and Jake Logan, also internet celebrities in their own right) fighting on the undercard.
The main event
As far as an amateur boxing fight goes, the KSI/ Paul fight was very entertaining. In the first two rounds Logan Paul showed more boxing ability that I was expecting to see. He boxed well behind a jab. Showed good combinations in flashes. Used his height and range well. Dare I say, the American was putting on a bit of an exhibition. KSI looked under-sized and over-matched.
However the contest changed in the third round. KSI turned the match into a dogfight and Logan Paul's boxing construct fell apart. The fight turned into a scrap and with both fighters exhausted it came down to who 'wanted it more.' And that man was clearly KSI.
I gave Logan Paul the first two rounds unquestionably. However the last four rounds of the six round fight I gave to KSI. The judges called it a draw. Which again I wasn't mad at. I can see how some may have given the fifth round to Paul.
A draw means an undoubted rematch and a continuation of the saga. Executives at YouTube will no doubt be licking their lips at the prospect!
It's the future and it's not fair!
So what are we to make of this spectacle?
It's tempting to talk about the lack of boxing skill on display and the thousands of professional fighters that would blow these two out of the water that are surviving hand-to-mouth, whilst these two make a mockery of the sweat science.
However 'life is not fair' goes without saying.
What the KSI/ Logan Paul fight serves to show is the importance of storyline and personality in mainstream combat sport success. KSI and Logan Paul had garnered such a fan base over the years that hundreds of thousands of them were willing to part with $10 to watch them essential 'play boxing.'
In much the same why that Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather had fostered a narrative around that brands that made a boxing match between the one of the greatest boxers ever vs an elite mma fighter with no professional boxing experience, compelling viewing.
In combat sport we are seeing a shift away from sporting excellence towards compelling stories.
It's part of the reason why Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder are so eager to fight each other. Both are angling for a fight with Anthony Joshua. However Anthony Joshua is a story and a draw that is in a league of his own. Anthony Joshua vs anyone can fill a 90,000 seater stadium and pocket Joshua millions. Thus when Wilder entered negotiations, Joshua's people, fronted by Eddie Hearn can offer peanuts. However should Wilder and Fury put on a compelling fight that draws in a significant PPV audience all of a sudden the narrative around a possible AJ fight changes.
For better or worse combat sport is becoming less about the ability of the combatants and more about who are the combatants themselves.
Bouyed by the success of the KSI/ Logan Paul event, I expect to see a lot more celebrities jumping on the fighting gravy train. And a lot more boxers doing less training in favour of harness their celebrity in order to become a draw.
Welcome to popular sporting culture.