Was KSI vs. Logan Paul an affront to combat sports? OK, boomer

LOS ANGELES — A pair of legit world title fights were held Saturday night at Staples Center, and the assembled crowd could not have cared less.

Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders, the WBO super middleweight champ, and WBC lightweight champion Devon Haney of Las Vegas successfully defended their respective belts, but the crowd sat on their hands throughout their fights and waited for the real reason they had gathered: The rematch between YouTube celebrities KSI and Logan Paul.

This was a gathering quite different from what you’d expect to see at a typical boxing or mixed martial arts event. Gaggles of teenagers and college students made up the bulk of the crowd, and even younger kids showed up with their parents in tow. 

Most of them couldn’t tell you the difference between a jab and an uppercut. But in 2019, they know KSI, the stage name for London’s Olajide “JJ” Olatunji, and Paul, a Los Angeles resident by way of Ohio, are a pair of YouTubers who have combined for more than 11 billion views, and that they have beef, and that their fight was going to be this week’s hot Instagram moment.

So when legendary boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer, who was nowhere to be found for the evening’s title fights, announced the internet celebs for their six-round cruiserweight fight, the place came unglued. If you closed your eyes and listened to the noise, you would have thought you were at Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor or Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao.

KSI and Paul displayed minimal skill over the course of six rounds before KSI took a split decision. But the crowd ate up every last wild haymaker and panicked clinch all the same. 

You want to hate on someone else’s idea of a good time? OK, boomer.

The boxing purists, like some of their brothers and sisters over in the mixed martial arts realm, take the sanctity and majesty over their sport quite seriously.

But promoters? If they sniff money, they’re going to give it a try, regardless of whether the hardcores get triggered. You only have to go back as far as the late Kimbo Slice, who shattered MMA viewership records for his CBS fight with James Thompson in 2008, to see an example of how well this can work when done right.

KSI vs. Paul was a rematch of an amateur fight conducted last year in Manchester, England. Entirely self-promoted over YouTube, the numbers were a shock to the combat sports establishment: The six-round majority draw drew a sellout crowd of 21,000 to Manchester Arena in England. 800,000 people paid $10 apiece to watch the fight on YouTube, while illegal Twitch streams are believed to have brought the number of viewers up over two million.

So while the traditionalists tsk-tsked the fight, it was inevitable someone mainstream was going to try to figure out how to how to co-opt what’s hot.

In stepped British promoter Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing, who conceived of a show which would take something which had caught on with the kids, and attempt to expose them to the real thing.

To those gathered, KSI, the 26-year-old whose YouTube channel boasts 20.6 million subscribers; and Paul, the 24-year-old with 20 million subs, were absolute superstars. Maybe you don’t know anything about them, but Generation Y sure does, and they’ve been raised on YouTube and Twitch and watch esports and see even something as simple as cable television as a relic from their parents’ era.

So maybe the success of a feud that’s a huge deal to the kids these days while also being incomprehensible to most over age 30 is a matter of the old school not understanding the next big thing.

It was just a generation ago, after all, that the same old establishment bobbleheads did everything they could to decry the rise of mixed martial arts, deeming it everything from barbaric to inferior to boxing. Today, of course, the UFC is a multi-billion dollar, Disney-broadcast property.

Matchroom and broadcast partner DAZN gave it a real go, an attempt to use the internet celebs to expose the sweet science to a new generation.

At the post-fight press conference, Hearn made it clear that if KSI wants to box again, he’s on board, noting that a handful of internet celebs clamored to challenge the winner. Despite the crowd’s obvious indifference to the evening’s title fights, the promoter still felt the night was a success.

“We wanted to merge the audience so the fighters could show the new audience what was great about the sport and it was (KSI and Paul) who ended up showing heart, determination, and everything that is great about the sport,” Hearn said.

The fight was ruthlessly mocked on Twitter, and not without reason. On a pure skills level, this was, well, a couple YouTube kids cosplaying as boxers. But the crowd of more than 12,000 who showed up loved the spectacle.

No one was forced to watch this card. It’s not like a real fight with deserving contenders was scuttled in order to make it happen. 

Will the first-timers in the crowd tune into whatever is up next on DAZN, Showtime, or ESPN? Probably not. It’s likely the fight gets remembered as this generation’s equivalent of Evel Knievel attempting to jump the Snake River.

But the world’s changing faster than ever, the technology with which stars are made is constantly evolving, and you can’t blame a fight promoter for taking something hot on the streets and trying to make it work.

 

View full post on MMA Junkie

, , , , ,

Comments are closed.

© 1992-2019 DC2NET™, Inc. All Rights Reserved