The lucrative new world of YouTube celebrity boxing

One of the Paul brothers. Which, we don’t know.
One of the Paul brothers. Which, we don’t know.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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The fight scene is looking pretty good for the rest of this year. Next month, we have the boxing rematch between Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin. Then, WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder will face the unorthodox Tyson Fury. And in mixed-martial arts, Conor McGregor returns to the Octagon after two years to face the undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov in October.

But for millions of casual fans, the only fight they care about is a clash between two non-athletes who made their names talking nonsense on YouTube.

Tomorrow (Aug. 25), KSI and Logan Paul will fight in an amateur boxing match in Manchester, England. The 25-year-old KSI, a Brit whose real name is Olajide Olatunji, made his name doing YouTube commentaries around FIFA soccer video-game play. Logan Paul, 23, an American best known (to anyone under a certain age) as a YouTube prankster—which somehow earned him $12.5 million in 2017—is most famous to the wider world for live-streaming himself with the body of a suicide victim in Japan, earning him widespread condemnation.

A lucrative publicity stunt more than a real bout between two individuals who have a grievance with each other, it does have a fairly recent precedent.

In February, KSI defeated fellow British vlogger Joe Weller, 21, at Copper Box arena in London (where the Olympic boxing bouts were held in 2012) that was watched live by 1.6 million (paywall)—more than tuned in to watch the heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko in 2017—and streamed after the fact more than 20 million times via their respective YouTube channels. Eight-thousand people paid almost $100 to show up in person and watch it live.

By contrast, McGregor’s celebrated boxing match with Floyd Mayweather last year had far smaller total numbers—the crucial difference being that they paid a lot of money to watch. The McGregor-Mayweather pay-per-view was bought 6.7 million times worldwide—4.3 million in the US alone—and cost $90 at its cheapest. (And 17,698 showed up to watch it live at astronomical prices.)

Taking their cue from those kinds of numbers, you’ll also now have to pay to watch the KSI-Logan Paul fight. While Weller had only has 5 million subscribers on YouTube, Paul brings an audience of 18 million. KSI himself has 19.3 million subscribers. (Their brothers will also face each other in what they are calling “THE BIGGEST EVENT IN INTERNET HISTORY.”)

Already, more than 15,000 tickets have been sold for this bout at Manchester Arena—and, taking a page out of Mayweather’s book of owning everything to do with your fight, KSI will keep all the proceeds of ticket sales, according to reports.

If this works and if YouTube fighting is going to be a thing, it could start a whole new way of making money in combat sports. The KSI-Weller fight was estimated to have made £570,000 ($732,000) and this will likely make a whole lot more more; not quite Mayweather-McGregor numbers, but not bad for a fight between amateurs. It could tempt professional boxers and other fighters to stream their own fights live on YouTube, cutting out the promoters and networks and all the other middle men.

Will younger fans who are used to getting their content for free from these two pay to watch them hit each other? This fight may determine how lucrative this brave new world really is.

How to watch the KSI-Logan Paul fight

The fight will be streamed live on YouTube for a cost of $10 on Aug. 25 and begin at 6pm British time / 1pm New York time / 10am San Francisco time / 2am (on Aug. 26) Tokyo time.