Let ‘Em Fight!

I will no doubt be revealing that I’m out of the loop, and likely over the hill, when I tell you I really have no idea who KSI and Logan Paul are or why millions of people love what they do. Save for the fact that they fought each other last year in an amateur contest, I would likely have never heard of them. No matter. It’s been officially announced that these YouTube celebrities, one British and one American, are going to throw down again in November. And not only are they going to engage in a boxing match, they’re going to engage in a professional boxing match, which, let’s face it, means someone may really get his ass kicked.

I’m told their first battle did a whole lot of pay-per-view buys so there’s no doubt the rematch will do at least that well. This has caused some debate in the odd, internet-centric world of boxing fans and analysts. Some are shaking their heads in disgust that two celebrities “who the kids all love” are going to draw millions of eyeballs when truly legit, high-end showdowns, such as Spence vs Porter or Gvozdyk vs Beterbiev, will prove far less popular and far less lucrative.

Then there’s those who say all publicity is good publicity, that this is actually a boost for boxing. Both sides have their points. KSI vs Logan Paul appears, on the surface at least, to be the fistic equivalent of bubble-gum pop music. On the other hand, so was the aptly titled “Money Fight,” the Mayweather vs McGregor circus in 2017, though that was geared towards an older crowd. And those who have the gall to insist that Muhammad Ali’s joke of a battle with Antonio Inoki back in 1976 somehow holds more gravitas than KSI vs Logan Paul are sadly mistaken. As McGregor likes to say, “It is what it is.” And what it is when it comes to any novelty boxing match is a lark.

Mayweather defeats McGregor in “The Money Fight.”

What’s more, it should be taken as a lark. KSI vs Logan Paul won’t be good for the sport of boxing at all, at least not in a meaningful way. Unless there’s one hell of an undercard filled with top-level pros, this is no better or worse than some of those celebrity boxing matches of years past involving people like Tonya Harding and Danny Bonaduce. And guess what? That sort of thing never hurt boxing either. People are going to tune in to see two YouTube stars go at it. It’s a distraction, a spectacle, nothing more and everyone knows it. No one is expecting high-level fisticuffs

The good, bad, and ugly of all this is that it’s up to the sport of boxing, not those who dabble in it on occasion, to decide how popular or unpopular it wants to be. This is especially true at the moment, when the sport is, for the most part, fleeing pay cable and showing up all over basic television and the internet (talk about a golden opportunity). Good fighters with good narratives, in solid match-ups that actually deliver action and entertainment, will elevate boxing. Low risk, high-reward fighters doing little more than engaging in occasional tune-ups will flat-line pugilism’s popularity.

Tonya Harding eats some leather: did this do any harm to boxing?

Look, there’s something about a major, top-level boxing contest that captures people’s imagination in a way no other sporting event can. As disappointing as it was, Mayweather vs Pacquiao back in 2015 may well have been the most significant sporting event of that year, even for non-boxing fans, even more than the Super Bowl or the World Series. More top fights between top fighters will grow boxing, keep it thriving. Should those fights be barn-burners, all the better. But unrequited hope from fans for good matches that never happen (think Crawford vs Spence) will only harm it.

And this might be the key take-away for those griping about how two YouTube stars are going to make more money in a joke of a boxing match than most serious professionals will in their entire careers. The reason these two guys I’ve barely heard of are able to command these big paydays is because they are constantly working to be in the spotlight. They may not be active pugilists, but they are certainly active entertainers and self-promoters, reaching millions outside my demographic. Glancing at his wiki page, it’s clear KSI is continually putting out new content and doing concert tours. Logan Paul built his fame on regularly releasing new videos, week after week, one more outrageous than the last, keeping his growing fanbase satisfied and looking forward to his next creation.

Logan Paul takes a shot from KSI in their first “fight.”

Meanwhile, the vast majority of pro boxers are competing maybe two or three times a year and doing precious little outside the ring to draw attention to themselves. I’m not saying fighters should be obligated to devote their time and energy to doing crazy YouTube videos or outrageous publicity stunts, but if you’re not working to raise your profile and create excitement, how can you complain about people who have created huge followings cashing in?

For example, say what you like about Tyson Fury taking on guys like Tom Schwarz and Otto Wallin, at least he’s making some noise, attracting attention, keeping his name in people’s heads. He’s giving interviews, releasing a new book, spouting off all kinds of outrageous stuff. Why? Because he knows that’s how you get attention and sell tickets. If a young Muhammad Ali were around today, do you think he’d be getting in the ring once or twice a year and then sitting back waiting for the big payday to come his way? He got out there and hustled, spouting rhymes and getting in front of every camera and microphone he could. Logan Paul and KSI have done the contemporary equivalent and now they’re going to rake in huge money. How can anyone hold it against them?

Fury clearly understands the importance of self-promotion.

In the meantime, those wringing their hands about the state of the game need to keep in mind that, all things considered, boxing is not in a bad place right now, despite what some might say. Very good fights are right around the corner and bigger fights appear to be down the road. In other words, it’s a promising time for the sport. No, the next Mayweather vs Pacquiao superfight hasn’t emerged (yet), but as long as decent match-ups keep getting made, it will most certainly pop up. In the meantime, we can sit back, enjoy the serious fights, and hope promoters will avoid doing what they seem to do best, namely screw things up.

But even if things don’t work out as fans hope (and, seriously, who would be surprised if they don’t?) a pay-per-view bout between two YouTube stars will do nothing to hurt boxing. And, that, perhaps, is why it should be no big deal to serious fans whether or not KSI versus Logan Paul brings down a mint or not. I say let ’em fight. As long as they entertain the audience and no one gets hurt, have at it. In the meantime, I’ll be saving my money for the truly big, high-calibre events. And so will millions of others.

— Sean Crose 

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