These are the facts. After six wild rounds, Olajide ‘KSI’ Olatunji defeated Logan Paul by split decision, fifteen months after the pair fought to a majority decision draw in Manchester. The two men were making their professional boxing debuts and will take home a reported $900k. Beyond that, things get a little bit more muddled.
We should start with the fight itself: a ridiculous slugfest that was as wild as the Amazon rainforest and as sophisticated as a Keeping Up with the Kardashians boxset. KSI started the stronger and appeared to knock Paul to the canvas with a flailing right, which referee Jack Reese deemed a slip. It was a dubious decision. Things got even more confusing in the fourth, when Paul felled KSI with the sole good shot of the night, only to be incorrectly penalised for holding and hitting.
He was bizarrely deducted two points by Reese. A few minutes later and the dodgy decision was to cost him the fight. One judge scored the contest 56-55 in his favour. The other two gave it to KSI. A shambles.
And then there are the bigger, existential questions that nobody was really in the mood to deal with on the night. For sports fans, this was an event that raised plenty more questions than it provided answers. For starters: was this fight— as promoter Eddie Hearn wryly claimed — a positive for boxing? Or was it instead the culmination of every single bad trend in the sport? After all, what does it say about the health of the sweet science that two bona fide world title fights merely served as a preamble to the madness? And what does it say that the two YouTubers took home more cash than the undefeated Billy Joe Saunders?
Let’s be honest: if you are learning about the outcome of this fight through The Independent, then there is a very good chance you need reminding of the identities of the two men involved. Both are professional YouTubers. Both have a long and depressing history of sharing extremely objectionable content online. But the sport of boxing remains stubbornly unfamiliar with cancel culture. And so KSI — a misogynist who once made a video proudly demonstrating his ‘rape face’ — and Paul — a weapons-grade idiot who thinks little of recording the victims of suicide for views — have been welcomed to the fighting fraternity with open arms.
“The first fight did 1.4m pay-per-view buys,” Hearn smirked earlier in the week. “And so here we are.”
The problem is that neither man can box. Not really. Sorry – but it’s true. The opening round looked like the kind of scrap you could witness on a street corner for free, with both men almost toppling to the canvas on their own accord after winding up faintly ridiculous Hail Mary haymakers. By the second round, Paul was breathing heavily out of his mouth. By the third, KSI briefly allowed himself to sway into the sanctity of the ropes, after yet another deliberating swing and a miss.
The crushingly inevitable controversy arrived dutifully in the fourth and settled the contest. A bemused Paul was deduced two points by a stern-faced Reese, and neither man had any energy left to throw any significant shots in the final six minutes. They were both finished. Let’s hope their respective boxing careers go the same way.
The two men were nominally competing for the hallowed ‘YouTube championship belt’ — a lurid strap of glinting red and gold which everybody spoke about throughout the night in revered tones, but which is worthless, and cheap-looking, and means nothing. In reality, they were fighting for inflated publicity and pride, following months of increasingly bitter online callouts. Neither of them needed to fight. But both of them wanted to. And KSI wanted it that little bit more.
“I have that dog in me and I don’t stop, he hit me with illegal shots, it was outrageous,” KSI – now the proud owner of a 1-0 record – crowed after the fight. “But I do not stop. I have shut him up. Your boy is happy, victorious, happy days.”
As KSI luxuriated at the end of his professional debut, promising those ringside that he was now planning to turn his attention to a career in the music industry, a downcast Paul paced the ring, the millionaire playboy suddenly very much alone. LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities. And Paul had learned the bitter lesson that boxing is the most egalitarian of sports. Within the ring: rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant.
He took it graciously, at first. “You had my respect before the fight, because you are one of the toughest people I know. Everything I said before the fight was just trash to sell this,” he said, sweetly. And then Shannon Briggs, his coach, got in his ear, shouting loudly about a conspiracy. “But I think the two-point deduction was harsh, I am not happy with the commission about that, I think if you do the math that cost me the fight,” he quickly.
He then, rather tentatively, suggested that there could be a trilogy fight.
KSI laughed. The crowd booed. The message came across loud and clear: no thanks, mate. Contrary to the honeyed words of Hearn, the kids and scenesters had not come to learn about the sweet science. They had not come to see a good fight. They had not even come to see somebody get knocked the fuck out. Instead, they had come to see their digital heroes in the flesh. And they had got what they had come for. Besides: the boxing fad is, like, so November 2019.
Earlier, on the undercard, Saunders defended his WBO super-middleweight title for the first time by stopping Marcelo Esteban Coceres in the eleventh round, and Devin Haney defended his WBC lightweight belt by outpointing the durable Alfredo Santiago. Do those results matter? Yes, they do. Do many people care? Not really. Which is part of the reason so many people paid to see a fight between two celebrity novices. And part of the reason why, for tonight at least, the once-proud sport of boxing was so happy to relegate itself to a sideshow.
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