The YouTube Two, which will be a fitting epitaph once the carnival leaves town next Sunday, are innocents in the boxing business, two scrappers with no amateur pedigree, in a main attraction on a globally televised show and with a combined following of 40 million souls on various social platforms. Boy, the boxing diehards hate those facts.
They fought last year, big gloves, bulky headguards, over a million sales online, 21,000 packed inside the Manchester Arena and they threw wild punches, sweated and panted their way to a draw after six rounds. It was not, trust me, a bad scrap for two millionaires with no amateur contests and both with hastily created training camps. That was then, this is now.
Eddie Hearn, the promoter, watched from a distance last summer, at first dismissing the proposed numbers and then becoming very interested when the statistics were confirmed. “It was a phenomenon,” Hearn admitted. “It was a new audience, great figures – how could I not get involved? But, I told them that we had to do it properly; get rid of the headguards, get boxing licences and make them proper professional boxers with all the rules and medical conditions.” Hearn was not the only established boxing promoter sniffing about. Anyway, it all happened, the California commission did its bit and they each vanished to a long training camp.
KSI, whose real name is Olajide William Olatunji, is from Watford, the older of the pair by two years at 26, and is trained by Viddal Riley, an unbeaten professional boxer from east London. Riley at just 22 is signed to Mayweather Promotions and his three fights have been in Tijuana, Las Vegas and Dubai – apparently the fight in Tijuana, his debut last November, was watched by less than 50 people; in 2014 Riley won a silver medal at the European junior championships in Russia and qualified for the Youth Olympics the same year. It is hard to make old-fashioned boxing sense of anything to do with this fight.
The Logan Paul camp is led by former world heavyweight champion Shannon Briggs, a veteran of 68 fights, who lost to Lennox Lewis in 1998. “Logan will be the heavyweight champion of the world,” proclaimed Briggs. Paul drinks “the blood of cows” to give him extra strength and everybody involved seems to have operated without a shirt for the last two months, with their YouTube faithful devouring every six-pack snap. I know Briggs well, but still approach my arrival at the glorious circus with a bit of apprehension; there are only so many man-hugs and “bros” I can comfortably use as I wander in their exotic land.
They are victims of their own ridiculous success in many ways, two men trapped in a boxing twilight, too fit for their own good, at ease telling the world just how excellent they are and what they plan to do once the first bell sounds and the proper fighting starts. The reality is that nobody really knows how the pair will react, how quickly they will tire, how easy they will be to hit. Will either have the ring intelligence to think during the chaos? There is a very real chance that they have each over-trained, an affliction that can be as damaging in the ring as not training enough. You see, nobody knows, it is all so new.
Their crime seems to be their elevation to main event, the fight’s endless coverage with the pair as the main selling point and not the men in the other more legitimate contests on the show. However, this pair of “creators” have not stolen money from the pockets of the other professional boxers supporting them; the truth is that they have generated more money for the boxers on the bill. They are not the heretics in the ancient sport that many believe they are and the first bell on Saturday is not the end of the sport: Paul and KSI are just two raw novices with profiles that their boxing talents will never equal.
It will be a sloppy and brutal affair, they have shown a desire to fight, but little evidence that they have acquired the skills an amateur boxer develops naturally and most novice professionals are allowed to learn slowly through easy fights; the instant demands of their fans will not allow learning fights against an unmotivated journeyman or a hapless import, and that means that Paul and KSI are genuinely entering boxing’s unknown. They will, trust me, fight each other to a bloody standstill.
Meanwhile, Billy Joe Saunders, unbeaten, double world champion and Olympian, fights a man called Marcelo Esteban Coceres from Argentina in defence of a title. It is either the chief support, the main event, according to the purists, or “the other boxing” on the bill. Take your pick on what is a strange night for the boxing business. Not a bad night, just a strange night.
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