Screengrabs via Sidemen Tings/YouTube
The move away from television and traditional media consumption has in many ways opened the world up. With only basic television access in the 2000s, a British fight fan might be reduced to waiting into the early hours of the morning to watch abysmal dreck like British large lads Michael Sprott and Matt Skelton leaning on each other for 12 rounds for the Commonwealth title. Yet with the advent of high speed internet access and the explosion of YouTube, a fight fan might allow himself to catch up on the latest goings on in the fight game on the other side of the globe at any time. He could watch a fight on a Wednesday evening should he really want to—15 years ago that was an unthinkable extravagance unless you had picked up a bargain bin VHS of Mike Tyson or Roy Jones Jr.'s best hits.
You don't even need to put in the effort of actually watching a fight. If you are feeling especially lazy, a quick search will take you to a highlight reel of Canelo Alvarez or Gennady Golovkin and provide you with the most brain trauma per second as you lean on the edge of the worktop, eating your piping hot ready meal. A fight fan in the past was a normal person who disappeared on Friday or Saturday nights to indulge a weird fetish. Now fight fandom can be an all consuming obsession. It might not all be on the level copyright-wise, but lovers of organized violence have good reason to be grateful for YouTube.What fight fans might not have a lot of experience with is the side of YouTube which apparently serves to bring in most of the company's ad revenue: the gamers, vloggers, and former Vine stars who bring in millions of views per video. In the last year there has been a bizarre move by these stars of 1080p into the realm of boxing, and this Saturday—the same night that the UFC is hosting the cracking Gaethje vs. Vick fight—the big talking point seems to be the bout between private schooled FIFA-player-turned-rapper KSI and Vine sensation and possible sociopath, Logan Paul.
For the purposes of brevity, our story begins with YouTuber, Joe Weller. Weller made a video of a sparring match with his friend Theo Baker, and fellow YouTuber KSI—who also enjoyed training boxing—joked that he would fight the winner. It was a compelling matchup and Weller had done well to defuse Baker, a gangly man with an awkward, throwback style. Using the now seldom-seen style of raising both forearms directly in front of him, elbows away from his body, Baker seemed to be a disciple of the great Daniel Mendoza.
How Did We Get Here?
Weller expertly handled Baker's other Mendozian looks. Of note was "the chopper," a hammer fist swung in with little commitment of the body—an excellent weapon for cutting a fighter open when fighting bareknuckle.And an almost pivot blow—now known as the spinning backfist. It speaks to Weller's power that Baker would stoop to these illegal tactics in hopes of getting a good blow in.KSI and Weller engaged in a war of words, diss tracks, a press conference, and finally in February they headlined the first all-YouTuber boxing card in history at the Copper Box Arena in London. A total of 1.6 million people streamed the fight live and 20 million had watched it on either man's channel within a few hours. We now consider a televised UFC card that gets 800,000 views to be a success. More fans viewed this amateur boxing match between two YouTube FIFA players than tuned into the actual FA Cup Final.The press conference was a beat-for-beat recreation of the Conor McGregor versus Floyd Mayweather pressers which had taken place a few months before. You will recall that that press tour went to four different cities and it was abundantly clear that neither man had enough material for more than ten minutes on the first day and it quickly devolved into alternately shouting "bitch" at the other man. Weller and KSI managed to touch on each others' entourages, money, the split of the purse, and get in plenty of name-calling while they were at it.
It was all exactly this bad.When the fight rolled around, KSI boxed up a storm. Spamming his jab in Weller's face, KSI kept his man out at range and moved around the ring freely. Weller's high guard and head movement failed largely because he was only using them when KSI wasn't punching.Many wondered how Weller went from such an aggressive performance against Theo Baker to playing the part of punching bag in front of KSI. Some blamed the scale of the spectacle, as the original video had been filmed in the comfort of a deserted gym. The truth was that KSI had taken a page from Paulie Malignaggi's Art of War. It is easy to get tied up in watching the hands when viewing a boxing match but any experienced pro will tell you that all the important action is done with the legs. Cast your eyes down and you will see it: fringed shorts.
Fringed shorts—like the gladiator skirt—are usually reserved for fighters who can "bang." When Weller saw KSI's choice of wardrobe he perhaps began to second guess himself and instead went into a shell, allowing KSI to build up a firm lead and bloody him with flappy, washer-woman-esque punches.When KSI loaded up his right hand to throw a long right swing or a bus driver uppercut he left himself completely exposed to returns and ate or narrowly avoided a left hook on his naked jawline every time.But the vast majority of the fight was Weller absorbing punches while KSI had little to worry about. The fight was called off and KSI was awarded the TKO in the third round. Before the numbers had even come in it was clear that this event was a success, so when KSI was interviewed in the ring following his victory he immediately announced that he wanted to fight the YouTubers of the moment, the Paul Brothers.
Logan Paul is YouTube's most controversial cash cow. He began his media career putting out six-second comedy shorts on the now-defunct Vine. Now a full time YouTuber, his videos continue to draw in millions of hits as he repeatedly apologizes for finding and filming dead bodies in Japan's Aokigahara (the 'suicide forest') or discharging tasers on dead rats. Back in January that suicide forest video brought him mainstream media attention, and when the KSI-Weller fight took place in February, condemning Paul was the cheapest way to pop a crowd.Where the fight gets interesting is that, unlike Weller and KSI, Paul was a successful athlete through his youth—a starting line backer for his high school, and a Division I wrestler. We're not talking Ed Ruth levels of wrestling, but the lad is 6'2" and 200 pounds lean. And in addition to being absolutely jacked—if you have watched any of his wrestling matches you will appreciate—moves like an actual athlete. His sparring footage, while hardly mind blowing, certainly shows a less wooden boxer than Weller. Adding an ounce of intrigue is the counter left hook that he used to drop his sparring partner because as KSI jabbed Weller with his right hand down by his belly every time, he became fair game for the left hook throughout the fight. Paul is reportedly a fight fan so he could have spotted this very obvious error in KSI in the Weller fight, and as a man with some considerable height and reach on Weller, he stands a better chance of getting to the mark with it.
Enter Logan Paul
While Paul is the arch-heel in this matchup, he became immediately more likable when in a cringe-inducing face-to-face segment he interrupted KSI to correct him that "it's not a fight, it's a boxing match"—something which your friend who likes MMA will never shut up about if you ask them to come over and watch a boxing match. But your MMA friend probably doesn't care about this fight. Your boxing friend will likely disown you if you ask him about it. Frankly, there's a good chance that you, the reader are wondering why you should care about this fight. Fights that are more spectacle than sport are par for the course in boxing, but nothing encapsulates the state of modern media like this fight. It's the reason that these men got into YouTube in the first place, the reason that they desperately plug merchandise in every video, and the reason that Weller, KSI, and both Paul brothers have put out songs and music videos in spite of a lack of musical talent: it is all just a grift and the targets are children.The KSI-Weller fight had the highest-pitched cheering and booing of any boxing contest you will ever watch. The majority of the crowd were noticeably children, which was made even more hilarious when you had grown men dressed as though they were in the front row of a Mayweather or Pacquiao fight, next to dabbing pre-teens.
Algorithms keep changing, advertising revenue keeps disappearing, and what is hot now won't matter in a year. Most YouTube beef used to last a few weeks and resolve itself, but now a whole card full of YouTubers can build weeks of programming around the same beef. And best of all? They get to live out their Mayweather-McGregor press conference fantasies. In boxing or MMA, people care about the press conference because of the quality of the fighters and the magnitude of the fight. But on YouTube, the celebrity is already provided without any of the hard work of actually building up a record through prowess.So should you stop your children from watching this disasterpiece? Well, chances are you can't. What you might be able to do is ask that they come and watch it on their tablet in the living room while you watch the UFC's card or pop that old Tyson tape in and hope some quality fighting osmosis into their brain. And honestly, as tempting as it is to summon up righteous indignation against this lazy cash grab, what good does it do? Ninety percent of 'super fights' in boxing and MMA are cynical cash grabs. Money is the only reason that anyone fights—it is just that some have to work harder and prove themselves before they can get it.Roberto Duran was one of the greatest boxers who ever lived, he loved boxing from his first fight to his last and boxed professionally in four different decades, but he only began boxing because he was jealous of his brother's amateur boxing uniform. If your dumb, impressionable kid sees two man-children badmouthing each others' girlfriends on a stage in front of a couple of hundred people and thinks, "I want to do that," they’ll grow out of it in the long term but they might find a sport they can follow for life or the motivation to try something athletic. Who knows, perhaps the algorithms will sneak a Canelo Alvarez fight into your kid's recommended videos.Whatever happens, Logan Paul and KSI will box one-to-six sloppy rounds Saturday night, they'll hug it out, and they will talk about how much they respect each other afterward. Paul will be forgiven for his past sins and both will continue to grind, because the YouTube grift never stops. But does that make it any less real than Mayweather versus McGregor?