On Saturday, Paul and KSI, a 26-year-old British YouTuber whose real name is Olajide Olatunji, fought at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in front of thousands of fans, boxing enthusiasts and YouTube celebrities. Despite their lack of experience and comparative skill, the pair were the main event of a night that included undercard matches between actual boxers.
On DAZN, the subscription sports streaming service that exclusively broadcast the match online, the commentary set the scene: “Six rounds, who’s the king of social media, we’re about to find out.” Paul, who uses “Maverick” as his nickname (it’s the branding on his YouTube merchandise) wore red, white and blue. KSI (“The Nightmare”) was in red and black.
KSI won in a split decision from the judges. Paul is mad about a point deduction he believes cost him the match, and he made gestures contesting the results on Saturday night.
But none of this really matters. Instead, Logan Paul vs. KSI was about generating as many views as possible, and turning those views into a crossover payday for a cohort of people from the once separate worlds of boxing and YouTube. The two may be, after months of intense training, okay-ish boxers. They’re much better at figuring out ways to turn anything into content.
The first time the pair boxed in 2018, more than 800,000 people paid $10 each to watch a live stream of the YouTubers fight each other for a sold-out crowd in Manchester, England. While DAZN declined to give The Washington Post details on the number of viewers for Saturday’s fight, Joseph Markowski, executive vice president of DAZN North America, said in an emailed statement that they considered the fight a “big success.”
“The KSI vs. Logan Paul event generated a significant boost in subscriptions, caught the attention of mainstream media and introduced the sport of boxing to a completely new audience,” Markowski said. “Those were our goals at the outset and we are very pleased with the results.”
Monthly subscriptions for DAZN cost $20.
Paul’s talent is in monetizing attention. He became famous on Vine years ago for short, goofy, physical humor skits. When Vine shut down, he and his little brother, Jake Paul, migrated to YouTube, where they positioned themselves and their fans as rival clans (the “Logang” and the “Jake Paulers”) whose supremacy would be determined by views. It worked. Their views and subscribers skyrocketed in a matter of months, and they built loyal fan bases of young, merch-buying tweens.
The 24-year-old, who now likes to call himself a former YouTuber, picked up boxing in the aftermath of the worst professional decision he made: filming a dead body in a Japanese forest at the beginning of 2018 and turning the footage into fodder for his daily vlog, which is primarily watched by children and tweens. Paul lost access to YouTube’s more lucrative premium ads as a result and for a time became the most hated YouTuber on the platform. But hate is still attention, and Paul took that and turned it into something new.
In a half-hour documentary Paul made about himself and released in the lead-up to the match, the Japanese forest vlog is seen through the lens of how it emotionally impacted him. The forest becomes his wilderness, merely the setting for the beginning of a redemption story.
Paul is lured out of the wilderness by a challenge from KSI, his rival and savior, as the latter celebrates besting YouTuber Joe Weller in the ring. The challenge leads to their first fight: both Paul brothers, Jake and Logan, against KSI and his little brother, Deji Olatunji. In the documentary, Paul seems to argue that the work he put into becoming a good boxer is the equivalent of the emotional and ethical work one would expect the person who filmed someone’s body for clicks would undertake.
Paul used to hype his rivalry with his little brother to generate views. But to recover from vlogging a dead body, Paul instead found himself selling a rivalry with KSI. As they prepared for their match — and rematch — the two insulted each other in videos on their channels and held news conferences that devolved into deeply personal insults. All of that tension, they promised, would show up in their fights. In an interview with Business Insider, Paul spoke like a man whose life depended on the fight’s outcome.
“I’m eating 80 pounds a day. I’m drinking the blood of cows, and I’m pushing a lot of weights in the air and putting them down,” he said. Somehow, he sounded simultaneously like a boxer in a movie and a parody of one.
When it was over, and Paul’s attempt at redemption by boxing fell short, he changed his tone. He didn’t like being mean to his opponent for months on end, he told KSI after the fight. “It’s all for show, it’s all to sell it.”
Online content doesn’t have to be good to go viral. Paul has found a way of making his work unavoidable in YouTube culture. Saturday’s fight is an indicator of how those who have already perfected the art of grabbing attention on YouTube will attempt to break out of the confines of the platform: Although YouTube culture might feel like another world to those on the outside, some of the same tricks YouTubers use to keep their audience’s attention work beyond that world.
KSI said he was done boxing Paul after the Los Angeles match ended. But Paul didn’t have the redemption arc he needed to finish the story he tells about himself.
“You can do MMA,” KSI told Paul. “You should fight CM Punk, that would be pretty funny for you.”