Prizefighting is a funny thing. It’s a field in athletic endeavors where fans and participants alike are constantly seeking better paydays, yet the big money isn’t always reserved for its finest athletes. Attention, clicks and eyeballs are what drives the sport, and humans have a peculiar taste in what draws their attention when engaging in fisticuffs.
YouTubers Olajide “KSI” Olayinka Williams and Logan Paul will be making their professional boxing debuts on Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The fight is scheduled for six rounds and is being hyped up and marketed via the fact that there will be no headgear and that the combatants will be wearing 10-ounce gloves.
Boxing purists are dreading this weekend, but there is no substantial reason to be upset at this spectacle. The only new facet of this fight is that the stars of the event are YouTube creators. Most boxing fans are of an older demographic and most likely have no idea who these youngsters are, but these types of circus acts are not uncommon in boxing. Some of the biggest events in prizefighting have some kind of absurd element attached to them.
As it stands today, Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the undisputed king of pay-per-view. “Money’s” two biggest draws were against Manny Pacquaio, a historical pound-for-pound great whose best years were in the rearview mirror, and Conor McGregor, a talented mixed martial artist who was just a boxing debutante when they fought in 2017.
The Pacquiao fight is fitting of the No. 1 spot. The fight was eagerly awaited for the better part of six years, and these men were easily the two biggest stars in the sport. The McGregor bout is where things get more questionable. Yes, McGregor was as big a star as Mayweather in 2017, if not bigger, but it infuriated boxing purists for the fact that it was a novice boxer making hundreds of millions of dollars alongside the biggest draw in boxing and perhaps the best boxer of his generation.
Life isn’t fair, and prizefighting definitely isn’t. One fighter’s physical attributes are rarely that of their opponent. Reach, height, speed, and natural athleticism are things an opponent may have in spades, and you may never acquire them even with a Puritan-like work ethic. Hard work goes a long way into making someone an elite prizefighter, and hopefully that will come with some nice paydays. There’s no guarantee, though.
Vasyl Lomachenko is widely regarded as the pound-for-pound best and is universally viewed as one of the most gifted talents the sport of boxing has ever seen. The same can be said of Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in MMA. Both men have the distinction of being “underpaid” in the eyes of most fans. Johnson made a reported $380,000 for his final UFC fight against Henry Cejudo in 2018. Lomachenko made over $3 million dollars in his last reported purse against Anthony Crolla in April. The Ukranian’s paycheck is much heftier than the American’s, but this is standard in the MMA-vs.-boxing dynamic.
These guys are getting paid peanuts compared to McGregor’s $3 million or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s reported $35 million fight purse. Capitalism has a strange conjunction with big-event prizefighting, though. Money goes to a draw, not necessarily the best.
Most fans can live with people like McGregor or Alavarez making 10 times the amount of money as Lomachenko or Mighty Mouse, because they’re elite fighters in their own right. Rest assured, there will be guaranteed outrage whenever the KSI and Paul fight purses are released, but this is simply the nature of the sport. Like it or not, it is damn near a necessity for the lifeline of prizefighting.
This isn’t a plea to watch a fight between novice boxers who offer no intrigue other than trash talk for anyone outside the YouTube circle. This is simply a reminder that, as much as you may dislike or detest what KSI and Paul stand for, boxing fans have bore witness to worse. Mayweather received a retroactive therapeutic-use exemption for his IV use following weigh-ins, in addition to having money thrown at him even with his documented abuse of women. Danny Garcia’s father Angel called Keith Thurman a racial slur to his face. Pacquiao compared gay people to animals. That’s just to name a few.
Prizefighting isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a certain toughness and mental strength to step in the ring, and that is a gigantic reason as to why seeing these millennial vloggers be given a chance is so hard to swallow. They didn’t grow up in the sport or culture. There have been instances that prove these young men are not even very knowledgeable of the sport.
However infuriating the sight of their names on the marquee may be to you, remember that they’re carrying the card for talents like Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney. These guys have done the heavy lifting, and prospects like them need to focus on their craft rather than the camera.
If the boycotting of KSI and Paul is a hill you’re willing to die on, then by all means do so. However, there’s a reason why these two young men are headlining an event on a streaming service. Streaming sports is the future, and these kids were streaming before it was mainstreamed. No amount of nagging or angry tweets will undo the impact they’ve had on the zeitgeist. This is not an experiment that should constantly be tried, but it did have to happen at one point. Let Billie Joe Saunders and Marcelo Esteban Coceres serve as your main event to this card, with KSI and Paul as the bloopers post-credit segment.