Though boxing has been deemed “dead” several times over the years, the sport fights on.
In a non-conventional move aimed at drawing new, younger fans to boxing, subscription sports streaming service company DAZN (pronounced da-zone) is headlining a boxing card with two YouTube streaming stars.
Logan Paul and KSI, who have a combined 91 million followers on various social media platforms, will battle it out Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles to determine who is the best social media-based star in the ring.
Paul and KSI (whose birth name is Olajide William Olatunji), previously fought to a majority draw in 2018 on YouTube pay-per-view. After more than 1 million fans paid to watch the fight online — and 19 million views since on the fight’s official YouTube account — DAZN saw an opportunity to promote a boxing event headlined by the two.
“We watched with the rest of the world last year the first fight between the two guys… and we saw the results and Eddie Hearn, our promotional partner, brought that to us and said ‘Listen, I think we can get a rematch made and I think the guys are willing to work with a different broadcast platform,’” said Joseph Markowski, executive vice president of DAZN North America.
While the first bout between the two stars was mostly viewed as a joke by those in the boxing industry, the perception of the second bout has changed with the involvement of DAZN and true training camps being held — with KSI closing out his camp with a couple of weeks in Las Vegas training with Jeff Mayweather at City Gym .
“The data we look at suggests that fight is going to be huge,” Markowski said. “Anecdotally, looking at the comments of the world class boxers — the Anthony Joshuas, the Tyson Furys, the Canelo Alvarezes — they all respect it, they respect these guys. They respect them stepping up and challenging themselves as professional boxers, these guys are going pro, there’s no head guards and they’re fighting with 10-ounce gloves.”
For KSI it’s the real deal as he’s trained to build off his shortcomings in his first bout with Paul and feels confident going into this week’s main event.
“I’ve reached a new level, to a point to where I’m able to push the pace and still maintain good fitness,” KSI said. “My defense has improved, my boxing IQ has improved with the amount of tape I’ve watched from different types of boxers like (Vasyl) Lomachenko, Muhammed Ali, to (Mike) Tyson to (Joe) Frazier. I’ve done my research.”
With DAZN signing big name fighters such as four-division champion Alvarez, former heavyweight champion Joshua and middleweight title holder Gennady Golovkin to fight exclusively on its streaming platform, the company is looking to change the way fans watch big fights and is moving away from the traditional $50-$100 pay-per-view bout that have become the norm over recent years. DAZN offers a yearly one-time payment subscription option ($99.99), or a month-to-month plan ($19.99 per month) to allow fans access to its live and archived fights and special event programming.
“We exist in the United States to grow the sport of boxing and grow the audience that’s watching boxing,” Markowski said. “Our whole approach, our business model in the U.S. is to counteract the damage that we feel that pay-per-view has done to the sport of boxing.”
The fight card will feature seasoned pros, including two world-title fights. Billy Joe Saunders will square off against Marcelo Esteban for the World Boxing Organization lightweight title while Devin Haney and Alfredo Santiago will fight for the World Boxing Conference lightweight title.
Despite the established pros on the card, Markowski fought hard to have the Paul-KSI fight headline the event to further the company’s goal to diversify the boxing fan base.
DAZN and the two unconventional boxing foes are learning from one another in the lead up to the fight.
“I pushed for it very hard internally to get it done and we’re really excited about its tracking,” Markowski said. “KSI and Logan Paul are extremely skilled promoters in their own right on their own platforms. They’re teaching us a lot and teaching our promotional partners a lot about how to market to a social media demographic, and there are things they can learn technically from the boxers we work with as well as from the traditional promotional side about crossing the two over.”
In the end, DAZN will gauge how the experimental fight card worked by how many fans that might not have watched a pro bout before stick around after Paul and KSI revert back to their social media careers.
“For us as a subscription-based platform, the more of the KSI-Logan Paul audience we can engage in ‘real boxing’ next weekend the healthier our business will be longer term. That is the key challenge here. Taking the strengths of both of the different types of promotion and stitching them together.”
KSI will look to help that cause by putting on an entertaining performance and looking to end the much-hyped bout early.
“I’m ready, man, camp has been amazing,” he said. “I’ve taken this seriously and I am going to knock him (Paul) out.”