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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: KSI, LOGAN PAUL, AND THE BIG MISS

By Paul Magno | November 11, 2019
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: KSI, LOGAN PAUL, AND THE BIG MISS

It’s okay that a couple of knucklehead YouTubers-- KSI and Logan Paul—fought one another in the main event of a “real” boxing card Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. My problems with the event had to do with the way just about everything else was handled before the two “stars” entered the ring. 

I mean, yeah, KSI-Logan Paul was predictably dumb and sloppy. But we all knew that this novice vs. novice bout of 20-somethings making their professional debuts was going to be pretty bad. Maybe I’m being too harsh, though. The six-round cruiserweight contest WAS earnestly fought—more than one can say about some fights taking place these days—and it WAS a competitive pairing of “fighters” with comparable levels of talent and preparation (again, more than one can say about many other bouts these days). KSI, by the way, would beat Paul via split decision.

And I’d hope that nobody is blaming these YouTubers for hustling their way to a $900K payday from a hungry, desperate DAZN. I don’t begrudge anyone making a living in an honest, legal manner. 

Actually, I’ve been one of the few media voices (not on the DAZN payroll) saying that this celebrity boxing encounter was fine and that it could possibly be a positive for the sport. Who could be critical of an opportunity to potentially bring millions of new, young, enthusiastic eyeballs to boxing? The two YouTube personalities have cultivated huge followings and if even a fraction of their following saw something in boxing that held their attention, it would be a huge win for the sport. 

My problem, however, is that DAZN and their promoter of choice, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, played this hand so poorly that nobody but KSI and Logan Paul came out ahead with this event.

When the bout was first signed, I was assuming that Hearn and DAZN would actually put an effort into merging the YouTube audience with the loyal boxing fandom, facilitating a seamless, accessible crossover. 

Instead, we got the worst of both worlds and a sales approach that actually dissuaded both audiences from buying their way inside. 

Was the DAZN brain trust assuming that a tidal wave of teens would be able to cop their parents’ credit card info for a $20 one-month subscription (or a $100 year-long subscription) to see the YouTubers tangle? Were they assuming that their existing subscribers would warm to the idea of seeing novice flailers atop a card sold as premium content? 

The smart way to do this merging of worlds would’ve been to take the show to these guys’ YouTube home in a DAZN-sponsored $5 one-off PPV, heavy with DAZN promo material and an entertaining squash bout featuring the young, engaging 20-year-old Devin Haney on the undercard to appeal to the YouTube teeny-boppers. Or, maybe, have it on DAZN, but with a live YouTube pre-show and make the main card accessible via one-time-only $5, two-week pass to the streaming service. 

But, as it was this Saturday, we got a show not all that accessible to its target audience and absolutely meaningless to those already subscribing. 

And although Devin Haney was on the undercard, he wasn’t the direct lead-in to the main event. He was also matched unfavorably against an opponent in Alfredo Santiago who was good enough to not be the highlight reel KO victim the promotion needed for this showcase event and stylistically difficult enough to make Haney look dull. In a crowd full of new, young eyes and social media influencers, DAZN’s young talent drew whistles and boos at the end of a "meh" fight. That’s the exact opposite of promoting your product to a new audience. Oh yeah, and Billy Joe Saunders was also on the card—in a predictable snoozer—that probably had any new kid subscribers turning away from the screen and grabbing for their Xbox controllers. 

All of this came off as a jumbled mess and a big fail for Hearn, DAZN, and anyone who hoped that this YouTuber event would bring something worthwhile to boxing. 

For a second straight week, DAZN had boxing take a backseat to something not-boxing—last week, when they screwed with their own Canelo-Kovalev main event in deference to UFC 244 and, this week, by playing host to a kiddie party—with little-to-no benefit for boxing or to their bottom line as a boxing broadcaster. 

DAZN's executive vice president for North America, Joseph Markowski, however, was quick to label the event a “big success” and claim that it “generated a significant boost in subscriptions.” We’ll never know whether that’s the truth, though, since DAZN keeps their subscription tallies a hush-hush secret. 

On the surface, none of what happened on Saturday night at Staples Center seemed to be a “big success” for anyone but KSI and Logan Paul, who made nearly a million dollars each for a bout that would otherwise be an $800 curtain-jerker. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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