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Rematch between YouTube sensations KSI and Logan Paul a gamble worth taking for DAZN

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Olajide William Olatunji aka KSI (L) and Logan Paul onstage at the KSI VS. Logan Paul 2 - launch press conference held at Gilbert Lindsey Plaza on Sept. 14, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Michael Tran/Getty Images)

There is a lot of resentment among a fairly large segment of boxing fans, and media, for that matter, against DAZN and promoter Eddie Hearn for putting a couple of social-media stars making their pro boxing debuts in the main event of a card on Saturday at Staples Center.

I’ll admit, I watch a lot of YouTube but I’d never heard of either KSI or Logan Paul until they fought as amateurs last year in Manchester, England, and reportedly sold around a million pay-per-views at $9.99 a pop.

Hearn noticed that and thought to take advantage of their popularity by having them fight as pros on DAZN. His thought process was that at least a percentage of those who came to watch Paul and KSI fight would be converted into boxing fans.

There is logic to that. There is a lot of good going on in boxing, with talented boxers popping up everywhere. The sport badly needs quality promotion, as was shown in the Canelo-Sergey Kovalev promotion in Las Vegas which couldn’t sell out the MGM Grand Garden despite the sport’s biggest star competing for a milestone championship.

Hearn is one of the few regularly doing excellent promotions and he’s done a lot to boost boxing in the U.S. (and around the world). He’s smart, he’s clever and he’s not afraid to try new things. 

But did he do the right thing by choosing these two guys and this particular card to experiment with? Well, when you consider that between Twitter and Instagram followers and YouTube subscribers that Paul’s content reaches 41.5 million and KSI’s reaches 19.35 million, they bring extraordinary reach.

It’s many multiples of all the other fighters on the card combined.

The problem, of course, is that perhaps the best young fighter in the sport will get overlooked in what has the potential to be a dreadfully bad match. Devin Haney is only 20 years old and will be making the first defense of his WBC lightweight title in the co-main event when he meets Alfredo Santiago. He’s believed to be the first boxer since Mike Tyson in 1986 to make a title defense before he turned 21.

Haney is already among the sport’s elite now, and it’s no stretch to suggest that in a year, he’ll be high on the pound-for-pound list and that within three years, he could be the biggest attraction in boxing. He’s fast-handed, he’s charismatic and he’s incredibly wise for one so young.

To say their fight may be poor is no knock on Paul and KSI; they’re rookies in a business in which it takes a long time to master. They’re guaranteed to look bad by comparison coming to the ring immediately after Haney.

But, hey, boxing is an entertainment business, and if Hearn’s hunch is correct and some of those who come for Paul-KSI stay because of Haney, it will be a brilliant decision.

If we’re not going that route, though, why not take it all the way. Selena Gomez has nearly a quarter of a billion followers on Twitter (58.7 million), Instagram (160 million) and YouTube (23.5 million). That’s four times the combined audience of Paul and KSI.

If Hearn had put Gomez against Kim Kardashian (total reach of 214.7 million with 62.2 million on Twitter, 151 million on Instagram and 1.51 million on YouTube), imagine the coverage and the reach! 

If you want to showcase Haney, forget about using the combined 60.4 million reach on social media that Paul and KSI bring. Go for the 456.91 million combined reach of Gomez and Kardashian. The internet might break on that night.

Using the Paul-KSI bout is a gamble worth taking. Not only does Haney need a spotlight shone on his greatness, but DAZN needs the subscribers. It held its Alvarez-Kovalev main event for more than 90 minutes last week and then declared it successful by saying its sales surged after the completion of UFC 244. 

That boggles the mind, given that anyone who was interested in subscribing to DAZN to watch Alvarez could have easily done so all throughout fight week, when media coverage and television ads were everywhere, or on the night of the fight itself. But DAZN would have us believe, without showing proof, its subscriptions surged at 1 in the morning on the East Coast and that people only then began to subscribe in big numbers.

Sorry, not buying that without evidence. I’m not that gullible.

But what it shows is that DAZN is in need of expanding its audience and putting KSI and Paul on in the main event is another attempt to do that. 

It’s a way of exposing the product to a new audience that probably wouldn’t find it otherwise. But it leaves you wondering about two issues: Will any of the 60 million Paul-KSI fans actually care about boxing and tune in to see the other fights, and wouldn’t the bout have made more sense as the opener on the main card instead of the main event?

If DAZN is still around in two or three or five years and still is into streaming boxing, Haney is going to sell plenty of subscriptions for them.

Until he makes his mark, Paul versus KSI is a gamble worth taking because there is very little downside. If the fight is a bomb and no new subscribers are added, DAZN and Hearn learn and move forward to do something else.

It’s the attitude that Golden Boy showed in promoting the Canelo-Kovalev fight that is the harmful one: Throwing open the doors and saying, “Here we are. Come watch.” I’ll take a Paul-KSI promotion any day over that.

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