KSI vs. Fury: How a YouTuber Challenged a Legacy
Updated: Oct 31
Oct. 24, 2023
By: Larry Dong
On Oct. 14, 2023, two titans of the modern fight game clashed, igniting a storm of anticipation and speculation. One, a YouTube sensation turned professional pugilist, and the other, a scion of a boxing dynasty, carrying a legacy of raw talent and unyielding ambition. The collision of YouTube star Olajide “KSI” Olatunji and professional boxer Tommy Fury in the squared circle promises not just a contest of skill, but a collision of worlds, where digital stardom meets traditional boxing in a spectacle that has the entire sporting world holding its breath.
Courtesy of DAZN News US
Emergence of YouTube and Influencer Boxing
To understand the anticipation, let’s look back to 2017 when fellow YouTubers Joe Weller and Theo Baker had a boxing match. KSI, who was intrigued by the contest, offered to fight the winner. KSI and Weller fought on Feb. 3, 2018, with around 7,500 tickets sold and over 1.6 million online viewers. After KSI won, he challenged brothers Logan and Jake Paul, popular content creators. Logan fought KSI on the main card, while Jake faced KSI's younger brother Deji Olatunji on the undercard. Jake won his match, but Logan and KSI’s bout ended in a majority draw, leading to a rematch on Nov. 9, 2019, which marked the first influencer boxing match under professional rules. According to promoter Eddie Hearn, it garnered over 2 million pay-per-view buys, ranking among the top 10 most-sold boxing matches in history. KSI won the rematch by split decision.
A Growing Rivalry
Over the course of the next few years, significant developments shaped influencer boxing. KSI launched his boxing promotion company Misfits Boxing, featuring fights between rising influencers. He and Logan Paul reconciled and formed a partnership, creating PRIME, a sports drink company that generated $250 million in retail sales within its first year on the market. Logan and Deji also had exhibition matches against Floyd Mayweather, widely considered to be the greatest boxer of all time. However, the rivalry between KSI and Jake Paul would eventually ensue. After beating Deji, Jake amassed an impressive record of 7 wins with 4 KOs and launched his own promotion company, Most Valuable Promotions. The intense rivalry between KSI and Jake, coupled with their exchanges on X (formerly known as Twitter), fueled high anticipation for their match.
However, on Feb. 26, 2023, Jake suffered his first loss against Tommy Fury, boxing legend Tyson Fury's half-brother. KSI later faced off against professional boxer Joe Fournier on May 13, 2023. Although the match was declared a no-contest, KSI boldly expressed his intent to do what Jake couldn’t: knock out Tommy.
Jake Paul After His Victory by KO Against Tyron Woodley, Courtesy of The Mirror
Leading Up to Fight Night
Promoting this crossover boxing event involved a mix of conventional and unconventional methods to generate excitement and anticipation. The diverse targeted audience included both hardcore boxing fans and followers of the featured influencers, like Logan Paul who faced Dillon Danis in the undercard. Months ahead of the event, promotional teasers were shared on multiple social media platforms, featuring fighters’ training sessions and interviews, as well as brand partnerships. As the fight approached, a face-to-face interview brought Logan and Danis together for a moderated discussion. They shared their fight strategies and predictions and engaged in some light banter, allowing viewers to obtain a glimpse into the fighters’ mindsets, enhancing their connection and intrigue, and heightening interest in the event. Notably, the press conference, a hotspot for peak trash-talk in influencer boxing, was widely broadcast, engaging a large online and in-person audience. The fighters exchanged banter and engaged in face-offs on stage, heightening anticipation, entertainment, and emotional investment. This multi-channel marketing strategy amplified the event’s drama, creating a more compelling and memorable experience for viewers.
Fueling the Drama
While the compelling storyline, marketing strategies, and promotional content definitely contributed to the fight’s success, the online trash-talk between the fighters played an even more significant role in promoting the event. KSI mocked Fury’s appearance on the television show Love Island and made fun of his “skinny legs” in response to workout photos. Meanwhile, Fury threatened to “end YouTube boxing,” labeling it a “circus act” during their press conference and belittled KSI for his smaller stature. It wasn’t only the main card fighters who indulged in trash-talk. The undercard fighters also contributed, generating more anticipation for the event. Undercard matches can often be overshadowed by the main event, but by creating intriguing backstories and potential drama, the overall production was balanced. The undercard fighters, in particular, exhibited intense animosity, which was evident during a final press conference where Logan Paul threw his microphone at Dillon Danis, prompting a counterattack that left Logan with a cut on his face. While security had to get involved countless times during these events, the card’s success was undeniably fueled by the feuds and “beef” between these fighters.
KSI facing off against Tommy Fury, Courtesy of DAZN
What’s Next For Influencer Boxing?
Ultimately, the KSI vs Fury card sold approximately 1.3 million pay-per-view buys and an estimated $32 million worth of revenue including sales, deals, and merchandise. KSI vs. Tommy Fury represents more than just a clash of fists; it embodies the evolution of a sport, where boundaries blur and new chapters are written. It's a testament to the robust storytelling in marketing that captures our imaginations, transcends boundaries, and inspires generations. So, who ended up winning? In the grand finale of this electrifying spectacle, the real winner is the sport of boxing itself. As we peer into the horizon, the future of influencer boxing appears to be an open canvas, waiting for the next epic confrontation to paint its vibrant strokes. The question on everyone's lips remains: will KSI and Jake Paul, two of the sport's current most influential figures, step into the ring to establish yet another captivating chapter? The legacy of KSI vs. Tommy Fury will undoubtedly linger in our memories, fueling our anticipation for the battles yet to come, where YouTubers, influencers, and professional pugilists continue to break barriers and redefine the very essence of combat sports.
Larry Dong is a sophomore studying Finance and Data Science at NYU Stern. In his free time, he delves into social media content creation and music production, and actively seeks promising Pokémon card investments.