When boxing gets all its ducks in a row there’s nothing quite like it. In a week when a big fight was mooted and then fell away, it was truly wonderful to see another big bout delivered to fill the void. For all the darkness this murkiest of sports brings, sometimes the light shines through. Yes, in a week where we lost Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk we gained KSI vs Joe Fournier.
Okay, so we’re being a touch facetious here. The latest Misfits Boxing pay-per-view is no substitute for the collapsed undisputed heavyweight title fight. But the timing of KSI’s announcement was interesting. On a day where traditional boxing had once again failed to get a seemingly-obvious match-up into the ring, the world of influencer boxing put yet another arena date in the calendar. While the mainstream sport is blighted by acts of vanity over sanity, its youth-targeted cousin thrives.
KSI, real name Olajide William Olatunji, is one of the originators of the movement. His initial amateur bouts with Joe Weller and Logan Paul piqued interest in boxing among the YouTuber’s young fanbase. Suddenly, a group of people never exposed to the sport had a way in.
This popularity led to the fad being pursued to its natural next level: going pro. KSI himself only has one official bout, with the majority of his outings coming in exhibitions. But Logan’s brother, Jake Paul, has racked up a 6-1 record in the pro ranks, albeit having lost to Tommy Fury, the only legitimate boxer he has fought.
KSI meanwhile has created his own niche, starting Misfits Boxing. While his American rival has sought acceptance from the wider boxing world, with the WBC even incredulously set to offer him a world ranking before the Fury defeat, KSI has approached it with a business-like distance.
Misfits Boxing is a vehicle that stages glossy, influencer-led fight cards in major arenas across the country. This year they are expanding operations with shows planned in America and Ibiza. The brand is strong enough that KSI being on the card is no longer a necessity. Jay Swingler vs Cherdleys was enough to warrant running the Utilita Arena in Sheffield.
This latest card, taking place in May, sees KSI try to emulate Jake Paul by facing a “real” boxer. It is true that opponent Joe Fournier boasts a 9-0 professional record. He has only fought once professionally since 2016 though, and that bout was back in 2021 against a musician with no previous experience. Fournier was last seen getting dropped by David Haye in an exhibition fight later that same year. Rather than a legitimate boxer, Fournier is someone who has long since parked any genuine pugilistic ambitions to become an influencer.
But legitimacy doesn’t matter in influencer boxing, or “crossover boxing” as Misfits call it. In fact, KSI vs Fournier is following the traditional story beats of a typical influencer fight so closely its remarkable. Olatunji and his opponent have made an apparent £10 million bet with each other on the outcome, just like Paul and Fury did. KSI is hyping this as a bout with a legitimate professional boxer, just like Paul did when taking on the cousin of Tyson Fury. There is a formula to these occasions now and if it makes money, then why stray?
Mainstream boxing could do with an effective formula if it is to return to the top. The promised rub that the pro game was supposed to get from these YouTube-driven cards has not quite happened. The likes of Badou Jack, Amanda Serrano and Billy Joe Saunders are no better off for having fought on influencer-topped cards. But while boxing cannot benefit directly from these influencer events, it can learn from them.
Misfits showed up traditional promoters by announcing their next event on the day Fury vs Usyk collapsed. The only way to fight back is by getting the best fights in the ring. People want to watch boxing that is evenly-matched with interesting stories behind it. The YouTubers have shown you can even repeat that story, as with Paul and KSI both making bets with their “legit” opponents. But until boxing realises that fans want to see the biggest fights take place in the ring, not via boardroom bickering, it will continue to be left behind by the likes of Misfits.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change