Washington - For months, brothers Jake and Logan Paul have hyped their boxing match against a pair of British YouTube siblings, Deji Olatunji and KSI, as the "biggest event in Internet history." This is what the Pauls do well: They hype anything with their name on it, especially their merchandise and their popular YouTube channels. Their collective ability to manufacture hype and drama out of thin air is what made them famous.
The match might not have been the biggest event in Internet history, but the perpetually controversial brothers will be able to claim the match as a success: More than 800 000 people were watching the official livestream of the fight at its peak - each paying $10 (about R140) for the privilege of watching the four YouTubers box each other in front of a live, paying audience in a Manchester, UK, arena. If you count those watching the unofficial, free, live streams of the fight on Twitch and Twitter, the number of online viewers hits about two million. The event was part boxing, part the culmination of a complicated, drawn-out drama, performed online ever since KSI challenged the Paul family in early February after winning a match against YouTuber Joe Weller.
The brothers now have another formula for monetising their fame after a series of high-profile scandals - most notably, Logan Paul's vlogging of a dead body in a Japanese forest.
The YouTubers had massive fan bases from which to draw a virtual crowd for their fight Saturday. Logan Paul and Jake Paul have 18 million and 16 million subscribers, respectively. KSI (whose real name is Olajide Olatunji) and Deji Olatunji have 19 million and 9 million subscribers on their gaming channels. Each of them have talked up the fight to their loyal fan bases ever since it was announced this year, treating their viewers to a dramatic cascade of news conferences, traded insults, training updates and diss tracks.
Jake and Deji were the undercard, while Logan and KSI were the main event. Jake wore white, and Logan black, as they entered the ring for their fights, each sporting a Bane-like face mask. KSI's robe was marked with the phrase, "The Nightmare," and he walked into the ring in a full black skull mask. KSI's intro, announced in the arena just before the fight, called him the "Undisputed YouTube boxing champion of the world." Each fighter walked out to their own diss track of their opponent.
If you're wondering why this his happening, the simplest answer is, why not? The Paul brothers weaponised drama to make themselves famous - turning the culmination of that drama with other YouTubers into a physical, monetisable event isn't really that far from their existing business models. And Logan, in particular, wanted to weave the fight into the redemption story he's been trying to tell about himself all year. Paul stepped back from his daily vlogging schedule over the past few months. This fight had become the focus of his content.
"As most of you know, at the beginning of the year, I was at the lowest point in my life as the result of my own actions," he said after the fight to boos from the crowd, referring to his infamous vlog of a dead body that, among other things, cancelled Paul's premium ad deal with YouTube.
"I do owe you an actual thank you," he said to KSI. "You say you saved my career, and these past six months, you've allowed me to take a step back from the Internet, and once again realise who I am."
Claiming that his redemption arc was not yet over, Paul said that the moment was "the start of a new Logan Paul."
Jake won his fight against Deji, and celebrated by challenging Chris Brown to fight him next. Deji, grabbing the microphone, spoke of his close loss as if it was not just a boxing defeat, but a blow to his career. "This isn't the end of me, I'm gonna come back from this," Deji said. "Jake Paul he surprised me, he hit hard."
As for KSI and Logan, the fight was a draw - meaning that KSI remains the champion of YouTube boxing. The end was the perfect setup for a sequel.
"Logan, I think there's only one thing to do. I think we gotta rematch," KSI said.
Logan responded, "I think it's what the people want."