YouTubers Joe Weller and KSI, who rose to prominence as part of a YouTube gaming group, will step into the boxing ring on Saturday and go head-to-head after months of feuding.
The rivalry between Weller and KSI dates back to their days with a group called the Sidemen, a team of seven British YouTubers with a focus on video games, including FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, who also happened to be longtime friends. KSI was one of the group’s founding members in 2013. As the Sidemen became more popular, each developed their own individual YouTube account, and KSI grew to be one of the most famous members of the group. In August 2017, KSI announced he was moving on from the group.
KSI’s decision to leave the group on reportedly unfriendly terms (he blamed internal drama with one Sidemen member as a reason) kickstarted his months-long feud with Weller. Although Weller was never officially a part of Sidemen, but rather described as a friend of the group, he and KSI started battling after the latter’s departure from the group.
The ongoing hostility between them led to diss tracks and insults before ending in a fight on stage at Upload, an event that gathers YouTubers and gamers for a multi-day festival, where the two announced the date of their official boxing match.
On Feb. 3, Weller and KSI plan to settle their differences in the ring, boxing each other in front of thousands of fans who paid to see the two finally have a go. Here’s everything you need to know about the fighters and the controversy before watching the big match.
KSI, whose real name is Olajide William “JJ” Olatunji Jr, is one of YouTube’s most popular creators. He currently has more than 17.5 million subscribers and is best known for a series of FIFA gaming videos he made a few years ago. KSI’s popularity on YouTube first peaked between 2009 and 2011, before making a resurgence in 2017 thanks to the series of manufactured fights between him and other YouTubers.
KSI spoke about the fight in a video published on Aug. 16, and included the link to a poll he created asking his fans, known as the KSI Army, who he should fight in a boxing match: Weller or another YouTuber KSI was trading diss tracks with, W2S. The results were to be revealed at Upload one month later.
Weller, who has just under five million subscribers, responded with his own video, accusing KSI of trying to find a way to get out of their fight by going after someone KSI could easily take in a fight.
“I can’t believe he’s gone and done this,” Weller said in the video, before launching into his own attack on KSI.
The fight only escalated from there. The two started attacking each other on Twitter, with KSI calling Weller irrelevant — one of the most popular words weaponized by YouTubers to attack someone’s status. This went back and forth for weeks until Weller and KSI met up at Upload, appearing on stage to announce the official date of their big fight in London.
While on stage, KSI and Weller got into both a verbal and physical confrontation. KSI made fun of Weller’s struggles with depression, a topic the latter YouTuber has opened up about in the past, and Weller shoved KSI with his shoulder. The two threw vulgar insults at each other, and both YouTubers issued follow up videos about the incident. KSI apologized for his remarks, saying that it was said in the heat of the moment.
“My intentions were never to offend anyone who deals with depression,” KSI said. “I just got heated in the moment and was trying to offend Joe as a person in general. Either way, it was wrong of me to say what I said so I just wanted to say I’m sorry for that.”
The YouTubers have kept up with their jabs at each other on social media and YouTube since then, but in the final days, have turned their focus to promoting the fight. The callouts have simmered to an extent, putting us directly in the eye of the storm; the calm before all hell breaks loose.
As the fight approaches, there’s one big question that hangs over the heads of YouTube’s would-be boxers: Is any of it real?
Fake Drama is Fake Drama
Manufactured drama isn’t just a trend on YouTube; it’s an epidemic.
For many creators, drama (real or manufactured) promises everything they need to be successful, talked about YouTubers. Creating a video that calls someone out leads to response videos, which leads to react videos, which leads to diss tracks, more react videos, and the inevitable makeup video. Depending on the severity of the drama and the length YouTubers decide to keep the drama going, five or six videos can be uploaded that garner millions of views. That’s likely a few thousand dollars in AdSense revenue.
To put it even more simply, YouTube’s current system rewards the fabrication of drama on its platform.
KSI and Weller have been accused multiple times of creating fake drama to rake in views and sell tickets to their boxing match. Other YouTube fans have pointed out that some of the most popular YouTubers known for engaging in drama with other creators — Jake and Logan Paul, RiceGum, FaZe Banks — as an example of fake drama being exposed. Think of it like pro wrestling; fans understand that the drama and fighting is almost entirely fake, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying it.
Unlike Jake Paul, who has admitted in the past that he’s created fake drama in the past, KSI and Weller are standing by the legitimacy of their beef. The issue, however, is that KSI doesn’t have the best track record with this type of content.
In November, KSI published a video explaining his so-called fight with the Sidemen, the group of YouTubers he belonged to. The drama wasn’t entirely real, but it wasn’t entirely fake either, KSI said in the video. Upon realizing just how successful the initial diss tracks were, KSI kept it going, bringing in even more views.
It’s this type of behavior that many other YouTubers have problems with; the manufactured drama and diss track phenomenon that took over YouTube in 2017 is largely seen as a problematic for the platform. I wrote about this conundrum earlier this month, and how the “invasion of Viners” led to YouTube creators changing the way they produced content. The trends brought on by newcomers inevitably have an effect on more seasoned YouTubers.
It represents the changing tides of the YouTube we know. Refer to it however you want — the invasion of Viners or influencers moving from Instagram to YouTube — but the YouTube I remember from years ago lost part of itself this year. Even though YouTube should be thought of a country, with different states that don’t really pay attention to what other states are doing, it’s impossible to ignore when waves of new creators figure out how to game the system and create content that feels like it was born out of greed for views than creative endeavor.
While others may see KSI and Weller’s fight as an inevitable end to the ongoing bickering, other YouTubers see it as something that could have been avoided entirely.
KSI and Weller’s sold-out fight will take place at the Copper Box Arena in London and begins at 11 a.m. ET on Feb. 3. The fight will be streamed on both of their channels for free. FIFA players AnEsonGib and MaxPlaysFifa will open the match as undercard fighters.