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KSI speaks ahead of fight: YouTube is bigger than ever, and this is just the beginning

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British YouTuber sits down with Polygon to talk YouTube culture

KSI
KSI
KSI/Facebook

Two of YouTube’s biggest and most controversial YouTubers, KSI and Logan Paul, weighed in for their fight Friday evening in Manchester, England. The same day, the U.K.’s Culture Secretary warned the BBC, Britain’s biggest traditional TV channel, to watch its back. YouTube was coming.

Whether you’re a fan of the fight or think it’s a money grab, the sheer number of press — including the BBC — in attendance at Friday’s weigh-in indicates the politician was wrong. YouTube’s already here.

“I feel like for years, old media has always neglected YouTube, pushed back and felt like YouTube wasn’t a real media outlet,” KSI, the British YouTuber with 19 million subscribers, told Polygon. (Logan Paul’s management denied interview requests made ahead of time and on the day of the weigh-in.) “Now, it’s getting to the point where it’s so big you can’t ignore it.”

Nearly 20,000 are expected in Manchester later today to see the fight; the organizers have estimated that a couple hundred thousand viewers each paying $10 for a livestream of the match on YouTube would be underwhelming — but would break even. But for KSI — whose real name is Olajide Olatunji, but often goes by J.J. — the fight is just a stepping stone.

“The main goal isn’t just to get a load of cash and fame then peace out,” KSI said. “I want to create a legacy and prove to everyone that YouTubers are a force to be reckoned with. A YouTubing gamer, a FIFA gamer, can go from that and become a professional boxer and beat a professional boxer. I think that’d be the best story ever.”

KSI’s keeping tight-lipped about the plans for fighting a professional boxer, but said he’ll likely have an initial fight “at the end of 2019,” and then assess how it went.

“If I felt good about it, then I might do another one,” he said. “But if I’m there thinking, ‘Well this was crazy, but at least I did it,’ then I’d probably stop there.”

For now, though, there’s the small matter of completing a boxing match that’s been six months in the making. The involvement of Paul, who uploaded a video of a dead man’s body while visiting Japan’s Aokigahara forest before going on a YouTube hiatus and is now casting his story as a redemption narrative, has stymied the business side of the bout.

“Because of the situation with Logan, it’s made it quite difficult,” KSI said. “The whole suicide forest thing, he fucked up there. It was disgusting.”

Five corporate sponsors have signed on to support tonight’s event; all were brought on with the proviso made clear they were supporting KSI and OP Talent, not Logan Paul, according to organizers. (KSI has encountered his own issues in the past with errors of judgment, some of which have been resurfaced in diss tracks posted before the fight. He previously told me in an interview for Esquire that they were youthful indiscretions, and that he learned “I need to watch what I do, watch what I say, and not be stupid. I need to take responsibility for the power I have.”)

Logan Paul is the same.

“He’s done a lot of stupid things,” KSI said. “But besides that, he’s a good YouTuber. He knows how to engage an audience, and he’s good at what he does.”

As the British YouTuber darted between interviews, many of the questions from the assembled media — Polygon included — focused on how much of the hype and hoopla is manufactured. (KSI’s younger brother, Deji, told Polygon: “First of all it was a show, but we’ve turned it into something serious”.)

“This is very real,” KSI said. “We’re going to go in there and really box. I feel like some people forget that. They think we’re going to go in there and hug it out and swear at everyone and say, ‘Ha, we played you.’ But it’s not like that at all. Right now it’s getting the number one goal, and that is knocking out Logan Paul.”

Chris Stokel-Walker is a UK-based freelance journalist.