By Jeremy Nestor: The face off between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in front of a partisan crowd at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, was a truly historic moment. Beneath all the hysteria and bravado, the situation was totally unique in how it saw a boxer pitted against a mixed martial artist inside the square ring for the first time ever. Despite loyalists of boxing condemning the fight as nothing more than a money making sham, it did little to detract from the popularity of the event, with millions across the globe tuning in to catch a glimpse of the two biggest stars in combat sport squaring off.
Fast forward two weeks and in the slightly less glamorous settings of Tobacco Dock in East London, it was the names of two young YouTubers who caused a stir, and it wasn’t just amongst the influencer community. Known more for their creative content rather than their combat skills, KSI and Joe Weller, met on stage at Upload Festival in a fiery exchange that instantly went viral.
The proposed boxing match between the two internet sensations is set to take place in February next year, but to what extent was their onstage encounter choreographed? More to the point, if the fight is to go ahead, how would it reflect on the influencer community as a whole?
The ever increasing popularity of influencers is undeniable. This is perhaps shown best by The EE Wembley Cup, which earlier this year sold over 34,000 tickets and featured FIFA Legends Steven Gerrard, William Gallas and Robbie Fowler. The game was by all means a success, it saw YouTubers mixing in with ex-pros on the hallowed turf of Wembley with 300,000 people viewing the game on Spencer FC’s channel. If a game between ex-pros and influencers can be a success, then surely nothing would be wrong with a boxing match that could sell tickets and drive views.
The big worry for the influencer and YouTuber community is that the fight will be an embarrassment and a poor reflection upon them. One of the biggest accusations levelled at the fight between Mayweather and McGregor was that it was purely a money making scheme. Oscar De La Hoya, head of Golden Boy Promotions labelled the fight a “fraud”, whilst boxing aficionado Max Kellerman said McGregor “wouldn’t land a single punch”. In the end such comments were unwarranted, as the two put on a fairly gripping show. Whilst not to suggest that KSI v Weller is anywhere near the magnitude of MayMac, it is worth considering just how embarrassing it could get when two people who have never fought properly in their life get in the ring together.
In the build up to the squaring off on stage at Upload Festival, there was a series of rather childish diss track exchanges between KSI and Weller, where KSI had claimed to steal Weller’s girlfriend. Whilst they helped build anticipation for their meeting on stage, from an outsider looking in it all looked a bit choreographed and cringe worthy. With these two stars wanting to drive interest but also sponsorship they’re treading a fine line between success and failure. The true worth of influencers is the trust they inspire in audiences through their honesty, if this is lost then what’s left?
The True Geordie, who was onstage at Upload and stepped in before things got nasty, has waded on in the debate, claiming that if done properly the fight has the potential to be a huge success and attract main stream media. In theory he is correct, both KSI and Joe Weller are massively popular, boasting over 21.6 million subscribers on YouTube between them. Moreover, with both of their egos being substantial there is the potential for either one for them to be humiliated, that is a great selling point whatever way you look at it. However, as The True Geordie states, if done poorly, if production value is poor, if KSI and Weller don’t train correctly then it opens up the whole event to ridicule.
There are also rumours that with Upload sponsoring the fight, the supposed beef between KSI and Weller is not genuine and just a ploy to draw interest to the fight and sell tickets. In the diss tracks that I touched on earlier it certainly looked as though the rivalry between the two was a little gimmicky. However, it would be wrong to dismiss what happened on stage as false. Though a tad forced, it’s hard to deny that there up is a real element of bad blood between the two, as even before the two came to blows on stage they had clashed earlier in the day, trading both verbal and physical shots. Moreover, the fact KSI has released footage of him sparring, does highlights that this is being taken with a degree of seriousness.
If, and it’s a big if, the fight is successful, then it has the potential to raise the profiles of not only KSI and Weller but also the entire influencer community. If the two are to defy expectations and put on a real show, then it could catapult them well beyond their traditional audiences. Furthermore in terms of the business of sport it could have huge implications with more and more influencers holding their own sporting events. As said, Spencer FC’s EE Wembley Cup is a shining example of how well this can work.