It was rumoured that YouTube sensation KSI pulled in a staggering £80m from his internet-breaking professional boxing match with arch-nemesis and fellow YouTube phenomenon Logan Paul. Well, there’s a lot of money in YouTube and there’s a lot of money in boxing, so it perhaps wouldn’t be so far-fetched – but KSI (aka 26-year-old Olajide William “JJ” Olatunji) claims the real figure is a little lower.
“$900,000 – that’s all I made,” he insists to NME. “All of that just for 900,000. Who would have thought?”
Whatever the real figure is, the event – which racked up millions of views, with the likes of Justin Bieber ringside – catapulted Watford’s KSI from YouTube infamy and into the mainstream. He’s been a star on the video platform for a decade, attracting more than 20 millions devoted subscribers. Initially he invited them to watch as he played Fifa videogames, but soon expanded his empire, from acting (in his 2016 comedy Laid In America) to old-school publishing (with his 2015 autobiography I Am A Bellend).
And now the KSI machine has reached critical mass. First his much-publicised beef with Logan Paul spilled over into last year’s semi-pro boxing match at Manchester Arena, which drew so much attention – 20,000 tickets sold, 1.3 million viewers on Pay Per View – that the boxing world had to take notice. So the rivals went pro, trained for a year and earlier this month packed out the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It was the definition of a zeitgeist moment, a collision of sport, online culture and music.
Because KSI is also a massively successful rapper and, before the match, performed his new single ‘Down Like That’ with its featured artists Rick Ross, Lil Baby and S-X.
A match commentator described the spectacle as “calculated insanity” to freak out Logan Paul. That’s accurate, says KSI: “I wanted him realise the scale and the level that I was going at,” he says. “I wanted him to understand that we’re at a different level compared to the last fight and he’s not ready… He definitely felt it – you can see his face, man. He didn’t wanna be in that ring. He was afraid and that’s why he didn’t fight like he wanted to take my head off.”
That booming hip-hop track is, at the time of writing, Number One in iTunes charts, a sure sign that YouTubers turned musicians should be taken seriously. KSI has a new album on the way – it’ll be released next year – which will be more introspective than his previous music, he says: “I’ll be talking about my life, portraying things that I haven’t portrayed publicly. That’s where you’ll get a lot of the private stuff.”
So he’s perhaps on the cusp of proper household name kind of fame – as in, famous among people over the age of 25 – but in the video above he insists his music is about more than popularity: “I don’t care about the numbers, I don’t care about the comments, I don’t care about all the stuff that just doesn’t matter. What matters is what you enjoy doing.”
One thing he’s enjoyed doing is starting beefs: with Logan Paul, Justin Bieber and even his own brother, fellow YouTuber Deji.
Bieber supported Logan Paul in that boxing match, which rules out a future KSI collaboration: “I don’t care who you are – if I don’t like you, I’m not gonna work with you,” the YouTuber tells us. Luckily he’s a little more sanguine about his relationship with his brother, who claimed KSI mistreated him in earlier videos they made together: “Brothers fight and there’s always gonna be a situation where, because we’re in the public eye, everything gets blown out of proportion. I feel like my bro needs to step back and not just voice everything he thinks publicly. That’s a problem because he doesn’t know how to separate his private life and his public life.”
We hate to ask this, but are KSI and Deji the Gallagher brothers of the YouTube world? Kinda! Fittingly, Liam Gallagher’s old nemesis Robbie Williams has taken note of KSI’s boxing success and challenged Liam to a match. Who would KSI’s money be on?
“Robbie,” he replies with a grin. “I know he’s the pretty boy, but I feel like he’s got a point to prove.”