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“I’ve become so big you can’t ignore it”: KSI outlines his masterplan to make Misfits Boxing the next WWE

Having conquered YouTube, topped the charts and created a marketing sensation with his Prime drink, KSI believes his new boxing venture with DAZN can become one of sport’s biggest promotions. Speaking to SportsPro, the social media superstar reveals how he plans to usher in a new era of sporting entertainment.

20 January 2023 Ed Dixon

Misfits Boxing

JJ ‘KSI’ Olatunji. YouTuber, rapper, entrepreneur, multimillionaire. Now boxer and promoter. Considering the punishing nature of the fight game, in and out of the ring, surely there are easier ways for the social media sensation to make a living? 

“I think it’s pretty cool that I’m able to actually practice what I preach,” the 29-year-old tells SportsPro. “I actually get stuck in. I talk the talk and I walk the walk.

“With Misfits we’re trying to make it as big as the UFC, as big as WWE. [Misfits is] based on entertainment with boxing included into it. I think the sky’s the limit.”

KSI’s ambition for his latest boxing venture shouldn’t be taken lightly in the context of his own meteoric rise. Having started off making gaming videos in his bedroom, he has built a vast online audience – including 41.4 million YouTube subscribers and 12.4 million Instagram followers – that readily supports the Londoner’s various endeavors. Another recent one of those is Prime Hydration, a drink that has caused such a stir that people are queuing outside shops to get it.

KSI may not possess the Midas touch, but he has something resembling it. Since first stepping into the boxing ring against fellow YouTuber Joe Weller in 2018, his fighting career against other internet personalities has seen him headline top sporting venues on both sides of the Atlantic. In the process, he has racked up pay-per-view (PPV) numbers and purses other professional pugilists could only dream of.

The novel feel – not to mention criticism – that accompanied those events in combat sports circles has now given way to a sense of opportunity. Indeed, last summer saw DAZN team up with KSI to launch the X Series. Famous faces across the realms of sport, entertainment and lifestyle are all competing. Essentially, anyone with a platform appears welcome.

The inaugural event amassed nearly two million viewers on DAZN’s global streaming service, 90 per cent of which were first time subscribers. It paved the way for an expanded deal running until 2027, announced earlier this month, handing DAZN rights to air at least six X Series cards each year, including two PPV fight nights, in more than 230 territories.

The partnership got underway on 14th January, when KSI duly knocked out Thomas ‘Faze Temperrr’ Oliveira in the first round. It could be just the start for him and Misfits Boxing in their quest to stand alongside the UFCs and WWEs of the world.

Guiding that lofty goal is a plan designed for Misfits to have an almost unavoidable presence. Speaking to SportsPro days out from his fight last weekend, and joined by Misfits co-president Mams Taylor, KSI detailed his blueprint for a new kind of boxing.

Believe in the vision 

SportsPro’s conversation with KSI is taking place during a media workout at a gym in north-west London. Established fighters and media personalities hang off the ropes. The atmosphere is boisterous as bright lights and multiple cameras prepare to fix on the main attraction. World title matchups have had far less attention than this.

While KSI’s showmanship has turbocharged Misfits’ rise, he insists this was never a given. Taylor points out that his business partner maintains he is “not a talented person”, instead relying on hard graft.

“The amount of times, whether it’s with music, boxing or YouTube, people have constantly pushed me away and said this isn’t going to grow,” says KSI. “Now I’ve become so big you can’t ignore it.

“That’s essentially what’s going to happen with Misfits.”

The phrase ‘if you build it, they will come’ applies here. DAZN clearly liked what it saw last summer and believes the potential is there for the series to help it reach a new, youthful audience that will ultimately boost its subscriber numbers.

“For it to be a five-year deal, that’s a long, long time,” continues KSI. “This is excitement that people haven’t really seen before.

“With DAZN, it just shows that they believe in our vision and believe in the future of Misfits. Obviously, we’re going to get haters or people complaining that this isn’t real boxing. But this isn’t traditional boxing. This is completely different. This is its own lane.

“It’s not like we’re forcing it down people’s throats. If you enjoy it, cool, if you don’t, cool. It’s going to grow and get bigger anyway. So there’s not really much anyone can do to stop it. You might as well just check it out and see what the big fuss is.”

For Taylor, the intention is to create “our own mini universe that can keep expanding”, one that merges the ferocity of combat sports with the spectacle of WWE. Skill levels may vary, but Misfits will not see that as a barrier to building a stable of personalities audiences can rally behind.

“[Misfits is] really a world of entertainment where these gladiators entertain people and then do some serious fighting in the ring,” Taylor explains.

“I think we’re making a blend of the best bits of everything and also trying to make sure we don’t fall into the same pitfalls that some of those traditional models have.”

You can’t stop the critics

The burgeoning popularity of influencer fights has been mocked and dismissed by many boxing traditionalists. The staunchest of opponents will never be converted. Misfits, it seems, knows that and makes no apologies for its unconventional approach.

“We’re not trying to impose on anyone,” says Taylor. “If anything, we’re giving a nod and a gracious bit of gratitude to the traditional model of boxing and the inspiration from the WWE and UFC model.”

After nearly 15 years on YouTube, during which he has opened himself up to a barrage of online abuse, KSI has experience ignoring the haters. The large audience tuning in to watch him box, even if a chunk of it hopes he loses, gives him good reason not to stray from his methods.

“We don’t care,” he says, when asked if he’s bothered by the sceptics.

“We’re a breath of fresh air. We’re still going to continue doing our thing. Nothing’s going to stop us.

“My soul is cleaner when I’m just honest. There are these things that I just tell people. Even if it makes me look stupid I’m always happy to learn and I always have an open mind.

“I’m not going to get everything right. But I think that’s what people like about me. I don’t have to try and hide behind a face and try and act a certain way. I’m just me. And that’s good enough.”

Champion the wider benefits

Established promoters such as Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn have tried their hand at influencer boxing. That was a move the company’s chief executive Frank Smith said during SportsPro Live in 2020 was “good for boxing and the growth of the sport”.

Wasserman Boxing’s Kalle Sauerland, who is partnering with Misfits and DAZN for the X Series has also acknowledged the “huge crossover appeal” of influencer fights. More of the sport’s powerbrokers are recognising that boxing’s archaic ways must change if it is to attract fresh fans, with the KSIs of this world now seemingly accepted as part of the solution.

“We’re just a different generation and a different generation responds differently,” says KSI.

“Promoting stuff through TV ads isn’t enough. You have to do social media, you have to be able to [use] TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. You have to be on all these platforms to promote and to let people know what’s going on. And then you also have to be personable as well.

“I think a lot of executives are just being smart. They see that there’s a younger audience that are really into this. Why not tap into that and why shy away from that?

“They’re just trying to get ahead of the game and it’s good for us as well. Instead of it being a ten, 15, 20-year job, it is half of that now because of us working with someone like DAZN.”

“We’re broadening the audience for boxing and combat sports in general,” adds Taylor. “We’re helping in that realm. We’re not poopooing on what anyone is doing. We’re just creating our own world.”

Misfits Boxing co-president Mams Taylor wants the promotion to create its own “mini universe” that takes inspiration from the UFC and WWE

It’s all in the marketing

KSI finds himself in the unique position of being both fighter and promoter. While he admits not all boxers are capable of handling both, a more hands-on approach can pay dividends if they want to build their profile and boost earnings in what is a short and unforgiving profession.

“Traditional boxers kind of just rely on the promoter to do all the work,” KSI notes. “I’m promoting my fights and everything I do. I’m constantly promoting and I have the ability to promote other people with my platform.

“For me, the most important thing is marketing. A lot of people don’t even know when fights happen. With me fighting Faze Temperrr you know about it. It’s constantly in your face. This is the work that you have to put in to get the other people buying into your fight and buy into everything that you do.”

Focus on the legacy

With an estimated net worth of US$25 million, KSI can afford to reject lucrative offers. Taylor reveals the pair have even turned down “well over 100 million” since they started working together. Instead, he says they are “very aligned on the legacy”.

“Money is not even secondary, it’s maybe tertiary,” he continues. “It’s always about, first of all, what makes you happy. And that comes from passion, creativity and being of service and helping others and inspiring others. Then we focus on the brand and growing it. We don’t take low-hanging fruit.

“The irony of that is when you don’t make money your god it comes to you much more easily and flows towards you because you’re doing things from the right place.”

Such is KSI’s trajectory, Misfits’ biggest draw looks on course to be one of boxing’s highest earners in the coming years. A clash with rival social media personality Jake Paul, whose brother Logan is KSI’s business partner on Prime, has been touted for the end of 2023. Holding the fight at a packed venue like Wembley Stadium is very realistic.

If and when that does happen, thoughts could turn to what KSI does next. His 2022 charity soccer match with British YouTube group the Sidemen pulled in 2.6 million concurrent viewers, with the full stream managing north of 28 million views on the Google-owned platform. The sporting world is his oyster. For now, though, the focus remains in the ring.

“Honestly, I have no plans [for other sports],” says KSI. “I’ve seen how big darts is becoming, but I’m trash. You never know, maybe a bit of golf.

“We’ll see when I get older and I don’t feel like punching anybody.”

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