Manchester’s AO Arena was buzzing with the energy of 20,000 fans, not all of them traditional boxing aficionados, but most drawn in by the high-voltage clash between Tommy Fury and social media sensation, KSI. With the soaring rise of influencer boxing, this bout was hyped to be one of the most exciting spectacles in crossover boxing history.
Tommy Fury, a legitimate boxer with a rising career, took on KSI, aka Olajide William Olatunji, in a cruiserweight contest. The bout was marked by a considerable amount of grappling, with neither participant showcasing exemplary boxing skills. After six riveting rounds, Fury, 24, took the win with a majority decision: 57-57 on one scorecard and 57-56 on the other two.
The verdict was not taken lightly by KSI, 30, who retaliated by challenging the authenticity of the outcome. Pointing at Fury, he quipped, “Look at your face, look at your eyes. I’m the YouTuber and you’re the boxer, I understand, you have to win.” There seemed to be an undercurrent of belief that the dice were loaded in Fury’s favor, given his boxing background. Fury, however, shot back labeling KSI “a sore loser” and declared his exit from crossover boxing.
As it turned out, the event’s scorecards stirred controversy when pictures leaked on social media. Rafael Ramos, one of the judges, allegedly miscalculated the scores, leading many to believe that Fury’s victory should have been by unanimous decision rather than majority.
The magnitude of this event overshadowed even traditional boxing matches. In terms of attendance, it doubled last week’s all-British world title contest. The allure of influencers in the boxing ring, combined with the massive following they bring, has transformed the dynamics of boxing promotions and viewership.
Prominent names, including promoter Eddie Hearn, super-middleweight Chris Eubank Jr., and celebrities like Jill Scott, Aitch, Louis Theroux, and Mo Farah, graced the event with their presence. Interestingly, WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury was also in attendance to cheer on his younger brother. When quizzed about the possibility of him ever featuring on an influencer card, he left fans in suspense, remarking, “you never know”.
The grandeur of the event was evident from the moment the main fight commenced. While Tommy made a somewhat subdued entrance with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” playing, KSI raised eyebrows as he made his way to the ring in a green Lamborghini, while his own song echoed in the background.
However, what truly shocked spectators was the bedlam and chaos that preceded the main event. In a rather wild turn of events, a co-main event featuring WWE star Logan Paul and American Dillon Danis spiraled into an outright brawl. Danis had previously incited anger by posting explicit images online, and tensions boiled over during the match.
Crossover boxing continues to be a polarizing subject in the sports realm. Traditionalists view it as a threat to the sport’s sanctity, as illustrated by former world champion Carl Froch, who believes it jeopardizes boxing’s credibility. Meanwhile, the younger generation is enthralled by this fusion of entertainment and sport. Misfits, the brainchild of KSI, sees its offering as “sports entertainment”. This blend, while intriguing to many, has also faced criticism for often crossing boundaries, especially when fighters prioritize theatrics over authentic boxing.
Despite the divisions in opinion, the monetary figures don’t lie. The substantial interest generated by such influencer boxing events, like the Fury-Paul and Fury-KSI matches, is evident proof that this new breed of boxing is carving its niche.
In the aftermath of the Fury vs. KSI bout, both fighters expressed their perspectives vociferously. KSI, feeling wronged, declared his intentions to appeal the decision, exclaiming, “I’m sorry, that’s outrageous. I felt like I won that.” Meanwhile, Fury, standing firm in his victory, dismissed KSI’s claims, stating, “KSI is a sore loser. He got beat, and that’s it… fair and square.”
Although the exact earnings from this event remain undisclosed, speculations hint at a mammoth figure of around £10m. While the split remains unofficial, there are whispers that KSI might have pocketed slightly more than Fury.
One thing’s for certain: influencer boxing, with its unique blend of glamour, controversy, and sport, is not just a fleeting trend. As the lines between entertainment and traditional sports blur further, the world waits with bated breath to see what’s next in this captivating saga.