This past November, Olajide Olatunji, better known as JJ to his friends and KSI to the more than 20 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, lived out a dream shared by millions of irritated parents throughout the world—he punched Logan Paul in the face. Many times.
“It was a very good feeling,” KSI says with a large grin on his face. “Training that long just to repeatedly punch him was a very good feeling.”
The Staples Center was packed with 21,000 screaming fans as the two YouTube stars faced off for a second time in a fight that was the culmination of nearly three years of back-and-forth shit-talking. The first time the two met in the ring was ruled a draw, so a rematch was not only an attempt to milk more cash out of the animosity between the two, but it was also an opportunity to squash the beef.
Both fighters jumped through all the required hoops to have this bout officially sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission. That means drug testing and the not-so-delicate way that it has to be done. “Yeah, peeing in front of someone was definitely a first,” KSI says. “All the rules and regulations were something I had to deal with, but my focus was on Logan Paul and knocking him out.”
While KSI wasn’t quite able to pull that off— "It’s hard to fight someone when they’re running away from you”—he did enough to convince two of the three judges that he had bested Paul, once and for all. “I wouldn’t fight him again,” KSI explains. “Maybe in a couple years' time, when he really needs it. I’m currently on the up and I’ve got everything going for me. I’m killing it on the charts, I’m killing it with YouTube views. I’d much rather find someone else that will elevate my career.”
The beef with Paul is a prime example of one of KSI’s primary strengths as an entertainer—the man knows how to fight. He is equally dangerous with his fists in the ring, with his words on the mic and with his biting wit in his YouTube videos. In many ways he is the perfect entertainer for an era defined by trolling and endless shit-talking in the comment section.
“Pride just takes over and I won’t allow someone to talk shit to me,” KSI says when asked about how animosity has fed his creativity. “I go into a different zone and it allows me to defeat the person that I’m beefing with.”
This drive to smite his enemies, to put all of the haters in their place, has fueled much of KSI’s rise to stardom. Less than a decade ago KSI had a fledgling YouTube channel filled with videos of a teenager playing FIFA in his bedroom. Flash forward to two months ago and he was walking through a crowd of tens of thousands of people to a live performance of a song that he had recorded with Rick Ross.
That collaboration with Ross, Lil Baby and S-X, “Down Like That,” is the first track KSI has dropped since signing with RBC Records. The song was a hit in the UK, reaching as high as 18th on the UK Singles Chart, making it KSI’s biggest hit thus far.
With his hands in so many different pots, one has to wonder if he’s ever going to choose to turn his focus on one medium over the others. “My focus is on all the pots,” KSI says. “My focus has always been on music, my focus has always been on YouTube, and boxing is quite new.
“I realized as a YouTuber that I have to improve my content and evolve my content,” he continues. “That’s why I started to do skits and pranks, and do vlogs and show my face, and do this and that to essentially entertain my fans and make them fans. Now I have diehard fans that will follow me through and through.”
And follow him they will. The genius of YouTube is that it allows creators to amass an army of fans regardless of what they do in their videos. Due to so many strange niches thriving on YouTube, like “unboxing videos” for example, the old guard of traditional media often dismisses the accomplishments of these stars as simply “YouTubers.” In other words, crediting the platform for the success, not the hard work that creators like KSI put in to every single video. “I’m used to it,” KSI says about people who refuse to take him seriously. “People don’t respect YouTube as part of a media platform. That’s their opinion and I’m here to change that over time. I’m showing people that yeah, I can do this whether you like it or not.”
If you ever question how much YouTube means to KSI you need look no further than his budding tattoo collection. On his chest is the script spelling “Knowledge,” with “Strength” on one arm and “Integrity” on the other. Put it all together and you have KSI. His wrist bares the Roman numerals “XIX,” a reference to the date the Sidemen (his entertainment collective) were founded.
With so much on his plate, KSI hasn’t had the time to add to his collection just yet, but he knows exactly what he’s going to do next. “I’m going to get Shenron on my arm, he’s a ‘Dragon Ball’ character,” he explains. “He grants wishes. I feel like, as a person, that I grant a lot of wishes for the people around me. I make things happen.”
It’s damn near impossible to predict what KSI is going to do next. Will he be throwing hands in the boxing ring? Maybe he’ll be dropping rhymes on his way to the ring for some faux combat in the WWE or AEW. Or, who knows, he could end up starring in a major motion picture or some other dream that he’s kept close to the vest. The only thing that you can predict about KSI is that wherever he ends up, he’ll be making things happen.