B.Before KSI, there was Olajide Olatunji – “JJ” for short. Before the YouTuber, gamer, rapper, boxer, promoter and energy drink mogul, there was the suave class clown in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
“I remember we did a production of Sweeney Todd,” says one of his schoolmates. the independent. “He played the judge, and when he died at the end, he was wriggling and worming across the stage. Everyone was in stitches. He was funny, a good guy, everyone liked him for it. It was popular, but not like, ‘I’m the s***’; he was confident, but he was also a nerdy, caring, sweet guy.”
With those qualities, JJ was tailor-made for YouTube, where he launched his ‘KSIOlajideBT’ channel in 2009, four years after the platform’s inception. Fifteen years old at the time, JJ quickly gained a following by filming himself playing FIFA, the famous soccer video game, at his parents’ house in Watford. His haunting laugh was a key feature in every charge. “He always had this very distinctive laugh,” recalls his schoolmate. “I remember that. He was laughing at something during the morning check-in, and the teachers were like, ‘JJ, please!’”
By the end of 2009, Olatunji had amassed 1,000 subscribers. That number had tripled by the end of 2010, and Olatunji’s growth accelerated to an astonishing rate in 2011, when it reached 150,000 subscribers, and in 2012, when it crossed the 1 million mark. JJ had become KSI, which stands for “Knowledge Force Integrity”, and would soon become arguably Britain’s most famous YouTuber.
“When he started growing up on YouTube, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone,” says this schoolmate, “but you would hear from certain people who knew him, ‘Oh, he definitely has a bit of an ego now. He’s not so sweet anymore, there’s an arrogance there, he talks about himself a lot. He used to be more engaged when he talked to people.’”
If the YouTube company “made sense” to his peers, so did his next move, when he released his first rap song in 2015. “I remember writing a rap to learn every element on the periodic table, and all the teachers were very impressed,” adds his schoolmate, but it was singing about supercars after he dropped out that showed how dramatically KSI’s life had changed. His debut single “Lamborghini,” featuring P Money, peaked at No. 30 on the UK chart.Since then, it has been followed by numerous EPs and two studio albums.
However, KSI’s next effort was less predictable.
KSI ushers in the era of ‘influencer boxing’
“He was so sweet that no one would have said, ‘Oh, he’s going to fight when he grows up,’” says his schoolmate. “When she did it, she was like, ‘Oh, gosh. Well, I guess he can, so who’s to stop him?’”
Popularity is not synonymous with likeability as some believe, and KSI has had detractors for a long time. Wisely though, he began to build up a general desire to see him get punched in the face. In 2018, KSI fought his first amateur boxing match, beating fellow British YouTuber Joe Weller by technical knockout in three rounds, following a buildup in which KSI mocked his opponent for opening up about experiences with depression. KSI later apologized for his comments.
Next up for the Brit was Logan Paul, who somehow seemed to be his American equivalent, and the pair battled to a draw in a sold-out Manchester Arena. The fight reported 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, leading to a professional rematch in 2019, held at the famed Staples Center in Los Angeles, broadcast on Dazn, promoted by Eddie Hearn, and won by KSI on points. Fighting on the undercard were world champions Billy Joe Saunders and Devin Haney, the latter of whom defends his undisputed lightweight titles against Vasily Lomachenko this month.
The dynamic was baffling to most boxing fans, who accused YouTubers of making fun of the sport, but pop star Justin Bieber was on hand as the likes of Haney and Saunders were exposed to a whole new audience, one that otherwise they would never have seen. reached. Hearn, boxing’s most recognizable promoter, recognized this.
Together with Paul and Jake, the American’s younger brother, KSI ushered in the era of ‘influencer boxing’.
KSI flourishes as a new age entrepreneur
KSI, for its part, has mastered the art of self-promotion, but now it’s also trying to turn that into something external. Now 29 years old, with over 30 million subscribers, seven billion views and a reported net worth of over $25 million, KSI returned to boxing in August. At London’s O2 Arena, he stopped rapper Swarmz and professional boxer (loosely speaking) Luis Alcaraz Pineda on the same night. Notably, the event was the first to be hosted by Misfits Boxing, a promotion created by KSI in association with Wasserman Promotions and the streaming platform Dazn.
Another, more unlikely partnership followed, as mutually antagonistic KSI and Logan Paul launched Prime energy drink together. For reasons that are difficult to discern beyond the international awareness of YouTubers, the drink flooded the country and shelves, selling out in many stores and eventually being banned from some schools in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and the South. Africa. However, he has attracted endorsement deals with Arsenal FC, the UFC and WWE, with KSI appearing alongside Paul at this year’s WrestleMania. Testing the drink on Heart radio, Gordon Ramsay said: “Oh, Jesus. It’s like swallowing a perfume. What would I give it out of 10? A zero.
KSI came under harsher criticism last month for its use of a racial slur in a YouTube video, prompting the 29-year-old to apologize and visit a mosque in Bradford in an effort to educate himself on the matter. “There is no excuse, no matter the circumstances,” wrote on Twitter. “I shouldn’t have said it and I’m sorry. I have always told my audience that they should not worship me or put me on a pedestal, because I am human. I’m not perfect, I’m going to be wrong in life and lately I’ve been making a lot of mistakes.
fighting towards the future
Fans will hope that KSI’s preparations for his future fights keep him out of such trouble, though his progress has only been gradual. He lacks form, but his power is impressive, as he demonstrated against Joe Fournier in May. The 40-year-old, a former professional boxer with a 9-0 record and an exhibition loss to David Haye in 2021, was continually pinned down by heavy punches from KSI for a round and a half, though it was in fact an accidental elbow that finished off Fournier.
Regardless, it was a brutal knockout for Fournier, who left Wembley Arena in a daze to return to his fitness and nightclub businesses. Perhaps those are areas for KSI to conquer one day; it wouldn’t be a surprise. For now, though, his boxing effort takes precedence.
JJ had his school in stitches during a performance of Sweeney Todd; KSI will hope to have the head of their next opponent on points when the time comes.
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