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Superstar YouTuber, best-selling musician and now in the shape of his life, KSI talks to Men’s Health about making fitness a lifestyle and how he’s out to expose Jake Paul
KSI has just finished his How I Build My Body video shoot – dropping soon. He’s dripping with sweat and still recovering from a session that saw him showcase his boxing technique, strength-building moves and a set of neck exercises that if they were performed by the wrong person look like they could do as much damage as good. Still, ever the professional, he changes into a fresh shirt, takes a gulp of water and sits down with MH for a quiet conversation.
If you’re a Gen Zer or a Millennial, you’ll more than likely already be familiar with KSI, which stands for ‘Knowledge, Strength, Integrity’, and is the alias of Olajide Olatunji or JJ as he’s known to friends, family and coaches. If you’re older than that, he may well be the most famous person you’ve never heard of. For the uninitiated, the 29-year-old is a veteran YouTube star, who has parlayed his online success into careers in music and boxing. His YouTube channel now boasts the fourth biggest following for a British artist – behind only Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Adele. His last fight, against foe-turned-friend Logan Paul, reportedly sold more pay-per-views than Anthony Joshua’s world title fight against Andy Ruiz Jr, which took place six-months earlier.
For me, the sky is the limit. And then once I reach the sky, my attitude is let’s reach the stars
As he explains during our conversation, his success in all of his endeavours is down to constant progression. KSI chips away at his passion projects until he’s capable of delivering the best version of himself, but he has come in for some criticism recently. When we spoke, he was set to fight YouTuber Alex Wassabi – an opponent he admitted he would inevitably knock out: “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said. When Wassabi withdrew from the fight with concussion, KSI replaced him with the rather underwhelming Swarmz, a rapper whom the podcaster and fight enthusiast True Geordie described as a Rocky-level underdog. To, in his own words, “turn this L (loss) into a W (win)”, KSI will now fight Swarmz and Mexican professional boxer Luis Alcarez Pineda in a “Two Fights One Night” event.
It’s an unprecedented move, but then again precedent setting is nothing new for KSI, and his belief that he can vanquish two opponents in one night is unsurprising. As he discusses with us, he’s in the best shape of his life, dropping from 95kg six months ago to 80kg today. He’s also been working with a therapist to bulletproof his mind, and his boxing IQ has increased 10-fold since he last set foot in a ring.
So confident is he of winning, he’s already thinking about a clash with fellow-YouTuber-turned-pro-boxer Jake Paul, and after that, who knows. “It could be Conor McGregor,” says KSI. “For me, the sky is the limit. And then once I reach the sky, my attitude is let’s reach the stars.”
Men’s Health: Talk us through your 15kg transformation? How hard was it for you to achieve that?
KSI: I started as someone that hated training. I hated exercise when I was in school. I wasn’t really the type of guy that liked to do anything physical, so I imagine a lot of people from school would be surprised to see me in the ring boxing, but it’s been a journey. I’ve just been working on my body.
And what have you been doing? What does a hard training day look like for you now?
A hard training day is normally when I have to train twice a day. Let’s say for one day, I’d wake up nice and early, do 15 minutes of skipping and then do 15 minutes of shadow boxing.
As soon as you wake up?
Yeah, you just go straight into it. Then I’d eat breakfast, just to give me energy. I’d drink a good amount of water as well. And then, head off to boxing training – do some boxing training nonstop for about an hour and a half.
Is that hitting the bag, drills, sparring? What are you doing?
A lot of it can be technical. It’s making sure I’m doing what I’m doing well and then repeating that. After that we’d do a hard cardio session where I’m on the versa climber doing four rounds, three minutes of me going hard, going ham (hard as a motherfucker). After that I’d have a little break, have lunch, and then after lunch probably watch a bit of TV, play some games and then have another session. Sometimes it can be a sprint session where I just do sprints repeatedly, which we do eight times, trying to get it under three minutes. I’ll have a minute break after that, and then we do that again as many times as we see fit. On other days, it could be us just doing more boxing and just constant punching, working on shoulder endurance and making sure when I’m in that ring, I ain’t ever tired. My arms never fatigue. I’m always in pristine condition.
How often do you train? Are you training every day?
Every day. I haven’t had a rest day.
So you never have rest days?
This has been the year where I decided to really make training a lifestyle, so yeah, I pretty much train every day. On the days when it’s not as hard, I’m doing something like a 10K. That’s an easy day for me.
Would you say this is the fittest you’ve been?
How does that make you feel?
Honestly, I feel like a God. I feel like a complete alpha amongst other men. Not to be douchy, but I just feel like no one can outrun me and no one can out punch me. I feel very different to everyone else. I think that’s just because I’m super fit and super ready. I feel good as well. I look at myself in the mirror, and I just stare at myself for five minutes, just being like ‘Jesus Christ. I’m sick.’ But I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve worked really hard for it, man.
“I just stare at myself for five minutes, just being like ‘Jesus Christ. I’m sick'”
Okay, so let’s talk boxing. You haven’t been in the ring for three years, do you have any nerves about making that walk and fighting again?
No nerves. Excitement. It’s a celebration. When I get in that ring, it’s a celebration of all the hard work that I’ve done. You’d be nervous if you didn’t work hard beforehand. That’s how I see it. Like for the second Logan (Paul) fight, I was nervous because I worked hard, but there was still doubt. There was still doubt boxing wise: is he a better boxer? Does he have better technique? How am I gonna beat that reach of his? How am I gonna do on the main stage? Same with Joe Weller. He was seen as this athlete, and I didn’t know if I was gonna be better than him, fitter than him. Whereas now, I feel like no one can beat me. I feel like I’m a different animal, and there’s zero doubt. I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been. I went into this camp fitter than I was when I ended the camp with Logan. Think about that. That’s crazy. So six rounds, three minutes is literally nothing for me, and I’m just gonna be putting in that work. I’m excited to show everyone how much work I’ve put in.
Do you see this as a tune-up fight and then onto bigger things?
Of course, of course. I’ve said that this is a tune-up fight. 100 percent.
Then what’s your dream fight?
I want Jake Paul. That’s why I’ve come back. Everyone thinks he’s sick. Everyone thinks he’s the goat, and I’m here to expose him and show everyone he’s not as good as he thinks he is. I’m going to show everyone that I’m the greatest YouTube boxer of all time. And then after that, we’ll see where I want to go with boxing. If I want to fight other boxers or MMA fighters or whatever, the sky is the limit. I’ve got a goal that I want to achieve, which is Jake Paul, and once I get that let me push my body some more, see how far I can go and find someone else that people would think I would never be able to beat.
When you saw Logan fight Floyd Mayweather, is that the level you want to get to in the future?
Yeah, you never know. Obviously with Logan, he was able to last with Mayweather. Whereas with me, I wanna be able to knock him out. I want to be the first person to ever beat Mayweather. But you work towards it. It doesn’t just happen. This is me working towards it. It’s all gradual steps. My whole career has been gradual steps. It’s never been me just shooting to the moon. It’s all just been working on the foundation and improving slowly. Even with my music, you can see where I’ve started from. My music wasn’t that good, but I’ve constantly improved over the years. Now I’m getting number one albums, and I’m getting top five and top 10 singles. It shows there’s progression, and I’ve enjoyed that it’s been a slow, steady, gradual progress rather than shoot to the moon and then just have to sustain this huge amount of pressure. There’s no pressure for me.
In terms of boxing, who are your heroes? Who do you like?
It’s funny because I wasn’t really into boxing until I started boxing myself. I watched Mayweather and I watched AJ fight, and I watched Fury and the Klitschkos, but I watched it because everyone was raving on about it. They would say, ‘this is the fight to watch, you should check it out.’ So I was like, yeah, sure, whatever. I actually went to Mayweather versus Pacquiao. I was watching and I was like, ‘I don’t get it, what’s going on?’ I get that they’re punching each other, but no one’s getting knocked out. I didn’t understand the art of it. Whereas now that I’ve been in the ring and I know and understand boxing, I have a new appreciation for it. Now, looking at people like Usyk or Lomachenko, the way they move, their footwork, and how they’re able to get in good positions, create good angles and are able to just piece up their opponent, it’s so sick. And someone like AJ, even with all the ups and downs he’s had, to be able to fight through it. And someone like Fury, again his ups and downs outside the ring, for him to still be able to get in that ring, prove people wrong and show that he is one of the best heavyweight boxers of all time, it’s just sick. I think for me, I enjoy that boxing isn’t just in the ring. It’s also out the ring. It shapes you as a whole person. That’s why I’m just so drawn to it. That’s why I’ve made it a lifestyle of mine.
It’s interesting that you were drawn to boxing. You’ve obviously got a massive audience that you’ve brought to the sport, but I’m sure they would have watched whatever you would have done, so why did you pick a sport where you get punched in the face, that’s so hard and so brutal?
It’s the true test of who is more alpha, so that’s one of the reasons for me. Also, boxing has shaped me as a man. I feel like it’s humbled me, and it’s made me grow up quicker. I think before boxing, I was quite childish, and I didn’t really understand the world as much as I do now. Boxing has done so much to humble me. In the ring and out the ring, it has made me a better person. Mentally it’s helped me so much, and it’s changed my whole lifestyle, so, for example, I don’t drink alcohol anymore.
Is that a recent change?
Since I’ve made boxing a lifestyle, I just don’t drink. I don’t need that because I see it as this thing that’s held me back. For me, I see my life as a road, and there’s been so many distractions during this journey and during this drive that I’ve been taking. Alcohol is on the right, and that’s swayed me here and there. Lust has swayed me, and then partying all the time, you can get too caught up in it. Drugs are another one where it can just make you lose your way. So for me, I’m fully sober and I feel like that’s helped me stay focused on my goals and where I want to be in life. It’s also helped me stay dedicated and focused on my training. There are days when I don’t feel like doing it, but I tell myself this is the day where you definitely have to do it. That’s how I reinforce that this is a lifestyle for me. There’s been so many days where I go, ‘I can’t be arsed,’ but it’s those days where you can’t be arsed, those are the days where you have to do it even more. No shortcuts.
“I think my boxing knowledge is so minute. I think there’s so much more I need to learn.”
I read that you’ve been seeing a therapist. What made you want to do that?
With physical health, I make sure I train all the time. I feel with mental health, it’s just the same thing. You can’t neglect it, it’s extremely important. I think a lot of people have neglected mental health, and I always stress it in my videos and on my YouTube channel, I’m always telling people I have a therapist because it’s important. It’s good to make sure mentally you’re in check, and it’s something that’s easy to do. It’s not something you have to do every week, every two weeks. It’s not even something you have to do every month, but it’s good to do every now and then just to make sure that mentally you’re in a good space.
How often do you see a therapist?
I started seeing her over Zoom because it’s hard for me to find the time to go into a centre. It was every week, and then it became every two weeks, and then it became every month, and now it’s like every quarter. I’m just in a great space. I understand my mind and my body, so it’s not something that I need to always do, but it’s always there, and I can do it every now and then, whenever I need to make sure everything’s in check.
What have you learned through going to therapy?
For me, I’ve been able to understand why I think the way I do, why my mind goes into these random tangents, and I’ve learned how to calm my mind and trick my mind into doing things that I don’t want to do. When I’m running, for example, and I’m halfway through a 10K, my mind’s going, ‘you don’t have to do this. You’ve trained so hard you can just rest, just relax.’ I’m able to then control my mind and be like, ‘I’m finishing this 10K. I don’t give a fuck. I’m doing this right now.’ Every time I’m able to finish and do what I set out to do.
Before therapy, could you do that?
I’d do it, but I didn’t have the level of control that I have now. So for me, I see mental health as not me trying to fix myself, but me trying to understand my mind and in a sense be more powerful.
As we sit here now, three or so years on from your Logan Paul fight, how good of a boxer do you think you are, with all the mental and physical work you’ve put in?
Out of 10, I’ll probably say a two.
Yeah, I don’t know a lot. I think my boxing knowledge is so minute. I think there’s so much more I need to learn, but I think I’ve made huge strides. I think when I faced Logan, I was a zero.
Did you think that at the time?
No, I thought I was an eight. I love that I haven’t completed it and I’m not close to completing it. I feel with YouTube, I understand YouTube, I get YouTube. I’ve reached the ceiling with YouTube a few times and I’m just doing it and I’m happy where I’m at. With music, I feel there’s still much more for me to do. I feel like I’ve made huge strides in the UK, but worldwide, I’ve still got things to do. And then with boxing, I feel like I know so little and there’s so much more for me to learn and do.
With YouTube, you’re one of the best in the world. Is your aim to be one of the best in the world at boxing, and do you think that’s achievable?
No, for me, it’s all about being the best version of me. I look at other people and see what they’re doing, but I focus on me and what I want to do. If I want to be the best boxer, I’ll be the best boxer for me. I’ll see how far I can go and how far I can push it. Same with music, same with YouTube. It’s not about me being the most subscribed. It’s about me making sure I’m enjoying YouTube and making YouTube videos.
Finally, what do you say to the accusation that YouTube fights and YouTube fighters are bad for boxing?
I’d say, not at all. I think everyone’s doing their thing. Everyone’s training hard. Everyone’s getting in the ring. That’s exactly what other boxers do. Maybe other people train differently, but we’re all still training, we’re all still getting in there and we’re all still getting beat up, so I don’t think it’s bad at all. I think it’s opened the whole scene to a younger generation, and it’s made boxing even more mainstream. I think in a few years time, we’re gonna have a lot more boxers coming out the woodwork because of what YouTube boxing has done, because it’s inspired a lot of kids and brought back that fire when it comes to boxing.
Watch the fight August 27th exclusively live from The O2 on DAZN PPV. KSI’s new single ‘Not Over Yet’ ft. Tom Grennan is out now.