The vast majority of boxers enter the sport virtually unknown and remain so throughout their careers. Even the majority of those who become stars – think guys like Canelo Alvarez, Deontay Wilder and Manny Pacquiao lately – were unknown to the boxing public on the nights of their pro debuts.
Jake Paul is someone, though, and he was before he scored unanimous decision victory over 47-year-old MMA legend Anderson Silva on Saturday at the Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Paul’s creativity and wit made him a celebrity in this modern world before he ever thought of putting on a pair of boxing gloves and stepping into the ring. He had built a media empire and had tens of millions of social media followers so when he decided to box he had a built in following.
In just over a year he has become one of the biggest names in boxing. He’s far from one of the best fighters in the sport – more on that in a moment – but after Alvarez, Wilder, Tyson Fury and maybe a few others, which boxer is better known than Jake Paul?
Most boxers have the skills and try to build an audience. Paul has the audience but wants to develop his skills further.
Let’s be fair, he didn’t look completely out of place in the ring with Silva, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest martial artists of all time, but at 47 he’s far from in his prime.
Paul’s trainers BJ Flores and Danny Smith did a good job developing him and when he defeated Silva he showed some of those qualities. He won twice, scoring 77-74 and 78-73 in an entertaining fight.
While it doesn’t evoke legendary battles like Hagler-Hearns, Ali-Frazier III, Arguello-Pryor I or Corrales-Castillo I, it was an entertaining fight with ebb and flow and drama. Silva is an elite counter puncher, but Paul didn’t fall into his traps often, so he earns points for it. That Paul’s team is dealing with a 47-year-old that’s long past his sell-by date must be a little worrying for Paul’s team, but some perspective is badly needed here.
Paul knows how to manipulate his audience and grab attention. He gets that good and bad.
He was on the money in the ring after the fight when he said, “If I walked on water, people would say I can’t swim.”
He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does because people don’t realize how difficult it is to do what he does. People mocked former NBA star Nate Robinson when Paul knocked him out, but Robinson would have pulverized 99.9999% of those people if they had the class to fight him.
He was ripped off by fans, media and boxers alike for not fighting a boxer. And while that’s true, he’s a guy who hasn’t had an amateur career and has been boxing for a little over two years. Yes, Paul’s in-ring opponents, Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley and Silva are all MMA fighters and well past their best, but they were at least as tough as the opponents most were 1-0 or 2-0 to – Face boxers.
Heck, look at the resumes of some current champions and count the number of tomato cans on their resumes. You will find many, and many of them who couldn’t hold a candle to a 47-year-old Silva.
But there are others on social media who have taken seriously Paul’s call for Canelo, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and a surefire Hall of Famer.
“Canelo, you guys said, ‘Oh, you can’t beat someone who’s a forward like the legend Anderson Silva,’ but I just did it,” he said. “Why can’t I beat Canelo?”
Paul has marketed his fights so well that they are events even though he fights the kind of fights a newcomer to the sport would fight.
The jury is clearly still out on whether he can actually fight. Can he become world champion? Is he a legitimate knockout artist?
Well, you’ll find that out as his opponent’s talent level increases. What happens when he’s fighting a 22-year-old, not a 47-year-old, and that 22-year-old not only takes his punches, but hits him back hard? Those are the moments when you decide if a young boxer can fight.
Time is against him because he started when he was 25. Vasyl Lomachenko, who backed down in deciding Jamaine Ortiz Saturday across the country in a “real” boxing match at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden in New York, turned pro at 25. When he did, he was 396-1 as an amateur with two Olympic gold medals.
Paul had an amateur fight against another YouTuber, Deji Olatunji, who will box Floyd Mayweather in two weeks.
It will be a steep climb for Paul to earn the title of Championship Contender. It would be a tremendous achievement if he could even get far enough to fight for a title.
He’s not lacking in talent. His team does a good job with him and he is financially secure so he can spend whatever he needs to buy whatever he needs to improve. The sages will ask, “Does this involve buying the judges?” However, given the close nature of Saturday’s fight, it really takes money to get to the top in boxing.
Give him credit for what he has done, but keep an eye on it. Nobody compares him to Marvin Hagler or says he will be one. But could he be a decent, competent professional boxer? He’s showing signs that he might be capable. He has a long way to go to get there, but at least he has a chance.