Jake Paul vs. Tommy Fury: Internet hype, championship lineage collide in boxing spectacle

The combat sports world often operates on a busy and hectic schedule. Among the numerous fights going on this weekend, including championship bouts and top contender matchups, perhaps the least credentialed fight stands out as the biggest.

Sunday, Jake Paul will take on Tommy Fury in a boxing match that’s been in the making for more than a year. Paul is a YouTube star-turned-boxer. Fury is a reality TV star from the United Kingdom and, more notably, the younger half-brother to boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury

Their eight-round 185-pound catchweight bout takes place in Saudi Arabia and will be available on pay-per-view through ESPN+.

So how did this fight between two unaccomplished boxers become a main attraction in the combat sports world? And more importantly, what does this fight even mean?

Some may see it as a calculated next step in the escalation of the Paul phenomenon that continues to disrupt the fight game. Others may look at it as the Fury boxing bloodline stepping in to dish out a reality check, getting their hands on a hyped-up boxing career that’s never involved an actual boxer as an opponent until now.

Neither is wrong.

Respect to Jake Paul … sort of

“He keeps going on and on and on about Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley,” Fury said at Thursday’s pre-fight news conference, mocking Paul’s opposition. “Tyron Woodley was 40 years old. Anderson Silva was nearly 50, not too far from my dad’s age, and he went the full distance.

“Everybody in this building knows that MMA fighters are not boxers. We all know that. I’ve took apart every single MMA fighter I’ve ever sparred with my entire life. They’re not boxers, and this guy couldn’t even deal with them. … On Sunday night, you’ve got a fresh, young 23-year-old, proper legitimate fighter inside and outside the ring. This is my heart, blood and soul, and you’re going to feel that. I’m not a 50-year-old man.”

Credit to Paul for continuing to step in the ring again. It’s no easy thing. But his opposition has been questionable at best.

The former Disney actor kicked his boxing career off with a win over YouTuber AnEsonGib, who had  no experience in boxing. He followed that up by stopping former NBA player Nate Robinson. It was pretty much celebrity boxing.

Not long after that, things took a turn and a fascinating “boxing” career flourished into one of the most talked about today. Paul picked aging, but popular MMA names to weirdly claim a stake in the boxing landscape.

In 2020, he knocked out retired MMA fighter and standout wrestler Ben Askren, who was coming off a hip surgery. Then, in a two-fight series, he outpointed and then brutally put away former UFC welterweight champion Woodley – a 40-year-old who had just been released from the UFC after losing four consecutive fights. Woodley, who hasn’t won a fight since 2018, never was known to be a skilled striker in MMA, though he did carry formidable power.

And in his most recent showing this past October, Paul defeated beloved MMA legend Silva in a unanimous decision. Silva, arguably the greatest middleweight champion in UFC history, had left the Las Vegas-based promotion in late 2020 on a worrisome career slump.

The 47-year-old had been stopped in his two most recent fights and had only one win in his past nine trips to the octagon. Once outside the UFC, cleaned things up before facing Paul by winning two boxing fights – outpointing Julio Cesar Chaves Jr. and knocking out Tito Ortiz.

Tommy Fury has skeletons, too

“His opponents have a combined record of 20 wins and 250 losses. … He’s never been put in there with someone who wasn’t there to lose,” Paul said to put Fury’s record under question, as well. “So on Sunday, when he’s in the locker room warming up, he’s going to be thinking, ‘Damn, everyone has been put in there to lose. They’ve been putting me in there with scrubs, and now I have a real fight – eight rounds.’

“He’s never been eight rounds. He’s going to be put in the deep water and drown. I promise that.”

For accuracy’s sake, Paul’s math is off. Fury’s opposition record is not that bad. Combined, Fury’s past eight opponents share a record of 24-176 – which still isn’t great.

Fury has fighting blood running through his veins. His father John was a professional boxer and bareknuckle fighter. His half-brother Tyson arguably is one of the greatest heavyweight in boxing history. Undoubtedly, the lineage is strong. And whether you like the opposition or not, Fury has been fighting proper boxers, something Paul can’t say he’s done.

But it’s still tough to make the argument Fury is a more proven boxer than Paul. Fury has yet to have a serious challenge, and his career has mainly been up against obscure and subpar competition. His record is in question, too.

It’s worth nothing “padding a record” or having many “tune-up fights” early on is a common practice for up-and-coming boxers. Young boxers, such as the 23-year-old Fury, more often than not fight against much lower competition as they rise through the ranks and gain experience.

Fury’s upbringing in boxing is typical and ordinary, and his criticism toward Paul’s boxing career is fair. Yet there’s another side to the story. Largely the fault of boxing culture, Fury doesn’t need to only look across the ring to find the only unproven resume in the tale of the tape.

So who’s the actual fighter, and who will win?

Your opinion of who’s got a more legitimate claim in the boxing world is pretty much the answer to your prediction of what the outcome will be in Saudi Arabia.

For Paul’s team, this is the progression of a growing fighting career, and Fury is just another milestone in the journey.

“You look at the likes of Floyd Mayweather – his ninth fight, not his seventh – his ninth fight was against a 1-3 boxer,” Nakisa Bidarian, Paul’s business partner and manager, pointed out at the press conference when Paul’s record was questioned. “Gervonta Davis, one of the most talked-about current boxers in the world, eighth fight was against a guy who was making his debut, never fought again and was 1-2 as an MMA fighter.

“So are we worried about protecting Jake as an asset? No. Jake is focused on disrupting boxing, taking risks and putting on great events.”

Bidarian defends his client’s boxing record and even dared to compare it with some of boxing’s greats. The appointed “professional risk-taker” takes another step in his disruption of the fight game Saturday.

Legit or not, Paul does bring a factor that’s only seen in high-level fighting: the pressure of a big fight. Paul is far from being the most skilled fighter of this combat sports weekend, but carries the highest buzz. Fury will be put under the spotlight like never before.

“We don’t do pressure. We’re here to fight,” John Fury said of his son. “He’s been around the stage most of his life. When he first started out, he was meant to do big stuff being who he is – Tyson Fury’s brother. He’s been under pressure right from the off.

“This kid survives on pressure, and believe me, I wouldn’t have my son sat on here if I didn’t think he couldn’t deliver. There’s no way my son would disgrace our great champion in Tyson Fury. In this great country, we’re going to see something special.”

Although this boxing match may get the treatment of high-level fighting – fight pay, ESPN+, coverage, social media chatter – without being that, there’s still an earned degree of respect toward Paul and Fury.

After all, Paul has been working hard and taking the sport seriously. He’s also mainly competed against opposition that’s had far more experience in fighting than him. For Fury, it’d be foolish to think he’s just a reality TV star living off his family’s name in the boxing world. Fury is an unbeaten 8-0 boxer who’s part of a prestigious fighting family.

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Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie