Jake Paul is big business in the fight game. That was known before this past weekend, but reinforced by the attention paid on Saturday to Paul's battle with former UFC fighter Ben Askren.
Early reports indicate that anywhere from one million to upwards of two million homes shelled out $50 for a pay-per-view that featured hours of musical performances and four boxing battles of varying quality, ending in Paul knocking out Askren to improve to 3-0 as a professional boxer. Spaced through the event were comedy skits, near-constant references to marijuana, an appearance by a seemingly inebriated Oscar De La Hoya and a slap fight.
The continued success of these events means they aren't going away. Similarly, the Jake Paul boxing experiment will continue to roll on, despite the criticisms that come after each of his trips to the boxing ring.
After beating fellow YouTube star AnEsonGib (a fight where Paul opened as the betting underdog before becoming a big favorite), Paul was set up to face former NBA star Nate Robinson. Many gave Robinson a chance at the win because Paul was now facing "a real athlete." Paul humiliated Robinson, dominating the fight before a brutal knockout victory.
The demands then turned for Paul to face "a real fighter," which he did in taking on Askren. Those in the know, however, had seen Askren's striking in the MMA space and understood that the most valuable skill he would bring to the ring would be experience fighting on a big stage. Despite this -- and likely because of a refusal to accept a YouTube personality as a fighter -- odds slid Askren's way, with him closing as a smaller underdog than the odds at open.
With Askren flattened, demands for Paul have now turned to calls to see him fight "a real boxer." This is valid, and something Paul needs to do at some point if he is serious about pursuing a boxing career. By all accounts, that seems to be the case. And, if not blinded by his generally unlikeable personality, a viewer can see real growth in his skills over his three professional bouts. Paul has developed an effective jab, works to the body, sets up shots well and has natural power in his hands.
The attention paid to Paul events is creating a problem, however. Paul needs to fight a real boxer, appropriate to his level of skills. Unfortunately, the reality of boxing is that almost anyone seen as valuable will be fed a steady diet of no-hopers in the early stages of their careers, and these aren't the kind of men who should be expected to headline a pay-per-view.
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Let's take a look at some comparisons from the big names in the sport.
- Richard Rivera, the No. 1 American cruiserweight on Boxrec, fought Leandro Silva in his third fight. Silva was making his professional debut and has gone on to a 2-4 career.
- Brandon Glanton is the No. 3 ranked American cruiserweight on Boxrec. In his third fight, he fought Bryan Canady. Canady is 0-5 as of 2019, has been knocked out in all five fights in the first round and in less than 90 seconds three times.
- In his fourth pro fight, Terence Crawford, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, fought Aaron Anderson. That fight was Anderson's pro debut. Anderson's career record now stands at 3-49.
- The fourth professional opponent of Floyd Mayweather, Edgar Ayala, retired after four fights, going 0-4 in his career.
This is the ultimate Jake Paul problem -- aside from lingering sexual assault allegations. How do you properly bring along a developing fighter without throwing away the heaps of money that his personality-driven events can generate?
The answer in the immediate may be Joe Fournier, who beat musician Reykon on the undercard on Saturday. Fournier, a self-claimed billionaire, transitioned from a boxing career to working in the nightclub industry. The win over Reykon advanced Fournier to 9-0, and his time training in the actual sport may make him an appropriate opponent, while his personality and status as something of an influencer (roughly 200,000 followers on Instagram) could provide the pop of entertainment value a Paul fight demands.
Don't expect a win over Fournier to quiet the Paul critics, however, since a look at Fournier's boxing career provides something of a reality check, as his nine opponents have entered their fights with the nightclub magnate with a combined record of 29-116-1.