YouTube influencer-turned-prize fighter Jake Paul has seen his first professional boxing loss in a split decision at the hands of Tommy Fury, the half-brother of world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
The pair faced off in the headline fight of an ESPN+ pay-per-view card from Diriyah Arena in Saudi Arabia today, with celebrities such as Mike Tyson and Cristiano Ronaldo in attendance.
The first round saw the two fighters clinch and wrestle early before being warned by the referee. The rest of the round saw Paul move Fury around from the centre of the ring with no real significant strikes landed by either boxer until a late Fury flurry before the bell.
Round two had more action with Fury and Paul trading blows throughout in a largely even round. Fury had the better movement, with Paul often missing big shots that led to him breathing heavy back in his corner.
In round three Paul found success with the jab early backing Fury up. The rest of the round was another even contest with no big shots landed by either fighter.
Fury came out firing in round four, perhaps trying to play out his prediction of a knockout within four rounds. Paul also landed a couple of good hooks to the face of Fury, but the Brit just edged the round.
Paul had a big setback in round five as the referee deducted a point from the judges’ scorecard for striking behind the head. Paul tried to up the tempo after the deduction but didn’t manage to hurt Fury despite landing hooks to the head.
Round six was Fury on the attack, landing against a tiring Paul. However, Fury was also deducted a point late in the round for use of the elbow in the clinch. The deduction meant a round which should have gone to Fury might end up being a draw.
The penultimate round saw a return to clinching as Paul looked gassed out. A head clash opened up a cut above Fury’s left eye that left him bloodied.
It was all to fight for in the final round, Paul came out swinging wildly, missing some big overhand rights. Fury then briefly hit the canvas after being struck with a jab, which resulted in the referee giving him a standing eight count to Fury’s bemusement as he protested it was a slip.
Fury then tried to press the attack and salvage the round, landing shots which backed Paul up. Paul survived using the clinch to see the fight out on his feet without being knocked down.
The knockdown wouldn’t prove to be significant, as Fury was announced the winner by split decision.
Paul has a rematch clause and after the fight said he wanted to invoke it.
The final stats show Fury threw twice as many punches as Paul and landed more significant strikes.
Since venturing into boxing in 2018, Paul has fought a fellow influencer, a former NBA basketball player and three MMA fighters. He has won each time, building up his already-sturdy brand in the process.
The fight was regarded as a step up for Paul and the WBC, which sanctioning the fight, recognised it.
Indeed, if the 26-year-old Paul — a blond, bearded social-media phenomenon — wins, he will be granted a place in the WBC’s world rankings at cruiserweight.
“Jake has dedication and respect to the sport,” the sanctioning body said, “and the WBC will not tolerate discrimination against anyone. He deserves the opportunities that any other boxer has.”
It’s hardly a move that will be popular with boxing traditionalists.
Then again, Paul is not exactly operating in those circles or attempting to please that demographic. He has forged a very different path into the boxing world and is making a success of it, given the fight against Fury has gotten pay-per-view status and is deemed big enough to be hosted for big money out in Diriyah, Saudi Arabia.
Paul rose to fame a decade ago by posting Vine videos and then as an actor on Disney Channel show Bizaardvark. His rise as an influencer has not been without controversy, including accusations of sexual assault by two women in 2021 — he wasn't charged with either — and his apparent use of racial slurs while rapping in some videos in 2018.
He was also charged with criminal trespass and unlawful assembly in 2020 following a riot at a mall outside Phoenix.
Boxing is his most recent passion. He joined the pro ranks in 2019 and said he is “as serious as it gets” about the sport. He says he has a 30-person team supporting his training, which is largely done at the Cleveland native’s base in Puerto Rico.
“Because my life’s on the line,” he told British newspaper The Independent ahead of the Fury fight, “so I’m not going to take that lightly.”
Becoming a world champion boxer is his ultimate aim, even if that goal appeared even more remote with the news in January that Paul has signed a deal with the Professional Fighters League in mixed martial arts.
Certainly Fury doesn’t take his opponent seriously as a boxer.
“That’s like saying a pig is going to fly, isn’t it?” Fury said of Paul’s ambitions of becoming a world titleholder.
“I’m going to teach Jake Paul a lesson … I’m going to show him he can’t just pick up a pair of gloves and say, ‘I’m going to be a world champion.’”
Fury has an interesting back-story, too, and not just because he is the half-brother of one of the most famous boxers in the world and comes from a family of bare-knuckle fighters.
The 23-year-old Briton really made his name by appearing on Love Island, a dating reality TV show, in 2019. That forced him to put his boxing career on hold for nine months — he had only fought twice by that point — and he is now married to a British social-media influencer, Molly-Mae Hague, with whom Fury finished runner-up on Love Island.
Fury has an 8-0 boxing record but has never fought more than six rounds in a single bout. In that sense, he is also taking a step into the unknown this weekend, certainly when it comes to the global appeal of his opponent. Paul has 4.5 million followers on Twitter and 22 million followers on Instagram.
The fight was initially scheduled for December 2021 but Fury had to pull out because of illness and injury, and then again for August 2022 only for Fury to again withdraw because of travel issues going into the United States.
Tyson Fury had given his half-brother something of an ultimatum ahead of the catchweight bout.
“I expect Tommy to chin him,” he told British radio station talkSPORT. “If he doesn’t, he can stay in Saudi Arabia.”