Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury was a phenomenon. Not for the quality of action in their eight-round contest on Sunday night but for the sheer level of attention they generated.
It was ultimately a bout between two prospects, both inexperienced but well matched. Fury won it well enough, but Paul tightened up the scoring with a knockdown in the last round.
However, to the sport’s purists, the degree of attention and reward they received far outstripped what the quality of the boxing in their contest merited.
Former world title challenger Matthew Macklin did not see a benefit for the sport as a whole.
“Big numbers, big viewership, it’s money, it’s interest. But as a boxing fan, I’m interested to see the best of the best in the boxing world,” Macklin told Sky Sports. “Are those days gone? I don’t know.
“People on television should be the highest standard,” he continued. “People on television are usually championship-level fighters or on their way to being it.”
Macklin is not convinced that the following which YouTubers like Jake Paul or KSI bring to their events will transfer to the rest of the sport.
Rather it runs the risk of eating in to boxing’s own audience.
“These people aren’t boxing fans. They’re Youtuber fans. They’re Jake Paul fans or KSI fans. But once it starts blowing up, everyone’s on Twitter or Instagram these days and they follow the boxing content and it crosses over. They’ve crossed into our world now,” Macklin said.
“People in boxing are talking about this. Even people in boxing who don’t really want to talk about it have to talk about it because everyone else is talking about it.”
He sees it as diverting opportunity away from more gifted fighters.
“For any promoter, any television network, there are only so many hours in the day, there’s only so much money in a budget. If that’s being spent on these YouTuber fights because they’re getting more attention and making more money then it’s sucking it out of the budget left for real boxers,” Macklin said.
“What about the ABA champion who’s knocking on the door for a British title? Where’s his airtime? How’s he standing the chance of getting any publicity?
“We’ve got to sell our soul to get a bit of airtime these days?”
For many in the sport it’s a worrying sign when many world title fights can’t command a fraction of the audience that Paul-Fury can reach.
“Tommy Fury, I don’t know what he’d get for a British title fight, but whatever it is it would be an absolute pittance compared to what he got for fighting Jake Paul. You can’t blame him,” Macklin said.
He doesn’t, though, doubt that Fury and Paul have worked hard to build their profiles and to sell their fight.
“What you can take from these guys is they do understand marketing,” he said. “But that isn’t for everyone. Not every boxer’s going to have that.”
It would erode the health of boxing if the standard and quality of a fight were to become completely divorced from the impact it has. That problem is made worse by a sanctioning body like the WBC granting Tommy Fury a world ranking for beating Jake Paul, giving it the veneer of a championship-class fight.
“It doesn’t deserve any ranking for anything. It was an eight-rounder and they were both raw novices who are really basic,” Macklin said. “Are we just going to make everything up as we go along?
“As long as you can generate enough money, you can do what you want?
“Boxing’s different to other sports,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t matter what the personality is of a snooker player, or a tennis player. Because the prize money is the prize money. A golfer can have the personality of a baked bean, if he’s winning he’s earning money.
“For a boxer, it’s different. That’s why promoters are important to a fighter, and a manager. A manager’s very important to the fighter because it’s the manager’s job to make sure the promoter’s pushing the fighter and marketing them. The promoter’s got the contacts with the networks and, hopefully, he’s quite creative himself.”
That is what Olympic bronze medallist Tony Jeffries believes boxers must learn from Jake Paul.
“I believe all fighters should learn how to market themselves,” Jeffries told Sky Sports.
“Look at Jake Paul and what he’s done to be able to generate the attention that he’s getting for himself and for boxing. Because after all this attention is what’s making him all of the money. I don’t think there’s a fighter out there that doesn’t want to make more money. By promoting themselves they’ll learn how to build brands that will only help them in the future.”
He added: “The reason why people don’t do what Jake Paul is doing is because they’re so afraid about what other people will think about them.
“If you get over that fear of being bothered what other people think about you, that’s where you can really build a name for yourself. But instead a lot of boxers want to do it the old school, ‘let my fists do the talking’ [way] and that takes you to a certain level. There is the odd fighter that can really explode from that.
“‘Letting your fists do the talking, it’s good for a very, very small percentage of fighters. But 99 per cent of fighters, they’re going to be working after boxing and one person who’s not going to be working after boxing is Jake Paul, or Tommy Fury now, because they’ve earned that revenue.”
However Jeffries, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics before turning professional, is also supportive of Jake Paul the boxer.
“He’s only had seven professional fights and people were saying he’s never fought a professional boxer. But Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley are way better boxers than anyone I fought in my 10 professional fights,” Jeffries said.
He thinks YouTubers’ viewership will extend to other boxers as well. “How many watched Badou Jack the other night [on the undercard], who would never have watched Badou Jack win that cruiserweight title if it wasn’t for Jake Paul?” Jeffries suggested.
“With the YouTubers doing it, who have got big brands and big names, it’s helping the sport. I wish professional boxers would take a leaf out of influencer boxing. Build an influence. Build a brand on social media and build their name. If you build your name then you too will make more money on boxing because they’ll sell more tickets and they’ll get more success out of it.”
The thought that Jake Paul is one of the most recognisable names in boxing today will leave many of the sport’s purists aghast.
Jeffries though doesn’t see any negatives to come out of YouTubers’ involvement in the sport. Since he was forced to retire from competition Jeffries has worked in the boxing fitness industry for a decade and built his own highly successful YouTube channel.
“I absolutely love the influencer boxing and it’s so good for the sport. With me owning a gym I see how many people it’s bringing into the gym. It’s introducing so many people to boxing, which is only good for the sport. It’s getting kids off their computers and into trying a new sport. Which is only good for boxing,” he said.
“Jake Paul is a better promoter than Eddie Hearn, he’s a better promoter than Frank Warren, he’s a better promoter than any of these promoters because he can sell a fight. We’ve just seen that there. Obviously his audience helps him with that but he knows how to do it. He can talk the talk. He’s a very creative person. With his creativity at calling out fighters he’s getting attention.
“It’s not getting attention this fight because of the high level of boxing, it’s getting attention because of who is fighting. There’s a couple of lads who’s very, very famous, who don’t like each other, having a fight and it’s very entertaining.
“I think more fighters should really work on building their name and building their influence and then getting more eyeballs on them when they come to fight, and there’s ways of doing that.”
Boxing has a long, sometimes troubled, sometimes glorious, history. It can evolve in new ways.
Perhaps Jake Paul is a sign that change is coming.
What level are Jake Paul and Tommy Fury?
Lawrence Okolie defends his WBO title against David Light on March 25, live on Sky Sports.
The cruiserweight world champion has had Jake Paul training in the same gym as him and believes the YouTuber deserves credit for his showing against Tommy Fury.
“He did well. To be fair he showed a lot, handling the occasion against a boxer with some amateur experience and good lineage and family and he went the full eight rounds and lost a split. He did well. It wasn’t an embarrassment of a show in my opinion. It was two early career fighters having a fight, just with a lot of eyes on them. He did alright,” Okolie told Sky Sports.
“I can’t knock him. He genuinely believes, and I don’t know how he feels now, that he’ll be world champion. I can’t knock him for the belief. The reality, I guess it remains to be seen.”
Dan Azeez has won the Southern Area, English, British and Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles. On March 11, live on Sky Sports, he will challenge for the European championship in Paris.
Light-heavyweight is really Tommy Fury’s weight class so Azeez is well-placed to gauge his level.
“Maybe Southern, if that. But when I won a Southern, the guys who were boxing for Southern areas they were good fighters as well, so I can’t even say that. He’s still a novice as well, so I can’t go in on him,” Azeez told Sky Sports.
“It’s still putting eyes on boxing in a way.”
However Azeez, number two with the WBA himself, was unconvinced that Fury deserved a world ranking from the WBC for beating Paul.
“When they start getting involved as well and wanting a piece of the pie, shall we all just jump on the circus as well?” he laughed. “You’re kind of diluting into real boxing as well and real boxers won’t respect the WBC anymore.
“Times have changed,” he added. “It’s more about your following and stuff like that. Essentially I think he [Fury] is a YouTube fighter.
“I don’t begrudge him, he’s doing well, he’s earning loads of money.
“This day and age it’s hard to earn good money in boxing.”