NO SPORT honours its past more than boxing does. And no sport does more to disrespect it.
On August 6, social media personality turned boxer Jake Paul was expected to fight Hasim Rahman Jnr in the big arena at Madison Square Garden, heralded by massive publicity. The headline bout and key supporting contests (most notably, Amanda Serrano vs 25/1 underdog Brenda Karen Carabajal) were to be televised in the US on Showtime-PPV and in the UK by DAZN.
Then the walls came tumbling down.
There have always been circus-like sideshows in boxing. In the 1800s, John L Sullivan fought all comers in cross-country tours. More than a century later, glamour model Jordan Carver and adult film star Melanie Müller did battle in Dusseldorf, Germany, over four heated rounds made notable by the fact that Michael Buffer served as ring announcer for the contest.
Muhammad Ali squared off against Antonio Inoki and Lyle Alzado. Chuck Wepner faced Andre the Giant. Mark Gastineau and Jose Conseco tried their hand at ring combat. Danny Bonaduce (The Partridge Family) fought Barry Williams (The Brady Bunch). Manute Bol exchanged punches with William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Tonya Harding took on Paula Jones. Joey Buttafuoco (lover of Amy Fisher, aka “The Long Island Lolita”) traded blows with Chyna, who was billed by the World Wrestling Federation as “The Ninth Wonder of the World” (Andre the Giant being the eighth).
But these events were sideshows. The difference now is that the sideshows are becoming boxing’s showcase events. More and more, trash boxing is how the sport is being portrayed by the powers that be and perceived by the general public.
Enter Jake Paul, whose videos have engendered hundreds of millions of views on social media platforms
Paul is a 25-year-old entertainer with various anti-social acts on his resume. On April 9, 2021, a 24-year old woman named Justine Paradise (a “TikTok star” with more than 500,000 followers) posted a 20-minute video on YouTube in which she accused Paul of sexually assaulting her at his home in Los Angeles in 2019.
“Sex is very special and very important to me,” Paradise said in her post. “Normally, everybody respects me when I don’t want to do sexual things, so I thought that it was fine if I went in his room. I thought it would be fine to kiss him, because I thought he would stop if I didn’t want to do anything else.”
But, according to Paradise, Jake then grabbed her face, forced her to perform oral sex, and touched her in inappropriate places.
As of July 30, 2022, more than 1.9 million people had viewed Paradise’s YouTube post. Paul has categorically denied the allegations through counsel and in his own Twitter post.
In 2018, Jake ventured into boxing with an amateur fight against another social media personality named Deji Olatunji. Talking with Teddy Atlas about that encounter earlier this year, Jake (who shares a January 17 birthdate with Muhammad Ali) recalled, “I was sick of doing YouTube and sick of the entertainment industry. As time progressed, I realised it wasn’t who I was. And when I got the opportunity to box another YouTuber, I picked up the gloves and began training the next day and fell in love with the sport. When I won my first fight, that was the best feeling and the most accomplished I’ve ever felt.”
Sixteen months later, Jake turned pro. Since then, he has put together a 5-0 (4) ring record with victories over Ali Eson Gib (another social media personality), Nate Robinson (a retired NBA player), Ben Askren (a retired MMA combatant), and Tyron Woodley (another retired MMA combatant, who Jake fought twice). None of these men had boxed professionally before or since.
When Jake began boxing, he brought his social media following with him. That made him marketable. Unlike many of today’s highly paid fighters, he can generate the revenue from ticket sales and pay-per-view buys to cover his paycheque without suckering a gullible investor or ill-informed television executive.
He’s also athletically gifted, or he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he has done in the ring so far. He has been learning the fundamentals of boxing and worked to become a better fighter. At this point, he’s certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.
But a lot of people are offended by the fact that Jake is being packaged as a boxing star. Elliot Worsell, writing for Boxing News, likened his ring outings to “fast food sold at premium prices” and observed, “Jake Paul’s pull has little to do with the quality of the match-up and everything to do with Paul himself who has made a career out of being the centre of his own universe. Boxing fans, or at least some of them, struggle to understand this. Yet Jake Paul fans not only understand it but are so conditioned to it being normal they will never even so much as question it. To them, so long as Jake Paul is seen wearing boxing gloves and throwing punches in a boxing ring, he is, with no hint of irony, a professional boxer. It doesn’t matter how he looks in the process of throwing those punches. Nor does the identity and fulltime occupation of the person receiving them matter. All that matters as far as they are concerned is that Jake Paul is now a boxer because Jake Paul says he is now a boxer. He has achieved all this not by dazzling us with his boxing skills but instead by simply being a famous character.
He found a sport happy to place cash above principles and realised fairly quickly that being a famous character in a sport lacking any sort of character will open doors and also woo promoters and television networks, even the ones feigning interest in the sport’s integrity.”
Meanwhile, people in the boxing community had started to press the issue of when Jake would box a real boxer. To satisfy that demand, he signed to fight Tommy Fury at Madison Square Garden on August 6.
Fury, age 23, is known largely as Tyson Fury’s half-brother. He is undefeated in eight fights, with four knockouts. But all one needed to know about his record was that Jake represented a step up in competition. Tommy’s first five opponents now have a composite ring record of 12 wins against 242 losses with five draws. And his next three opponents were nothing to write home about.
Then, with the August 6 date in place, Fury fell out. On June 29, one day before a planned kickoff press conference in New York, he was refused entry on to a flight from London to New York because his ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authority) document was denied.
“I have no clue why I’m not allowed to travel to the USA,” Fury said in a social media post.” But there was informed speculation that the denial was a consequence of dealings between the Fury clan and Daniel Kinahan (who has been sanctioned by the United States Department of the Treasury for what the government says is his role as the leader of an international drug cartel known as the Kinahan Organised Crime Group.
On July 6, Jake announced that Fury had been dropped as his opponent. One day later, he revealed on social media that his new opponent would be Hasim Rahman Jnr.
It’s often said that a fighter whose record is padded has beaten “the usual suspects”. Rahman (the 31-year-old son of former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman Snr) had a 12-1 (6) ring record. But it was built against opponents who had lost to the usual suspects.
Paul-Rahman was scheduled for eight rounds at a 200lbs contract weight with the weigh-in to be held one day in advance of the fight. The contract further provided that Hasim would not be allowed to weigh more than 215lbs at a second weigh-in to be conducted the following morning. Jake’s weight for his five previous pro outings had ranged from 189 to 192 pounds. Rahman turned pro in 2017 at 234 pounds, had fought as high as 269 (February 2021), and weighed 224 for his most recent bout on April 29, 2022. Making the 200lbs cruiserweight limit was expected to be a challenge for him.
There was some sniping about Rahman’s purse for the fight, which a reliable source says was between $250,000 and $500,000 (probably closer to the first number).
One day before the July 12 kickoff press conference at Madison Square Garden, Jake told The MMA Hour, “Hasim Rahman Jnr, actually right now, is trying to renegotiate his contract. He signed a contract last week for 10 times more than he’s ever been paid for any one of his fights, and now he’s trying to renegotiate. He already signed on the dotted line, and now he’s trying to go back and be like, ‘Well, I’m not going to fight.’ So, who knows if this fight is even going to happen, because we’re not going to pay him more money. He’s not worth it. So, it’s unfortunate, man. Don’t fumble the biggest bag of your life, dumbass.”
Paul also distinguished himself by telling the New York Times, “I have the best [sparring sessions] when I eat candy before because it has all the glucose in it and the muscles and stuff burn the sugar and the glucose. So, I’m eating, like, Nerds Gummy Clusters, SweeTarts Ropes, Sour Patch Kids. Those are some of my favourites.”
Not exactly Novak Djokovic’s diet regimen.
Hasim Rahman Snr began the July 12 kickoff press conference at Madison Square Garden on a respectful note, saying, “Jake is a real fighter and we respect that. But he’s moving too quick.”
Jake then interrupted with the thought, “I’m ending that whole-ass legacy that your family got” and followed with, “It’s bring-your-kid-to-work day.”
That led Rahman Jnr to proclaim, “I’m here to end this facade that he’s calling a career. I sparred this man [two years ago] with one hand. I didn’t even use my right hand [Hasim had been instructed to throw only jabs in the sparring session]. And he turned his back and ran from me. I’ll be using two hands when we fight.”
Things degenerated from there with Paul calling Rahman “stupid” and a “pussy mother**ker” before adding, “Nobody knows who the f**k you are. Two days ago, you had 5,000 Instagram followers. My mom has more followers than you. You’re not worth shit.”
In the midst of it all, Madison Square Garden executive vice-president Joel Fisher told the assembled media that the Garden was “incredibly honoured” to be hosting Paul-Rahman.
That left open the question of who would win. Jake was a 2/1 betting favourite. But the odds were somewhat skewed by the ardour of his social media followers. There’s something to be said for the experience of boxing against, and being hit by, real boxers. Hasim had that experience. Jake didn’t.
Team Rahman was hoping the fight would play out like the 1995 encounter at Madison Square Garden when Mitchell Rose (a “real” boxer with a 1-7-1 record) was brought in as a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered by Eric “Butterbean” Esch, a hard-punching, undefeated, 300lbs novelty act. Rose totally outclassed Butterbean and stopped him in the second round.
Greg Cohen had promoted Rahman since Hasim’s first pro fight and provided his fighter’s services pursuant to a standard provision of services agreement to Holden Boxing LLC (which Most Valuable Promotions – Jake’s promotional company – was using as promoter of record for the fight).
“We’re being treated like the C-side in this promotion,” Cohen acknowledged. “We know our role. But that’s okay. There’s no rematch clause and no options. Winning will make everything sweet.”
That said; the feeling among boxing insiders was that Rahman wasn’t as good as many people thought he was and Jake might be better than traditionalists were giving him credit for being.
There was talk of Hasim having had a hundred amateur bouts in addition to his professional outings. But BoxRec.com (which admittedly is incomplete when it comes to recording amateur fights) listed Rahman’s amateur record as 9 wins against 12 losses with zero knockouts. And according to BoxRec, the guys he beat in the amateurs had 21 losses in 35 fights at the time he fought them.
Rahman’s chin was suspect. Jake could whack a bit. Experience might teach a fighter how to avoid getting hit, but it can’t teach a fighter how to have a chin.
Hasim’s stamina was also an issue. In his most recent outing, he’d won the first four rounds against James McKenzie Morrison before running out of steam and being stopped in the fifth stanza.
In sum, people who know boxing didn’t know who would win.
“I feel like I’m representing boxing,” Hasim said. “It would be embarrassing if I lost to this clown.”
But Jake took a contrary view, telling the New York Times, “I’m going to go out there and show the world that I’m a professional boxer.”
Then, everything fell apart.
Eight days before the fight, the New York State Athletic Commission (which had been subjecting Rahman to periodic weight checks) demanded that the contract limit be raised to 205lbs out of concern that any weight loss beyond that could endanger Hasim’s health.
Jake agreed to the change and, on the morning of Saturday, July 30, Rick Torres (Jake’s attorney) texted Greg Bloom (the attorney for Team Rahman), advising him of the change and asking that Rahman execute documents re same.
“Please note,” the text read, “that time is of the essence and it is imperative that this Amendment and Acknowledgement be duly executed by GCP [Greg Cohen Promotions] and Rahman and returned to us before 11:59 ET tonight or we will announce cancellation of the event first thing tomorrow.”
In response, Rahman engaged in some ill-advised brinkmanship. Hoping to raise the weight limit even higher, he said that he was unwilling to weigh in below 215lbs. Shortly after 8pm, rather than wait until the 11.59pm deadline, Jake’s team pulled the plug on the fight.
The following day, Rahman acknowledged in an Instagram post that he’d agreed to the 200lbs limit, but said his body “simply would not let me do it”.
After that, there were duelling declarations regarding who was to blame for the cancellation. Rahman claimed that he hadn’t irrevocably refused to make the 205lbs weight limit and that Jake was afraid to fight him. MVP attacked Rahman for deceit and lack of professionalism.
All of this leads to leads to the questions: 1) Why didn’t the promotion wait until the 11.59pm deadline to cancel the fight, and 2) If Rahman was out as Jake’s opponent, why didn’t the promotion simply find another opponent? Last-minute substitutions are common in boxing at the club-fight level. And Paul-Rahman was always about Jake.
One theory is that ticket sales for the fight were lagging and, once Rahman indicated he wouldn’t fulfill his contractual obligation, MVP decided to walk away from the promotion because a half-empty arena would have hurt Jake’s brand.
Nakisa Bidarian (Jake Paul’s business partner) has stated that the cancellation “had zero to do with ticket sales” and that tickets were selling well. But when asked by Boxing News how many tickets had been sold for the August 6 card, Madison Square Garden (which is loath to give out misinformation) declined comment.
There’s also a question regarding a statement that Jake made at an April 15, 2021, press conference prior to fighting Ben Askren when he told the media, “I’ve gone and gotten brain scans and have early signs of CTE.”
In reality, CTE can’t be diagnosed until after a person has died. But taking note of that comment, the New York State Athletic Commission had asked Jake to submit extensive medical information (including an MRI) as a prerequisite to licensing him to fight on August 6. Let’s see if Jake’s next fight is scheduled for New York.
Meanwhile, what does all of this mean for boxing?
First, give Jake credit for getting in the ring and fighting. “All I’m doing,” he told Teddy Atlas earlier this year, “is putting in the work and trying to get better and fighting tougher opponents each time.”
Paul should be judged as a fighter based on what he does in the ring. But let’s take a look at what he represents – the trend toward what I referred to earlier in this article as “trash boxing”.
Jake recently told Marc Raimondi of ESPN, “I wanted to bring my fanbase that was a digital fanbase [to boxing]. Now there’s 60 million of them who are boxing fans.”
But if Jake Paul played 18 holes of golf in a pay-per-view match against a local club pro, would that bring more fans to golf? I doubt it.
When people go to a sanctioned toughman contest or illegal underground fight, they understand that they’re not watching professional boxing at a world-class level. But the current wave of celebrity boxing is muddying the waters and taking people into an Alice In Wonderland world that blurs the lines between what professional boxing is and isn’t.
When Seth Abraham was president of Time Warner Sports, he turned down a pitch from Vince MacMahon to televise professional wrestling because he felt it would undermine the credibility of HBO’s boxing franchise. Showtime has had no such qualms about heavily promoting Jake Paul.
It’s just a matter of time before the World Boxing Council or some other sanctioning body creates a special belt for Jake or finds a vacant title that he can fight for against an inept foe.
When boxing fails for years to make Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence and has been unable to give fans one undisputed heavyweight champion for decades, it shouldn’t be surprised when trash boxing seeps into the void.
Soon after DAZN jump-started the recent wave of trash boxing, Paulie Malignaggi declared, “I don’t want this sport to get to the point where you say ‘boxing’ and the random person you think of will be Logan Paul or Jake Paul rather than Anthony Joshua or Canelo [Alvarez]. There’s not going to be an audience for the real world-class fighters if they keep doing this.”
Or, as Elliot Worsell recently wrote, “If Jake Paul is considered good for boxing without actually boxing a boxer, what does that say about boxing? It says, I suppose, that nowadays it’s not the skills that matter but the hype.”