THE LAST time we previewed a contest that was universally slammed by the hardcore as little more than a pantomime act was back in the summer of 2017 when Floyd Mayweather Jnr shamelessly invited Conor McGregor into the world of licensed boxing and BN, highly unimpressed, awarded it one star. Then why, it’s perfectly fair to ask, does this supposed monstrosity between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury deserve a comparatively lofty three?

In short, unlike Mayweather (49-0) versus McGregor (0-0), Paul-Fury is a well-matched prize-fight that is hard to call. In truth, it’s more evenly matched than most bouts that take place the world over every single week. That alone should be welcomed, even if the price tag – £19.99 to watch on BT Sport Box Office – should not.

Let’s be clear on our thinking from the outset. This is not a contest that should have any bearing on world ratings nor launch the winner into negotiations with a world class fighter. That the World Boxing Council’s Mauricio Sulaiman is seemingly so eager to give Paul a ranking is utterly absurd but, for an organisation that would gladly hang one of their belts off the winner of a game of rock-paper-scissors if enough people were watching, it really should come as no surprise. Boxing, at any level, is too brutal an endeavour to be classified as a ‘bit of fun’ but the message here, we suppose, is to try not to take this one too seriously. Life is too short to get enraged by such nonsense.

It has the potential, dare we say on these hallowed pages, to be an entertaining spectacle if viewed solely for what it is: An eight-rounder between two ambitious novices. That admission – this is merely an eight-rounder between two ambitious novices – may trigger another question: Why preview it at all, particularly when there are better boxers struggling for attention who won’t even get a word written about them, much less a two-page splash? The answer, again, is simple. Millions of people will engage with it to such an extent that, by the time the fight is over, Paul-Fury will be the most talked about boxing event of 2023 to date. That is a depressing statement on the surface, one that might speak of a sport that has well and truly lost its way, but reason enough for this publication to pay attention. Those with half-full glasses may even argue that it highlights the raw appeal of boxing, a sport seemingly ripe for an overhaul and one that must work harder to deliver the right fights more consistently.

We’re not saying that Paul-Fury is one of those fights and we don’t subscribe to the notion that the millions who watch this will then stick around and watch each televised offering that follows in the weeks and months to come. The audience here is not conditioned to the convoluted boxing system, one with so many belts and champions it’s lost all meaning to the outside world. What they’ll get when Paul and Fury collide, however, is exactly what they want – a resolution. There is no clamour for either boxer to fight anyone else, there are no belts to ‘unify’ nor is the spectre of what comes next hanging over the promotion. Paul-Fury is a rare quick fix in a sport known to drag things out to the point that what we wanted in the first place too frequently disappears forever.

And for those hardcore fans who do watch, and there will be plenty whether they care to admit it or not, there’s intrigue regarding Paul’s credentials when faced with a legitimate professional boxer for the first time. So far in his 6-0 (4) career, Paul has beaten four debutants, each with minimal boxing experience. The only names on his record who had more than one training camp under their belt were UFC stars Tyron Woodley, now 0-2 after losing consecutive bouts to Paul, and an ancient Anderson Silva. It would be easy to write off Paul on that evidence alone but, unlike Fury, at least he’s been facing opponents who by and large came to win.

Tommy, the 23-year-old brother of Tyson Fury, is a strikingly handsome body beautiful who can boast an 8-0 (4) record, but his level of opposition has been so poor that the WBC should hang their heads in shame for suggesting victory over him is worthy of a place in their rankings. Half of Fury’s opponents were winless when facing him and each opponent was selected carefully by his team to ensure that Tommy didn’t come unstuck before money could be made from his name. In truth, though Silva was 47 years old when he went eight rounds with Paul in September last year, he’d dabbled in enough boxing during his long career in combat sports to make him by far the most threatening opponent either man has faced.

Predicting who wins this one is far from easy. The bookies favour Paul while plenty in the industry are hoping that Fury not only triumphs, he delivers a thrashing so convincing that Jake retires immediately. There is every chance that happens. Fury hits reasonably hard and has not struggled to dominate inferior opposition. Furthermore, with John and Tyson Fury helping him prepare, there’s an awful lot of experience and fighting wisdom from which to draw. Yet, in professional boxing terms, Fury can look every bit as crude and raw as his opponent. Paul likes to flick with his left jab and hurl his decent right hand over the top but can leave himself wide open and square on when he throws blows in combination. We’re yet to see evidence that Fury is the man to expose him, though. He too can end up with his body and chin exposed after chasing his opponents around the ring.

Another factor to consider is the psychological battle. Paul is effortlessly charismatic and the cleverer of the two; it won’t be hard for him to push the Mancunian’s buttons to the point he’s in something of a mental spin come the opening round. Tommy may claim there’s no pressure but, far more than Paul, he will be the one feeling it; not only to win, but to win it for his proud fighting family and, of course, for the entire sport. And though it is the done thing, particularly among elitist boxing folk, to downplay Paul’s skillset, he’s dedicated himself to the sport in a way that should be admired.

This one could get messy. There might be an awful lot of holding on the inside and, with bragging rights the priority, a reluctance to let hands go. We expect Fury to be busier in the early going before tiring down the stretch. Whether Paul will be able to fashion the necessary openings to win only time will tell.

Heading up the supporting cast in Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Arena is an intriguing cruiserweight contest between two men who can claim to be world class when the world number four, Ilunga Makabu, defends his WBC strap against veteran Badou Jack.

Stocky southpaw Makabu, 29-2 (25), has been inactive since January last year, when he won a split decision over Thabiso Mchunu whereas Jack, now 39 years old and 27-3-3 (16) has been largely unconvincing in the weight class since leaving the light-heavyweight division following a contentious loss to Jean Pascal in 2019. In August, most observers felt that Richard Rivera deserved the nod over Jack before it went the other way after 10 rounds.

At his best, Jack – who beat Nathan Cleverly on the undercard of Mayweather-McGregor – was a joy to watch but those days have gone. The pick is for Makabu to retain on the cards.

THE VERDICT: That Paul-Fury is the headliner over a ‘world title fight’ should tell you all you need to know about the perception of world belts in 2023.