IT was easy to pretend Jake Paul carried no relevance in the so-called real boxing world when so-called real boxers were united in turning the other cheek.
However, with Paul now growing in popularity and therefore relevance, what we are currently seeing is the complete opposite: boxers, proper boxers, going out of their way to make themselves known to Paul; boxers almost begging Paul for an opportunity to fight him.
Maybe this switch in approach is understandable, inevitable even, in light of Paul’s staying power and his pulling power. Many pro boxers, after all, see in Paul what most fans with eyes see in Paul – an inability to fight – and thus want to become the first pro boxer to not only fight Paul but expose all they are certain of exposing.
Yet, though the reasons are obvious, that does still not mean the sudden clamouring for Paul is a good thing for boxing, nor something that should be considered anything other than cynical. It isn’t. It’s not. The sea change becomes all the more jarring, too, once a world champion like Mairis Briedis (IBF cruiserweight champion) drops to his knees and asks Paul for an opportunity to make the kind of money he has seemingly given up hope of making in world title fights.
This happened yesterday when, Briedis, 36, filmed himself entering a tattoo parlour and getting a tattoo on his thigh as some kind of message to the YouTuber. A bit of fun, maybe, it was, in truth, the social media equivalent of a dad joke; a prank cool to nobody but Briedis. There was, burned into the Latvian’s leg, some sort of animal – rather than the Bulls, think Chicago Moose – and the words “Jake’s bad karma,” which preceded Briedis then saying to camera: “Now it’s your turn.”
Fun to Briedis, desperate to others, more alarming than anything is what this says about Paul’s increasing relevance and power among not only casual boxing fans but also revered world champions, the kind once deemed to be the bigger and better.
Evidently, that is no longer the case. Evidently, Mairis Briedis, 28-1 (20), is happy to follow former NBA star Nate Robinson and former mixed martial artists Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley in fighting Jake Paul, 5-0 (4), and receiving the biggest payday of his career to date. And when put like that, perhaps it makes sense.
Paul claims he is open to fighting a proper boxer, too. He was due to fight one, albeit a fellow novice, in the form of Tommy Fury in December (only for Fury to withdraw injured) and is clearly feeling the heat from detractors who accuse him avoiding proper fights and proper fighters.
That doesn’t mean he will go from one extreme to the other and suddenly agree to meet an animal like Briedis – guaranteed to maul Paul and do it quickly – but it does open the door for proper boxers to get in on the fun.
As well as Briedis, Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr – once a proper boxer, now a former boxer – has shown an interest in fighting Paul in 2022. He said on a recent Instagram Live, “I assure you I will beat Jake Paul’s ass. I want it as winner takes all when I fight Jake Paul. Winner takes all the money.”
A former middleweight titleholder, Chavez Jnr later called Paul “garbage” and promised he would “knock him out” if given the chance to do so. Which is what it is, of course: a chance. Sadly, because of where boxing has found itself heading in recent years, professional boxers are now in search of ‘chances’ given to them by famous people on the internet whose audience reach is believed to possess greater value than anything they, the boxer, has achieved in the ring. Sadly, the balance of power, always an uneven thing in the sport of boxing, has shifted once again.
“Julio Cesar Chavez, I like that fight a lot because it silences the critics,” Paul recently told The Volume Sports’ Boxing with Chris Mannix. “He was a former world champion and I know I can beat him. That challenge excites me and I’m down.”
For purists, the enduring hope is that Paul’s ego and desire to prove himself in a sport he will never fully master results in him seeking challenges for which he is woefully unprepared. Because then, and only then, will this performative prizefighting succumb to reality and normal service – whatever that actually is – will resume.