Tommy Fury’s victory over Jake Paul on Sunday was either a success for boxing’s reputation or a warning about how social media influencers can and will continue to test the limits of the sport for many purists.
In their bitter rivalry bout in Saudi Arabia, Briton Fury—of Love Island fame and brother of heavyweight champion Tyson—bested Paul by split decision.
Several fight fans believed that Fury, a real boxer, winning instead of Disney star-turned-YouTuber-turned-pugilist Paul, would save the sport from mockery.
Some thought the massive excitement surrounding the fight, which saw both fighters dominate social media during the build-up and on fight night, showed how boxing has changed in recent years and where it might be going.
With just 14 fights between them, two inexperienced pros from the entertainment industry became the subject of more conversation than the majority of world champions.
In order to find out whether Paul v. Fury was good for the future of “traditional” boxing, BBC Sport spoke to boxers and promoters. And are professional boxers today more drawn to the promise of lucrative matches against social media stars than to the pursuit of titles?
Fury vs. Paul: Circus or sport? BBC Sounds offers Voice of the UK for listening.
“Fury’s victory is a positive step for boxing,”
The 23-year-old Fury lauded Paul’s efforts after winning the eight-round fight and called him a “real boxer,” rather than merely a famous person with more than 22 million Instagram followers.
Prior to facing Fury, Paul, 26, who turned professional in 2020, has only faced MMA fighters, a basketball player, and other YouTubers.
Former world champion Carl Froch of the United Kingdom thinks Fury’s victory “was a step in the right direction for professional boxing.” Froch and Paul had an argument earlier this month after Froch said he would knock out the American.
Froch said in a BBC Radio 5 Live interview: “By exposing Paul for what he is, Tommy has done both professional boxing purists and the sport of boxing a great service.
“The influencer YouTubers like Jake Paul and a few others are unable to compete against professional fighters. They aren’t trained boxers. They are YouTubers and are merely having fun.”
Richie Woodhall, a former world champion, was more complimentary of Paul’s boxing skills.
Woodhall said on the 5 Live Boxing podcast, “He’s serious about the game and wants to be looked upon as a professional boxer.” And based on tonight’s performance, I believe he has a bright future as a professional fighter.
Not as straightforward as YouTuber and “real” boxing
Jake Paul receives a right hook from Tommy Fury during their fight in Saudi Arabia.
According to some predictions, Paul might win a total of £10 million, with Fury taking home around £2.5 million.
Since YouTubers Joe Weller and Theo Baker agreed to settle their disputes in the ring six years ago, the world of boxing has seen significant transformation.
Yet, dividing the sport into “YouTuber” boxing and “conventional” boxing is not as simple as it may seem, as Paul v. Fury showed.
There are organizations like Misfits, a promotional firm founded by YouTuber KSI and Wasserman Boxing, which contrast championship-level boxing.
The Pro Boxing Association, not the British Boxing Board of Control, is responsible for sanctioning its fights, which frequently feature celebrities or social media personalities as the main attraction.
Misfits competitions are shown on the DAZN streaming service, although they have drawn criticism from boxing purists for their unconventional approaches to the game.
In August 2021, KSI engaged in a one-night double fight, and Misfits recently declared that it was considering “tag-team” boxing contests.
Both Fury and Paul take part in demanding training camps, compete in events that are officially sanctioned, and are bound by the same rules as other professional boxers.
Both individuals have been described as “a universe apart from the Misfits foolishness” by promoter Frank Warren, while Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing has also claimed that they are not part of the “world of YouTube boxing.”
Did the match draw in any new viewers?
Steve Bunce: Fury and Paul are “drawing eyeballs” to boxing.
Although the number of pay-per-view purchases for Fury v. Paul has not yet been made public, the fight seemed to appeal to younger people who weren’t boxing enthusiasts.
According to anecdotal evidence gathered from social media and conversations in the UK and elsewhere, an eight-round battle between two inexperienced fighters generated enormous, possibly unmatched, hype.
Throughout fight week, there was a lot of excitement, whether it was reading through Instagram stories, monitoring Twitter trends, or watching TikTok.
The boxing great Mike Tyson and superstar Cristiano Ronaldo were present on fight night, while pop sensation Drake wagered $400,000 (£335,000) on his fellow countryman Paul to win via knockout.
According to BBC boxing analyst Steve Bunce, both combatants deserve praise for the good effect the match will have on boosting the sport’s popularity and fan base diversity.
On BBC Breakfast, Bunce remarked, “They’re adding eyes to the sport.”
“No matter what time Jake Paul tweets, it can reach 200 million people and get retweeted 10 million times in around five minutes. If so many new viewers are following the sport, they won’t all stop after the fight is over.
“But how can 250,000 potential new fans affect any sport, be it boxing or tiddlywinks? It must be constructive.”
Paul-Fury: Can boxing learn from him?
What lessons can boxing’s athletes and the sport as a whole take from Paul v. Fury rather than viewing it as a threat to traditional boxing?
While talent alone can get you far, self-promotion can also be important for generating interest in a fight and propelling a boxer into the running for the world championship.
The likes of Fury, Paul, and YouTube fighters are aware of the value of having a robust social media presence and know how to provide relatable content for a following of devoted followers.
Hearn says, “We need to be sure we build the profiles of the boxers on the undercard so it’s the same for conventional boxing.
Because people have been watching YouTube boxing on social media for the past few months, everyone is familiar with the boxers and battles.
Will more boxers start competing in “entertainment” matches?
Jake Paul rests in his corner between each round of his bout with Tommy Fury.
Paul lost his seventh professional match, marking his first defeat.
Prior to the fight, Fury stated that his goal was to win titles, but the Manchester-native has also indicated that he would be open to a rematch with Paul or a matchup with fellow British KSI.
Froch thinks a British title is more achievable and that Fury lacks the “skill or capacity” to contend for world titles. Yet he thinks taking that path might not be the best course of action.
“He made millions of dollars off Jake. Why would you even try to compete for a British title, a Commonwealth title, or a regional title in a battle of that caliber?” said Froch.
“Will this inspire him to go out and earn £25,000, perhaps £50,000 for his next fight?”
Bunce argues that the WBC’s contentious decision to move Fury into their cruiserweight top 40 rankings “makes no sense at all.”
Theoretically, Fury might have a crack at the world title in the future as a ranked fighter.
If a boxer at the top level or at the world championship ever faced a YouTuber or someone with Fury’s lack of expertise, purists would surely question the sport’s integrity.
But, Lawrence Okolie, the WBO cruiserweight champion, would welcome the chance and does not believe it will diminish his standing.
“Deal. Handshake. Sign the agreement, “said the British. “You’ve already paid your dues, so if a YouTuber gets straight to the point and it’s approved, that’s great.
“I wouldn’t want to harm someone that way as a human being.
“But, if you want to pay me more money to box someone who is not on my level, why would I say no? They need a rating, so why would I say no?”