The great reveal of boxing’s systemic flaws is this:
Less than three years into his professional boxing career, YouTube sensation Jake Paul is positioned to generate the most popular pay-per-view boxing bout of 2022 not involving Canelo Alvarez.
So much of that is hitched to the charismatic Paul, 25, leaning into the footprint of his more than 20 million subscribers to advance his fledgling boxing career.
Relying on that gift of gab, Paul has emerged as the perfect contrarian to several veterans wearing world-title belts. By not understanding the value of hyping themselves, those big-time fighters continue to flounder, committing self-induced damage to their earnings by squandering opportunities to create legacy bouts.
“Boxing could eliminate Jake Paul in a heartbeat if it just made big fights,” Sports Illustrated boxing writer and DAZN fight analyst Chris Mannix said this week. “Boxing created the lane for Jake Paul to drive his Corvette through. And he’s done exactly that.”
As the post-pandemic economy forced the world to tighten their belts, many prominent boxers need to recalibrate their financial expectations and egos to this new reality. The major investment money that previously fattened their bank accounts has vanished.
Those millions previously earned decreased many fighters’ interest in remaining as active as usual, while also minimizing their willingness to accept opponents who would threaten the zero in their loss column.
Add to this market correction the existing rivalries between promoters and broadcasters, and we have this perfect storm that further weakens a once-mainstream sport.
Into the void arrives Paul, who continues his carefully scripted course Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona, by boxing former long-reigning UFC middleweight champion Anderson “Spider” Silva atop a Showtime pay-per-view event.
Silva, 47, reigned as a UFC champion from 2006 until 2013, often relying on his boxing skill to win fights before retiring. Last year, he came back and defeated former middleweight boxing champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a boxing match.
Paul vs. Silva will lose some casual sports fans given its head-to-head time slot with Game 2 of the World Series. Yet, pay-per-view operators and Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza foresee an impressive showing.
“This will be one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year,” Showtime’s Espinoza said. “And that’s really saying something as we talk about someone with just a handful of fights.”
Thus far this year, former pound-for-pound king Alvarez, Mexico’s undisputed super-middleweight champion, has generated the top two pay-per-views.
His September victory by decision in a lackluster trilogy fight against Gennadiy Golovkin produced an estimated 600,000-plus domestic buys on DAZN, while a stunning loss to unbeaten light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol in May garnered about 575,000 buys on DAZN, according to television executives who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly reveal the numbers.
Those sources say the next-most popular PPVs this year have been Gervonta Davis-Rolly Romero (175,000), Errol Spence Jr.-Yordenis Ugas (130,000) and Deontay Wilder-Robert Helenius (75,000).
Paul would have no shot at a top-five finish, except for the mishandling of major fights that fell through this year: a heavyweight title fight between England’s WBC champion Tyson Fury and his former-champion countryman Anthony Joshua; an undisputed welterweight clash between unbeatens Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford; and a superb junior-welterweight battle between next-generation stars Gervonta “Tank” Davis and Ryan Garcia.
Fury (32-0) will now settle for an early December consolation defense against Derek Chisora, a fading foe whom Fury already defeated in 2011 and 2014.
Far more aggravating was the failure of Texas’ Spence (28-0, 22 KOs) and Nebraska’s Crawford (38-0, 29 KOs) to strike a deal for the bout to determine supremacy in the glamour 147-pound division.
Blaming Spence for disinterest, Crawford last week officially postponed talks by accepting a Dec. 10 hometown bout in Omaha, Nebraska, against little-known David Avanesyan.
A streaming service (BLK Prime) that has never distributed a major boxing pay-per-view will handle that fight.
Why it fell apart depends upon whom you talk to. It certainly didn’t help that Crawford and Spence have never wanted to work on their marketability the way they work in the boxing gym.
They disregarded what Paul comprehends perfectly: You need to fiercely sell yourself and your fight.
That’s a shame given how skilled Crawford is, a double-handed power puncher whose vicious intent to finish foes has produced his astounding knockout rate, or how the sophisticated Spence can so easily maneuver across the ring.
IMPROBABLE RISE: Jake Paul punches his way to top of influencer boxing world
“A huge fight with unbelievable demand will always get made because you know the money will be there,” said a boxing industry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of related business dealings. “It’s when you’re not sure of that swell of interest — is this fight going to only appeal to a niche group of sports fans? — that the risk goes up.
“Yes, this fight should’ve happened, but if the economics aren’t behind it … we know that’s the only thing that can break up a fight like this.”
Crawford and Spence can reflect on all of that now, with Spence likely to turn to mandatory opponent Eimantas Stanionis, former welterweight champion Keith Thurman or a 154-pound foe.
Neither of those consolation bouts will fare as well as Jake Paul versus Anderson Silva.
“Who would be talking about Jake Paul if we had Spence and Crawford on the table for November? If we had ‘Tank’ and Ryan on the table for January?” Mannix asked.
“And it’ll be a pretty big letdown for both of their next fights if we don’t get Ryan (Garcia) and ‘Tank’ over the finish line.”
Mannix reported first this week that while the structure of the financial package is pretty much agreed upon for a January Davis-Garcia showdown in Las Vegas, the sticking point is who will televise it.
Showtime televises Davis. DAZN streams Garcia.
Both want the fight.
For the sake of the sport, each should find contentment with half of the pie.
Davis, who has drawn strong crowds to his hometown of Baltimore — along with San Antonio, Atlanta and Los Angeles — and Southern California social-media dynamo Garcia both have widespread fan bases.
Those young audiences can provide boxing the jolt of new fan blood it has yearned for since the disappointing action of the record-setting Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view bout in 2015.
Yet, the old, separatist ways of the sport threaten to claim two more victims.
Amid the fray, Jake Paul continues, hand-picking his opponents and daring, unlike so many of the others, to boldly plot out a fight schedule he hopes one day will lead to Alvarez or Fury.
“Like him or not, Jake deserves respect for building his fan base and getting to this level of notoriety he has — and he has brought that to the sport,” Espinoza said.
“We’ve seen that fandom rubbing off on other boxers and on boxing in general, and he’s converted a lot of skeptics with the way he’s performed over the last few fights. He’s working nonstop and bringing a big audience to the sport.”
As for the others who’ve failed to grasp the reasons behind Paul’s success? They’re speechless.