One of the greatest gifts a talented beginning professional boxer can get is a quality matchmaker. Very few fighters are ready to fight at the highest levels when they turn pro, even when they’ve won Olympic gold and dominated at the amateur level.
The key for these young pros with potential is to get the right fights at the right time. Too many promoters and their matchmakers simply want to give them opponents they’ll easily trounce, but that does not help them develop into top-level pros.
What they need when they’re up-and-coming are matches which will challenge them but not overwhelm them. They need to see different styles: Left-handers and orthodox fighters, pressure fighters and boxers. If they have matchmakers like this, they’ll be as prepared as possible to compete successfully when they move on to world-class opponents.
That’s where Jake Paul finds himself at now. He’s a 25-year-old who insists he’s trying to make it as a boxer. During an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” on Tuesday, Paul said his goal is to become light heavyweight champion within three or four years.
That’s a lofty goal considering he’s had no amateur career and has had no professional fights of note. He’s 5-0 with four knockouts, but four of those five fights came against fighters making their pro boxing debuts, and the fifth was a rematch against a former UFC champion.
Paul has, in order, beaten a YouTube star, an ex-NBA player, a former Bellator champion and scored two wins over a former UFC champion, the last of which was a violent knockout.
Wed Aug. 6 in New York, he’ll fight Hasim Rahman Jr. in the main event of a pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden.
The 31-year-old Rahman, the son of the former heavyweight champion, is by far the best opponent Paul has faced. Paul’s first five opponents at the time he fought them had a combined record of 0-1. None of them were boxers.
If Paul turns out to be a good boxer, it could be good for the sport. Lord only knows that boxing needs the positive attention that he could bring it. If he develops to a point where he’s actually a legitimate quality pro — and let’s be honest, he’s light years away from that now — it will be a story that finally portrays boxing in a positive light.
His trainer, BJ Flores, was a quality fighter and is a knowledgeable boxing man. He insists Paul can fight, and I’ll take him at his word.
I’ve largely stayed away from Paul because it’s hard to take his quest seriously given his other job as a social media star. He knows how to manipulate people and public opinion. He’s done that so well already that he’s made a lot of money already in boxing without fighting anyone of consequence.
That’s where the problem is. Boxing is at a high point at this stage in its history. This has been an amazing year of fights and there are so many talented young fighters beginning to make their mark, but a lot of it gets glossed over and ignored because Paul is a genius at getting attention.
He’s got the smack talk down, but he needs to show the potential that Flores insists is there against opponents who can fight back.
He’s a 200-plus-pounder, yet he calls out men who weigh 30, 40, 50 pounds less than he does and who aren’t boxers. He got into it on social media this week with ex-UFC champion Conor McGregor. McGregor has never fought above 170 and was at 155 in four of his last five fights.
That’s the equivalent of unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev calling out lightweight contender Ryan Garcia or unified super featherweight champion Shakur Stevenson.
It’s just a bad look.
Rahman Jr. is no prodigy and, at 31, he’s no rising prospect, either. He’s a solid fledgling pro who is probably appropriate for Paul at this stage of his career.
This isn’t, though, a young Lennox Lewis or Evander Holyfield he’s facing. Win or lose, there will still be plenty of questions that surround Paul’s boxing career after this fight.
There is a legitimate question of how big Paul’s fights have been. I had heard from sources, but could never confirm, that Paul’s rematch with Woodley sold only 65,000 units, which would be highly disappointing if accurate. McGregor tweeted to Paul this week that he’d sold only 70,000 in two fights, so McGregor appears to have heard something similar to what I did.
If it’s true that he only sold 65,000 — and like I said, I couldn’t confirm that or else I would have written it — then this whole thing is built on a house of cards. Showtime is backing Paul because it is looking to gain a new audience that it hasn’t been reaching.
But if that audience isn’t there, then neither will Showtime after a while.
We know Paul has the shtick and can gain attention. It’s something that boxers should pay attention to because it will help them increase their own visibility and strengthen their brands.
But for Paul, the time has come. He has to prove that he can fight and that he’s actually serious about this boxing thing.
If he can’t, then it’s just a bunch of freak show fights and few real fight fans care about that.