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Jake Paul showing he may be more than a social media sideshow in boxing, but still has a long way to go

Jake Paul exits the ring after his unanimous decision win over Anderson Silva in their cruiserweight boxing match at Gila River Arena on October 29, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Jake Paul exits the ring after his unanimous decision win over Anderson Silva in their cruiserweight boxing match at Gila River Arena on October 29, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) (Christian Petersen via Getty Images)

The vast majority of boxers come into the sport virtually unknown and stay that way throughout their careers. Even the majority of those who turn into stars — think guys like Canelo Alvarez, Deontay Wilder and Manny Pacquiao in recent times — were unknowns to the boxing public on the nights of their pro debuts.

Jake Paul, though, is somebody, and was so even before he scored a unanimous decision victory over 47-year-old MMA legend Anderson Silva on Saturday at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Paul’s creativity and wit made him a celebrity in this modern world long before he’d ever thought of putting a pair of boxing gloves on and getting into the ring. He’d built a media empire, and had tens of millions of social media followers so that when he did decide to box, he had a built-in following.

In a little over a year, he’s become one of the biggest names in boxing. He’s far from one of the sport’s best fighters — much more on that in a bit — but after Alvarez, Wilder, Tyson Fury and maybe a couple of others, what boxers are better known than Jake Paul?

Most boxers have the skills and are looking to build an audience. Paul has the audience but is looking to develop his skills.

Let’s be fair, he didn’t look totally out of place in the ring with Silva, who is unquestionably one of the greatest combat sports athletes ever, but at 47 is nowhere near his prime.

Paul’s trainers B.J. Flores and Danny Smith have done a good job developing him, and in defeating Silva, he showed some of those traits. He won by scores of 77-74 twice and 78-73 in an entertaining fight.

While it won’t bring to mind legendary battles like Hagler-Hearns, Ali-Frazier III, Arguello-Pryor I or Corrales-Castillo I, it was an entertaining fight with ebb and flow and drama. Silva is an elite counter puncher, but Paul didn’t often fall into his traps, so he deserves points for that. It has to be a bit concerning for Paul’s team that he struggled with a 47-year-old whose sell-by date had long ago expired, but some perspective is badly needed here.

Paul knows how to manipulate his audience and get attention. He gets that both good and bad.

He was on the money in the ring after the fight when he said, “If I were to walk on water, people would say I can’t swim.”

He doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s doing because people don’t realize how truly hard what he’s doing is. People mocked former NBA star Nate Robinson when Paul knocked him out, but Robinson would have pulverized 99.9999% of those people had they had the courage to fight him.

He’s been ripped by fans, media and boxers alike for not fighting a boxer. And while that’s true, he’s a guy who has had no amateur career and has boxed for a little more than two years. Yeah, Paul's best opponents in the ring, Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley and Silva, are all ex-MMA fighters and were far past their primes, but they were at least as tough as the opponents most 1-0 or 2-0 boxers face.

Heck, look at the resume of some current champions and count the number of tomato cans on their resumes. You will find a lot, and a lot of them who couldn’t hold a candle to a 47-year-old Silva.

But there are those on social media who took seriously Paul’s callout of Canelo, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and a surefire Hall of Famer.

“Canelo, you guys said, ‘Oh, you can’t beat someone who is a striker like the legend, Anderson Silva,’ but I just did it,” he said. “So why can’t I beat Canelo?”

Paul has marketed his fights so well that they’re events even though he’s fighting the type of bouts a newbie to the sport would take.

The jury is clearly still out on whether he can truly fight. Can he be a world champion? Is he a legitimate knockout artist?

Well, you’ll be able to determine that when the talent level of his opposition increases. What happens when he’s fighting a 22-year-old, not a 47-year-old, and that 22-year-old not only takes his punches, but hits him back, hard? Those are the moments you determine if a young boxer can fight.

Time is against him because he’s started at 25. Vasiliy Lomachenko, who pulled out at decision over Jamaine Ortiz Saturday on the other side of the country in a “real” boxing match at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, turned pro at 25. When he did, he was 396-1 as an amateur with two Olympic gold medals.

Paul had one amateur bout, against a fellow YouTuber, Deji Olatunji, who in two weeks will box Floyd Mayweather.

It’s going to be an uphill climb for Paul to get to championship contender status. It would be a massive accomplishment if he could even get far enough to fight for a title.

He’s not devoid of talent. His team is doing a good job with him and he’s financially secure, so he can spend what it takes to buy whatever he needs to improve. The wise guys will ask, “Does that include buying the judges?” given the close nature of the fight Saturday, but really, it takes financial wherewithal to get to the top in boxing.

Give him credit for what he’s done, but keep it in perspective. Nobody is comparing him to Marvin Hagler nor saying he’s going to be one. But could he be a decent, competent professional boxer? He’s showing signs that he might be capable. He has a long way to go to get there, but at least he has a shot.