When Chad Dawson first got the call to serve as a sparring partner for Jake Paul, he was skeptical. Dawson is a fighter's fighter. He was once a mainstay on pound-for-pound lists, had two stints as light heavyweight champion, fought the best of his era and has two wins each over Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver, and single victories over Bernard Hopkins, Tomasz Adamek and Eric Harding, among others.
He was vaguely aware of what Paul, the social media star, was doing in boxing because it was getting so much attention, but Dawson had some concerns.
"When I initially got the call to come work with him, I was kind of iffy," Dawson told Yahoo Sports. "I wasn't sure if it was just a publicity stunt, and when I thought about it, I was like, 'Ah, I don't know.' But I have to admit, I was curious."
That curiosity quickly turned into respect. Dawson said Paul is far better than he imagined he would be.
And as Paul prepares for the toughest challenge of his fledgling boxing career Saturday when he meets UFC legend Anderson Silva in the main event of a Showtime pay-per-view card at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona, Dawson has become a believer.
"I've been impressed," Dawson said. "I've been very impressed, and I was shocked at his work ethic and his general ring knowledge. He moves like he's been boxing for well over two or three years. And he's thinking in there, too."
He'll have to do plenty of thinking against Silva, the former UFC champion who held the promotion's middleweight belt for more than six years while earning a reputation as one of the greatest MMA fighters ever. Paul's never fought a boxer, nor has he fought an MMA fighter who was primarily a striker.
He'll finally get that experience when he meets Silva, who after leaving the UFC has turned to boxing. In 2021, Silva defeated former boxing middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and then ex-MMA champion Tito Ortiz to improve his boxing mark to 3-1.
Silva is hardly proven as a boxer. Prior to meeting a badly faded, washed-up version of Chavez last year, he hadn't boxed since 2005. And a washed-up Chavez represents by light years the best opposition Silva has faced as a boxer. Paul is a 2-1 favorite at BetMGM, with Silva at +165. Perhaps that is because of the reports that Silva was knocked out twice in sparring, which he's denied.
Silva vows to win, but insists Paul is a serious boxer. Silva is also trying to make a statement, urging others to keep trying despite bleak circumstances. If he wins at 47 over a 25-year-old, it will be evidence of what he says, that anything is possible.
"Every single fight is very special, and every single fight is special for the fans," Silva told Yahoo Sports. "And I respect Jake because he's doing a lot of work in opening the box and the mind for everybody to think about anything is possible. I respect Jake a lot, and I try to do my best. I try to do my best. I don't think nothing bad. I put in something very special every day, working hard to do my best for my fans, you know? And I respect Paul a lot. And let's go doing the best show for the fans."
During the media tour for the promotion, a photo surfaced of the Paul brothers, Logan and Jake, meeting Silva when Silva was at the prime of his UFC career. Paul has conceded he's long been a huge fan of Silva's.
But he said at an open workout in Glendale, Arizona, on Wednesday — where he arrived via horseback — that he wouldn't let his fandom impact the way he approaches the fight.
"I have the Mamba mentality," Paul said of the mindset of the late NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. "Kobe knocked over Pau Gasol, his own teammate with the Lakers, when he was with the Redeem Team in the Olympics. I carry that same kind of drive with me, that killer instinct."
But B.J. Flores, Paul's trainer, believes he's been seriously overlooked because of how he got into boxing and that he's fought non-traditional opponents.
Flores began working with Paul as a sparring partner in 2019 when Paul was preparing for a bout with Ali Eson Gib. Hall of Famer Shane Mosley was training Paul at the time and when Mosley left camp for a few days, Flores took over. Like Dawson, Flores said he was shocked by Paul's talent.
And he said Paul has continued to improve. Flores brought in veteran trainer Danny Smith to help him guide Paul's career and said that Paul's ability will be obvious when he fights Silva. If Paul weren't a celebrity before coming to boxing, Flores said he'd still be high on his potential.
"I'd say he is a prospect and someone to definitely watch out for," Flores said. "Regardless of how long he's boxing, the one thing you really have to respect that he does have that very few people have is real punching power. That's one thing like I said that no matter who's been in camp ... [ex-cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham], Chad Dawson, Richard Rivera, who just arguably beat Badou Jack ... every single person who has been in camp with him and sparred with him says this kid has real, real power.
"He's somebody to watch out for regardless of his skill level. And you're going to see a much improved skill level on [Saturday]. One thing you have to do with Jake is really be conscious of both hands. People have seen the right hand, but the left hand is also strong and has been developing. Everybody says the same thing: 'He can really, really punch.' "