On Apr. 17, 2021, Youtuber Jake Paul knocked out 37-year-old wrestler Ben Askren in the first round of the main event. The card itself was a complete spectacle; musical acts, celebrity commentary and comedic skits were featured prominently throughout the program. There wasn’t much to take from the night, Paul had defeated a retired fighter who was never known for his striking skills. Despite the cheap theatrics, the pay-per-view itself was a success, with 500,000 buys. The high interest from the general public inspired multiple celebrity boxing events since, and catapulted Paul into a full fledged combat star.
Fast forward to the late hours of Saturday Oct. 29, 2022 and Paul is 5-0 in his boxing career, about to step into the ring against Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) legend Anderson Silva. Silva, recently retired from the sport of MMA, is one of the most decorated combat fighters of all time. He owns the UFC record for consecutive victories at 16, with his middleweight title reign spanning an incredible 2,457 days. The buildup to the fight felt much different than Paul’s other bouts. This time around, the promotion was much more respectable. Showtime Sports hired professionals from around the combat world. Infamous reporter Ariel Helwani was responsible for coverage and commentary, while ex-UFC champion Georges St-Pierre mediated the official faceoff. Both fighters seemed to commend each other’s skillsets. Leading up to the event, Paul had no choice but to pay homage to Silva’s accomplishments.
“This is how you know you made It,” Paul said. That’s the power of a dream. I’m about to fight my idol, it doesn’t get better than that.”
Silva was grateful for the opportunity (and payday) while remaining humble in the days before the bout.
“This is two generations coming together to do something awesome,” Silva said. I feel so lucky. I can control what I do in my training, but I don’t worry about the things that I can’t. I remain focused with a positive mindset. I try to continue to do this for myself. I do it because I love it.”
Considering Anderson Silva has decades of combat experience under his belt, it would be easy to believe that he has a vast advantage over Paul. However, boxing is much different than mixed martial arts, and those familiar with the sport recognized this. Leading into the fight, public bettors were heavy on Paul, skyrocketing him to a -260 favorite.
As far-fetched as it may seem, Jake Paul has managed to become an ambassador for the sport of MMA. His outspoken advocacy for fair fighter pay, and his consistent discourse on the topic has sparked conflict between himself and UFC president Dana White. During the Silva press conference, Paul devised a wager based on the outcome of the fight.
“If you win, I will fight you in an MMA fight — OK, kickboxing — but if I win, me and you come together to create a united fighters’ association to help UFC fighters get better pay and better healthcare,” Paul said. “You become the interim president and we unite to help these fighters once and for all.”
The environment felt less like a celebrity boxing match and more like a professional title fight as the two fighters stepped into the ring. An attendance of 14,000 filled the Desert Diamond Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. Celebrities and Athletes were peppered throughout the stands, making cameos on the broadcast throughout the night. Despite game 2 of the Major League Baseball (MLB) world series occurring on the same evening, this was the hot ticket.
The fight itself did not disappoint. It was highly competitive until the final round, when Paul floored Silva with a vicious right hook. In the end, Paul outlanded Silva 83-79 and won by unanimous decision. The victory further cemented Paul’s legitimacy in the fighting game, and proved a lot of doubters wrong. Paul improved to 6-0 in his boxing career, while Silva fell to 3-2. After the fight, both athletes showed a great deal of respect for each other.
"It's a surreal moment. Hard work pays off," Paul said. "I want to say thank you to Anderson. He was my idol growing up and he inspired me to be great. Without him, we wouldn't have a fight this year…I have a lot of respect for him."
Silva remained optimistic despite the loss, and pledged to continue his efforts in combat sports.
"I worked hard to put on a special show for everybody here," Silva said. "I say thank you to everyone who came out. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but I continue training hard because I was born for this."
As for what’s next, it appears that Paul has his sights set on Nate Diaz, who has just completed the last fight on his UFC contract. During the event, Diaz got into a backstage altercation with a member of Paul’s team. After the fight, Paul added fuel to the fire when asked about a future scrap with Diaz.
“I just beat one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time,” Paul said. “Nate Diaz is easy work, Anderson Silva is way more difficult than Nate Diaz. He’s slow and at the end of his career.”
Time will tell if the Diaz bout comes to fruition, but it’s becoming clear that Jake Paul is living up to his “Problem Child” nickname. Fighters across all organizations are chasing the payday of a Paul fight, and he is currently one of the most popular combat sports athletes in the world. The masses may not like him, but the social media influencer certainly demands respect for carving out his own lane.