In the combat sports world, there’s little funnier than the outrage of a boxing “purist.”
A boxing “purist,” by the way, is defined by this writer as a sanctimonious type, who fetishizes the sport’s glorious past and rejects all moves forward in trying to fit boxing and its promotion into the present tense sports world. The “purists” are those who tinkle their panties at the very thought of someone/something tainting their pure and noble sport.
It’s truly laughable that, in a sport plagued by corruption, incompetence, and a decades-long self-defeating business model, its “true” fans—who’ve LET the sport fall into disrepair—are so resistant to change.
And in comes Jake Paul.
The YouTuber/social media influencer is, admittedly, a bit of a tool. He’s also, however, an active 6-0 professional boxer who, despite his novice status, is already a bigger draw than many (if not most) established world class boxers.
One would think that the boxing community might want to peek under the hood a bit and see where it might get some ideas for how to promote itself. The 25-year-old Paul has been able to parlay his social media presence into beefed-up box office appeal in the sport. Granted, the Jake Paul blueprint seems simple—be popular outside of boxing and drag that popularity into boxing—but it certainly wouldn’t hurt for fans/media/bossmen to embrace “The Problem Child,” learn something about self-promotion, and apply it to a sport sorely in need of some face time in the mainstream world.
The “purists” get shook at the very mention of Paul. He’s not a “real” boxer. He’s not part of their pure and sacred club of guys/gals paid to beat the spit out of one another and the sleazy promoters there to exploit them.
This stick-in-butt crew let out an especially loud bellow of lament this week when the WBA awarded Paul an honorary title belt for, well, being a celebrity, maybe?
It’s always fun to take jabs at boxing’s four major sanctioning bodies. They’re all outfits that, at best, border on sleazy and, at worst, bathe themselves in sleazy. The Panama-based WBA just happens to be the oldest of the lot.
At any rate, they invited Paul to their annual convention, held this year in Orlando, Florida, and lavished praise on him as a “world-renowned boxer and iconic content creator” in their press release hyping his attendance. And to the sure consternation of the “purists,” he was also sold as “someone who has made a serious name for himself in the boxing world with an undefeated record against the sport’s biggest names.”
“We are thrilled to have Jake attend our event in celebration of our 100th anniversary” said Gilberto Jesus Mendoza, president of the WBA. “Jake’s professional and physical contributions to the sport have changed it in such meaningful ways and we’re looking forward to our attendees hearing and learning from him directly.”
LOL. Oh yeah, gizzards had to be twitching after that one. But not as much as they’d be twitching a couple days later when Mendoza and the WBA presented an honorary title belt to Paul, with the on-stage support of Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins.
“You are changing the boxing business [model],” Mendoza told Paul at the presentation during the organization’s awards ceremony. “You are changing how people go up. So, we want to give you this as a token of motivation, and discipline in order to work hard.”
“I’m honored. For real, this means a lot,” a somewhat flustered Paul responded while holding the belt. “I feel like I haven’t earned this yet, though. I feel like I have to actually fight for this. I don’t know, I don’t know. Thank you. I feel like you guys should hold this until I’m actually fighting for a WBA Championship. I don’t know.”
After a brief “I’m not worthy/but oh, you are” back and forth, Paul would accept the belt, declaring that he’d hang it up and “use it as motivation.”
And, man, social media exploded with grown men having hissy fits about this. As if the WBA were above such grandstanding. As if boxing was in any sort of position to reject someone who claims to actually care about growing the sport and helping its athletes.
The truth is, despite how easy it can be to dismiss this man-child, Jake Paul just may be the best promoter boxing has at the moment.
The established promoters rarely do more than send out press releases and book press conferences, playing to the already-established fan base, these days. And, even then, it often takes upwards of a decade to get a talented fighter to the point of being salable to that base.
Paul, on the other hand, has turned women’s champ Amanda Serrano into a millionaire star in just a couple of years. He’s also turned himself– a fighter with zero amateur experience and zero credibility in the fight world– into a top draw without ever having faced an actual boxer as a pro. Like it or not, that’s damn fine promotion right there. That’s selling nothing for something.
Again, his knack for promotion and mainstream attention-grabbing should be something to study and potentially latch on to. At the very least, the “purists” could try and pretend to see boxing as something other than their own private club of macho. Without new ideas for marketing and promotion, the sport will continue to grow old and stale. These very same fans, who rail against any and all new ways to bring attention to the sport, are the same ones complaining about the sport’s inability to line up money and logistics to make the biggest fights happen.
With the full expectation of no lessons being learned by anyone, here’s hoping Jake Paul takes his WBA title belt everywhere he goes and shows it off to every camera he can find. Pissing off boxing “purist” stiffs and dullards is an acceptable consolation prize for perpetually stalled progress.