THERE was a time when the principal mystery surrounding the announcement of a fight promotion was all to do with matchups and opponents. However, today, in the case of Jake Paul, the principal mystery surrounding his latest fight announcement is this: Will the headline attraction finally box a boxer?
For now, all we know is that Paul will return to the ring – the boxing ring – on August 6 at Madison Square Garden, New York, which he confirmed at the weekend, and will do so alongside Amanda Serrano, the former world champion he currently manages and promotes. Their fights have been dubbed “two main events” by Paul, though it is not yet clear who will oppose Serrano, nor, for that matter, who will oppose Paul, 5-0 (4).
At this point, given all Paul brings to the promotion, such details are deemed irrelevant. He is, after all, one of the biggest names in the sport and therefore the minutiae of a fight – that is, things like opposition – are considered secondary to everything else. We know now that Jake Paul’s pull has little do with his opponent or the quality of the matchup and everything to do with Paul himself, someone who has, don’t forget, made a career out of being the centre of his own universe.
Boxing fans, or at least some of them, struggle to understand this, yet Jake Paul fans not only understand it but are so conditioned to it being normal they will never even so much as question it. To them, so long as Jake Paul is seen wearing boxing gloves and throwing punches in a boxing ring, he is, with no hint of irony, a professional boxer. It doesn’t matter how he looks in the process of throwing those punches, nor indeed does the identity – and full-time occupation – of the person receiving them matter. All that matters, as far as they are concerned, is that Jake Paul is now a boxer because Jake Paul says he is now a boxer.
If that argument falls under semantics, something we can say with confidence is that Paul’s impact on boxing has been greater than many had expected. Financially speaking, his events have been successes, meaning he has made money from the sport, and he has also, to his credit, shown staying power, becoming, for better or worse, a name familiar in boxing circles, a name spoken about, and a name – for my sins – written about. (Although, in my defence, I also write articles nobody reads about boxers nobody knows.) He has achieved all this not by dazzling us with his boxing skills but instead by simply being a famous character in a sport forever thirsty for famous characters. That’s all, in the end, that was needed. He found a sport happy to place cash above principles and realised, fairly quickly, that being a famous character in a sport lacking any sort of character will both open doors without the need to extend an arm and also woo promoters and television networks, even the ones feigning interest in the sport’s integrity.
As part of this club, Paul has done some excellent work, not least with Amanda Serrano. Her fight with Katie Taylor in April was a watershed moment for women’s boxing and a lot of the attention it received, rightly or wrongly, was due to Paul, her hype man, and all he brought to the occasion. For this Paul deserves credit, just as he also deserves credit for competing, and for training, and for dragging a new, if temporary, audience to a sport perhaps too reliant on its older members staying alive. It hasn’t always been pretty, no, and sometimes the fights don’t even look like fights, but at least in comparison to others who have crossed borders and ended up in boxing Paul can say with a fair amount of pride that he has, if nothing else, nailed the job of impersonating a boxer better than anyone before him.
Is that ultimately enough, an impersonation? Debatable. Certainly, though, much of the desire to see Paul now box a boxer stems from an interest in finding out how he would fare, as opposed to it being purely a malicious act, as was the case at the start. Back then, with Paul making all sorts of boasts, the idea of him boxing a boxer was appealing for no reason other than it would inevitably see him have to eat humble pie. Now, however, while the pie remains warm, one is also open to the possibility that Paul could surprise everyone and achieve what not long ago seemed nothing short of ridiculous.
It’s progress, whichever way you look at it. He has somehow, through knocking out four men who had never before boxed, created doubt in the minds of the critics who were once dismissive and left a few of them rubbing their chins. In terms of success, it could, for Paul, be as good as it gets.
Hopefully we’ll one day find out, but until then, a question: if Jake Paul is considered good for boxing without actually boxing a boxer what does that say about boxing?
It says, I suppose, that nowadays it’s not the competition that matters but rather the before and after. It says it’s not the skills that matter but the hype. It says it’s not boxing that is going to thrive as a result of Jake Paul’s involvement in it but instead Jake Paul and all he carries on his coattails.
In his later years the iconic comedian George Carlin came to understand the difference between an entertainer and an artist and used this difference to explain the various phases of his legendary career. He said that to begin with, and knowing no better, he set out to become the very thing his heroes had been – an entertainer – only to then later realise he had a greater aptitude for artistry, so embraced being an artist, someone whose goal was to grow and learn rather than simply entertain and earn. He understood, he said, the importance and power of silence and would eventually see it as a space in which to explore profound and thought-provoking ideas rather than something he should rush to fill with a cheap gag. This led to some of the best material of Carlin’s career and also, he said, an extended period of growth he could only ever experience as an artist, never as an entertainer.
Even so, entertainers had their place and still do. They will in some fields – most, in fact – make substantially more money than the artist and today, with entertainment the shortcut and artistry the scenic route, never has the role of entertainer been either more coveted or lucrative. With all we presently have at our disposal, far easier and quicker is to become an entertainer than it is to become an artist of any sort. Becoming an artist, after all, takes time, patience, concentration, and talent. To become an entertainer, on the other hand, merely requires the ability to open one’s mouth and shout louder than everybody else, a skill easily honed online.
Jake Paul, in boxing terms, is, without question, a great entertainer. His value is purely monetary and the receipts he has so far collected show he has been a greater success in boxing than many who have devoted their entire life to it. That’s the bat with which he beats them, of course, the badge he flashes like a warrant to show he belongs, yet until Paul fights and conquers a boxer, not just one but a host of them, he can never claim any artistry in the sport. He will instead be known purely as an entertainer, a sideshow, a gimmick. He will still make money in this role, just as a travelling circus or Vegas magician would, but never, for his own good, will he be judged the way we judge the artists in the sport; those who dedicate their life to it; those who are good at it; those for whom financial reward is secondary to personal growth and the mastering of their craft.
To return to Carlin and comedy for a second, never, for example, will someone like Brendan Schaub, the former mixed martial artist who transitioned a few years ago into stand-up comedy, ever be mistaken for George Carlin. (And only here will he ever find his name in the same sentence.) He can claim to share an occupation, as often he does, yet the difference between entertainer and artist guarantees he will forever be performing under a different set of rules and with a different goal in mind.
This disparity is obvious, just not to Schaub. As it turned out, so eager was the former UFC heavyweight to cash in on his ‘name’ and have a ‘comedy special’, he refused to respect the aforementioned difference and, alas, attempted to run before he could walk. His impatience resulted in the filming of a special just two years into his comedy career, something unheard of, which, upon its release, was duly slated to an almost cruel degree. Moreover, to double down on this, the second special Schaub decided to release this year has a rating of just 1.1 on IMDB (International Movie Data Base), even if ultimately watched – on YouTube – by an impressive 1.4 million people.
Therein, I guess, lies the difference: the artist cares more about the 1.1 rating; the entertainer cares more about the 1.4 million views. Certainly, were Schaub to be asked if his comedy career has to date been a success, he would make reference to the 1.4 million views as opposed to the 1.1 rating and do so with a straight face, knowing that, deep down, he can never be an artist, so has to settle for being an entertainer instead.
As harsh as that sounds, it is merely the reality check plenty of famous people never receive. Better yet, for both Schaub and any others aiming to cut corners, the Brendan Schaub story is proof – a cautionary tale, in fact – that in some art forms entertainers are more welcome and celebrated than in others.
As for boxing, a different kind of comedy but a comedy no less, what more can be said? We continue to call the sport a noble art, a joke in itself, yet seem happy, more so today than ever, to prostitute its nobility if the transaction makes financial sense. It’s obvious why this happens, of course, and there are still far bigger issues in the sport than exhibitions, YouTubers, and the career of Jake Paul, but let’s be clear: if you allow entertainers like Jake Paul into the brothel that is the so-called noble art, you can’t then complain about how he behaves once inside.
Which is to say, where boxing once had rules, albeit pliable ones, Paul has now not only broken these rules but rewritten them to suit. He has, in the process, shown the power of entertainment relative to artistry and left those running the brothel wondering if there’s really any need for artistry at all.
Not unlike baby food, they have seemingly noticed that the easiest things to digest in 2022 are entertainers and exhibitions, particularly for an audience with baby teeth and unrefined tastes. Give it time, they think, and soon the audience won’t even be able to tell the difference between steak and shit. Give it time and the only food on the menu will be fast; fast food sold at premium prices; prepared in microwaves, not restaurants.