Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Why Mike Tyson vs. Jake Paul is so absurd that it may just be perfect matchmaking in 2024

Although the 2022 comedy-drama film “Everything Everywhere All At Once” had nothing to do with boxing, it cleaned up at the Academy Awards by winning seven of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for. 

As it turns out, it would’ve also made the perfect tagline to describe the fallout to Thursday’s shocking news about a monster combat sports event appearing on the horizon. 

For better or worse, Netflix made a stunning reveal when it announced a July 20 boxing match at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, pairing influencing superstar Jake Paul, who has built his reputation as a boxer by feasting on aging and retired MMA stars, against Hall of Famer and former two-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

If you’re not sure what to think or even feel about this polarizing matchup, you aren’t alone. It’s equally good, bad and ugly; in all the ways that make a car crash on the side of the highway so impossible to turn away from when passing by. 

If you love combat freak shows pairing two of the most instantly recognizable people in modern American culture, this one’s for you. And if you cringe at the thought of a middle-aged man who will be 58 in June trading punches with a fighter 30 years his junior, this one is also right up your alley.  

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including instant reaction to Mike Tyson vs. Jake Paul being announced below.

Not only did this fight fail to appear on anyone’s bingo card of coming attractions this summer as one of the best-kept secrets in recent memory, the majority of people who immediately texted me about the fight was the exact demographic this fight is catered towards: my mother and my best friends from high school; none of which have willingly purchased a boxing pay-per-view since long before Tyson’s last professional fight when he was dropped by journeyman Kevin McBride in 2005 and refused to get up. 

Only this fight won’t be a PPV, which is part of its genius. In a bold move by Netflix to continue its push toward acquiring live sports, Tyson-Paul marks just the third live sporting event on the streaming behemoth (and first in the combat realm). Netflix will stream the fight without an additional PPV upcharge to its more than 260 million subscribers, which gives the circus event the opportunity to become the most-watched boxing match in modern history.   

No, this fight doesn’t share the same extensive, five-year build as the 2015 megafight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which produced a combat sports record of 4.6 million PPV buys in the U.S. alone. It also pales in comparison to the cultural and social impact of boxing’s most historically important nights, including the 1971 “Fight of the Century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier (regarded by many as the single most anticipated sporting event ever) or the 1938 heavyweight title rematch between Joe Louis and Germany’s Max Schmeling just one year out from the start of World War II (with an estimated global radio listenership of 100 million). 

But if you look at this event through the prism of the current crossover boxing bubble, which many believed started with Mayweather’s 2017 win over UFC star Conor McGregor (which produced 4.4 million PPV buys), Tyson-Paul has all the potential to be even bigger.

While Paul (and older brother Logan, who boxed Mayweather in 2021 crossover event) are often credited with keeping the circus and carnival bubble going, typically through Jake Paul’s never-ending beef with UFC CEO Dana White and a litany of his ex-fighters, Tyson played a huge role, himself, in proving what is possible financially outside the realm of traditional pugilism. 

Tyson, then 54, came out of retirement for a 2020 exhibition match against 51-year-old Roy Jones Jr. that generated over $80 million in revenue and an astonishing 1.6 million PPV buys. The fight card, as a precursor to the short-lived pandemic success of disruptive promoter Triller, featured a number of popular musical acts (including Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa) and also saw Paul deliver a viral knockout in just his second pro fight of former NBA guard Nate Robinson in the co-main event. 

Four years later, Paul is 9-1 as a pro after headlining PPVs on Showtime, ESPN and DAZN. Meanwhile, Most Valuable Promotions, the company he founded with former UFC CFO Nakisa Bidarian, will be the lead promoter for Netflix’s first foray into the sport, just two months after it signed WWE’s flagship “Raw” to a multi-billion dollar deal.

Yet, even though Paul has long received credit (if not begrudging respect) from even those critical of him within boxing for the passion and hard work he has put in to improve, it has been understandably difficult for most people to look at this announcement as a sign that the apocalypse is right around the corner for the sport at large. 

Of most concern is the mental and physical state of Tyson. Yes, he looked spectacular in outboxing a fellow 50-something in Jones some four years ago. But Paul isn’t just three decades younger, he’s also bigger — as a competing cruiserweight — than most of his critics even realize. Which leads us to the most important question: why would any state commission take on the liability of clearing Tyson to compete? 

Paul was already ridiculed enough for boxing 47-year-old former UFC champion Anderson Silva in 2022, even though Silva’s upset win over the badly faded Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. the previous year seemed to justify the bizarre matchmaking. The aforementioned Triller also badly swung and missed in 2021 when it promoted an exhibition match that saw 44-year-old retired MMA star Vitor Belfort knock out 59-year-old Evander Holyfield in the first round of an event that was almost universally maligned.  

The Texas State Athletic Commission, which has long held a liberal and irresponsible reputation within elite boxing, has not yet announced whether Tyson-Paul will be an exhibition or a sanctioned boxing match. In addition to the fear of Tyson’s health at such an advanced age, there is also the added worry of impropriety (or even the threat of it) when two fighters are so badly mismatched in terms of age with this much money to be made. 

But if it’s a freak show that draws the most casual eyeballs, it’s a freak show the fans are going to get when they presumably come out in droves, not just an in effort to try and break the 2021 record set in the same building for the largest indoor boxing event in U.S. history when Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders produced 73,126 fans, but to make this a truly transformative event for Netflix subscription metrics. 

Putting two of the most famous people in the world in the same ring doesn’t necessarily guarantee full-on success, however. Which brings up the best and most interesting part of this fight for those who can admit they will suspend their outrage long enough to circle the calendar and watch it: no one, with a straight face, can truly tell you who is going to win.

Paul has opened as a betting favorite as high -500, which makes sense considering his size, age and recent activity (he has fought four times in the last 13 months alone). But you would be lying to yourself if you didn’t believe a one-punch knockout for Tyson was still possible given that power is the last thing to go in an aging fighter and Paul, for all of his success of late, has yet to face a big puncher and lost his only true fight against a “legitimate” boxer when he dropped a split decision to reality TV star Tommy Fury (the half brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury) last year. 

That doesn’t even take into account how much the idea of “breaking the internet” would multiply by the thousands should Tyson, some 13 years older than George Foreman was when he knocked out Michael Moorer to win back the heavyweight title at age 45, shutting up the brash and disruptive YouTuber who purists have claimed is making a mockery of the sport. 

To defend said critics, Tyson-Paul is an outright mockery of the sport. But it’s also so absurdly ridiculous, it’s kind of perfect. 

We can rail all we want against it by raising all of the relevant points as to why this is a poor idea. Yet, come July 20, we will still tune in and we will still watch one of the most unique pieces of matchmaking that combat sports has ever seen. 

This isn’t really about boxing, after all, it’s about car-crash TV, which Americans have willingly consumed for years, from legendary stunt performer Evel Knievel failing to clear Snake River Canyon in Idaho in 1974 on his motorbike (in a closed-circuit event promoted by boxing Hall of Famer Bob Arum and WWE founder Vince McMahon) to the infamous Kimbo Slice-Dada 5000 MMA match at Bellator 149 that saw one fighter suffer cardiac arrest inside the cage. 

Only, this might be the best stunt of them all with the biggest potential for record-breaking viewership. No, that doesn’t make it right but it does make everyone involved incredibly richer which, in prizefighting, is still the object of the game. 

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