October 3, 2023

With the recent cancellation of his planned Aug. 6 showdown with Hasim Rahman Jr., it’s becoming increasingly clear Jake Paul has a problem finding appropriate opponents. It’s a complicated issue that has no clear solution because Paul is more than simply an aspiring boxer. Paul is also a social media superstar and someone whose profile leads to his fights being pay-per-view attractions.

When a fight needs to be on pay-per-view, it requires an opponent who has the right appeal. To this point in Paul’s 5-0 career, he has fought social media influencers, former NBA stars and former mixed martial arts champions. While Paul has clearly improved as a boxer and shows natural power, scoring some truly scintillating knockouts over men with no real boxing experience, his success and profile have led to demands he face a “real boxer” in his next outing.

Paul twice attempted to make a fight with Tommy Fury, younger brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but the first fight fell through when Fury was injured and the second attempt was scrapped when Fury was denied entry into the United States due to his family’s ties to boxing promoter and alleged crime boss Daniel Kinahan. An attempt to salvage the date was made by slotting in Rahman, the son of former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman Sr., only for that to fall apart when Rahman was unable to make the contractually agreed weight for the bout.

Whether you fault Paul and his team for trying to force Rahman to come down drastically in weight from roughly 230 pounds to 200 — and then 205 after negotiations — or Rahman for agreeing to a weight he later claimed reaching would have been an “astronomical feat” before claiming Paul was scared to fight him at a weight 5% higher than the contractually-agreed limit, doesn’t really matter.

Rahman and Fury were options because they had — admittedly very thin — professional boxing resumes and their last names carried at least some cache with fans.

So, the question becomes: Now what?

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Paul has not fought since December 2021, which means, assuming he doesn’t quickly put together a fight in the next four months, he has wasted a year of his athletic prime at 25 years old. Maybe that has allowed him to improve significantly by spending more time in the gym, but we haven’t been able to see if that is true in the ring.

The calls will continue for Paul to face a real boxer. But that needs to be balanced with the opponent being someone fans would not only tune in to watch, but pay for the privilege of doing so. And, to top off the requirements, it needs to be someone of an appropriate skill level for a 5-0 fighter.

The WBC had claimed that Paul would earn a spot in their cruiserweight rankings with a win over Rahman. Understandably, this led to backlash, especially as many people didn’t realize the ambiguity of the statement didn’t mean Paul was going to crack the top 10. The WBC rankings go to No. 40 with the current No. 40 fighter being Romano Kujak, who is 11-0 against opponents with a combined 110-253-15 record.

Would a fight with someone like Kujak, who sits at the bottom of a sanctioning body’s top 40 be a valid fight for Paul? Absolutely. Would it draw any meaningful interest the way fights with former MMA champions Tyron Woodley or Ben Askren did or Tommy Fury would have? No way.

One very possible option for a Paul opponent in early 2023 is Nate Diaz, an enormously popular UFC fighter who is expected to wrap up his UFC contract in September when he faces Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279. Diaz vs. Paul would most likely be a box office smash, with both men doing a hard sell with their unique personalities and Diaz fans tuning in with the hopes of seeing their man, a “real fighter,” derail Paul’s career. Diaz also fits the profile of a fighter Paul tends to fight as someone naturally smaller — or in the case of Rahman, so big that a weight cut could drain him — giving Paul a physical advantage in the fight.

But, should Paul beat Diaz in that hypothetical bout, it would do nothing to address the criticisms that Paul has not fought a “real boxer.” And, so, the cycle would simply begin again.

The reality may be that there is no “right” next opponent for Jake Paul, just a list of least bad choices that will continue until one misstep blows up his career entirely or he simply defeats enough men, proven professional boxers or not, that he receives a shot at some sort of belt, even if a secondary or tertiary title — god knows boxing has enough of them and sanctioning bodies always looking for a payday — and has the chance to prove whether he truly has what it takes to hang with a true professional boxer.

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