But can he fight? Teddy Atlas grades YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul

The social media influencer is an expert at getting attention. But as he climbs in for his sixth pro fight on Saturday night, one of boxing’s most renowned trainers assesses his skills

Though many are deriding the fistic ambitions of the YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul ahead of his fight with former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva on Saturday, one of the sport’s most renowned trainers is not one of them.

Teddy Atlas, the Staten Island-born coach who trained Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, Barry McGuigan and Alexander Povetkin among other champions, says Paul is respectful of what he calls boxing “fundamentals”.

“He knows he needs a basic respect, an understanding of distance and range, and you can see he’s embraced these fundamentals. He’s allowing these to guide him as he advances and I give him credit for that,” Atlas told the Guardian in his nose-flat brogue.

“He’s raw. He’s green around the gills, no doubt. But y’know, he can punch. He can get your attention if he hits you.”

Getting attention is a skill Paul delivers with such pound-for-pound credentials that he is something of a rarity in the fight game: a novice with top-of-the-bill drawing status.

The 25-year-old influencer has over 40m followers across Instagram and YouTube alone and, though his claim of three million PPV career sales thus far has been disputed by rival promoters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, Paul’s pugilist clout was enough to secure a multi-fight deal with streaming platform Showtime in 2021.

That’s some achievement for a fighter who had, up to that point, fought professionally only three times. There aren’t many boxers who have fought in front of so many eyeballs, certainly so early in their career, a factor that Atlas feels should not be overlooked when assessing Paul’s form.

“I think that speaks to his personality, his temperament, his background. He wants to be an entertainer. That’s a big plus, I don’t think people come close to understanding the importance of that.

“I was asked what makes a good inside fighter by a reporter one time,” Atlas said, by way of explanation. (An inside fighter is one who stays close to an opponent using short punches to attack rather than long jabs.)

“Well, you got to keep your hands in good, offensive position. Rotate your shoulders. Don’t get tied up. Create those little six-inch spaces for a one-two punch. Move your feet backwards, create a little room when you get smothered. Have a sense about yourself, don’t lean in to catch uppercuts. But this is all a complete waste of time without the most important thing,” Atlas said, laughing.

“You have to want to be an inside fighter! And that’s what I mean about Jake Paul. You gotta really want to be a fighter [to perform in front of big audiences] and he does.”

Paul’s first fight with the American big-fight streamer was a points win over former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, after which he set his eyes on a clash with British reality TV personality and eight-fight pro, Tommy Fury.

If that name rings a bell, it’s because Tommy is the half-brother of Tyson, the current WBC heavyweight world champion, a connection that only added further intrigue to the match-up.

When Fury suffered a broken rib in the buildup, however, a rematch with Woodley was hastily convened, and it was in this fight that Paul secured a dramatic sixth-round knockout with a clubbing overhand right.

The punch, no doubt helped by viral consumption across social media, was voted by the public as ESPN Ringside’s Knockout of the Year, beating Tyson Fury’s stoppage of Deontay Wilder in their epic trilogy bout.

“One thing I noticed was about the second Woodley fight,” Atlas said, of the award-winning punch. “Is that Paul was starting to get calm in an uncalm environment.”

“When you’re not calm [in the ring] it’s a graffiti board of thoughts. Everything’s all over the place. When you’re calm you can see specific forms. And I recognize that he is getting to the place where he can see these forms, where he can think clearly and execute a shot.

“Everybody talks about it was a big right hand in Atlanta [that KO’ed Woodley], but that wasn’t what impressed me so much, it was the delivery system for the punch that he’d figured out would work. And that’s what struck me.

“With Woodley he bent down low, hit him in the body and [only] then he threw high. He knew that would make Woodley stand straight, because he thought the danger would be below, and then Paul would come above with the right hand. And he did. And nobody really talked about it.

“I’m not making more of it than should be made, Paul’s still a guy in the very, very early stages of development. And don’t fool yourself and think he’s ready for more than he’s ready for, because he’s not. But he is making progress.”

Progress that’s proved hard to showcase for Paul since the Woodley win.

Jake Paul v Anderson Silva
Jake Paul and Anderson Silva pose together at a press conference ahead of their fight on Saturday night in Glendale, Arizona. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For his next fight he booked Madison Square Garden, hoping the delayed dust-up with [Tommy] Fury could finally take place, only for the Englishman to pull out again, this time citing US visa issues.

Heavyweight Hasim Rahman Jr was drafted in as a replacement but when the 31-year-old Baltimore native also backed out in July due to “weight issues”, the Garden was canceled, leaving Paul to vent his frustrations across his social media channels rather than over the ring canvas.

Saturday’s fight will be a welcome return to action for Paul, when he steps in the ring in Glendale, Arizona; to face Anderson Silva, a 47-year-old MMA legend from Brazil.

For some critics, taking on yet another fighter whose credentials were built in combat outside of the “sweet science” is just the latest way in which Paul is undermining his claim to be a serious purveyor of the boxing arts.

But for Atlas, a trainer of nearly 20 fighters and a disciple of the late, great Cus D’Amato – the man who forged the teenage Mike Tyson’s savage peek-a-boo fighting style that would see him twice unify belts in the heavyweight division – the art of picking opponents is as much part of the game as slipping a jab.

“He’s picking his spots, he’s using his brains. It’s good to manage yourself properly, he’s not there to be a kamikaze pilot! Please, don’t be silly. Yeah, I give him credit for that. That speaks to his intelligence. You know Floyd [Mayweather Jr] picked his spots pretty damn good too, and look at his career.”

Though Silva’s fight experience is mostly in MMA – a total 34 wins in a 45-bout career in the octagon – the southpaw known as the Spider made his pro boxing debut as far back as 1998.

He lost his debut, but in his second fight, despite being the heavy underdog, Silva beat Julio Cesar Chavez Jr – son of the Mexican middleweight all-time great – in a split decision over eight rounds, in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Chavez Jr, despite not living up to his father’s record, was nevertheless a former WBC middleweight champion and a veteran of 52 wins from 59 fights.

Next up, the 6ft 3in Silva beat American debutant Tito Ortiz by knockout at the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, his movement and snappy jab suggesting that he will be Paul’s toughest boxing challenge yet.

When asked how he might set Silva’s tactics to face Paul, Atlas was to the point.

“I would probably start with the most simplistic thing in the world, and probably no one else would even say this, but I would say: ‘move right’.

“If [Paul’s] going to beat you, he’ll beat you with his best thing, you know? So move away from it. Move away from his right hand, that would be the first thing.

“And then I think the most obvious thing for me would be playing on his inexperience. So, every time you make him miss, come back with something to make it uncomfortable for him, see if you can mentally frustrate him a little bit. Every miss, Silva should come back and touch him with two, three punches. Every time, every time.

“He’s not Rembrandt yet. [Paul’s] still still painting by numbers. So, don’t paint by numbers [as his opponent]. Come off the sides on him. Give me the angles, right? That’s what we call it in my business. Give me angles, no painting by numbers.”

For Paul, Atlas saw a different way to victory.

“It’s kind of like having this steak, that on the outside, it’s cooked. But you have to remind yourself that the inside is so raw, and it’s not ready to be served, you know.

“So he needs to let his jab lead the way in. Develop it in a responsible, you know, educated way. Give Silva a little bit, get him off-strike, off-rhythm. And I would say: [Paul should] pay attention to the body, go to Silva’s body. Because usually, when you have a guy that uses his legs a little bit, a guy that has more boxing background than you do, then you want to take away some of his mobility.

“Paul has real physicality, a big punch. And that’s good. But that ability is like the engine of a car. No matter how good the engine is, if there’s a bad driver, the car’s gonna hit a wall. So, you know, it’s the fundamentals: stay balanced, judge distance, lead with the jab.”

Paul’s drive to prove himself as a professional boxer worthy of wider respect seems in plentiful supply. Whether his fight against Silva on Saturday will showcase ability above the expectations of the attention will be determined by his actions in Arizona.

Ben Wyatt

The GuardianTramp

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