Jake Paul had the combat sports world buzzing after his latest victory on Sunday night. Paul defeated former UFC champion Tyron Woodley by split decision in Cleveland, moving to 4-0 as a professional boxer and raising his profile as a fighter once again. Paul, despite tweeting that he's a "retired boxer" on Monday, is expected to return to the ring later on this year, but is his biggest challenge at this point finding the right opponent? He's clearly a draw in the pay-per-view space, but staying there will require the right balance of appeal and challenge in an opponent.
While this weekend saw the boxing world's attention turn toward spectacle, Teofimo Lopez -- one of the sport's most promising young champions -- will make his debut in the pay-per-view space this October against George Kambosos. The fight for Lopez's four belts will take place on a Tuesday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, as Triller faced numerous challenges in rescheduling the event after Lopez contracted COVID-19 earlier this summer. The IBF has mandated that both fighters be vaccinated with hopes of avoiding another delay to this bout. So is this the direction boxing is heading? And if so, is it good for the sport?
On Saturday, Josh Warrington hopes to rebound in a rematch against Mauricio Lara after a shock ninth-round knockout loss. Warrington still has title aspirations, but is a win enough to get him back on track? Before Warrington enters the ring, Katie Taylor makes another defense of her undisputed lightweight championship on the undercard. After Amanda Serrano's win Sunday, does Taylor have something to prove in terms of pound-for-pound supremacy?
Marc Raimondi, Mike Coppinger, Ben Baby, Mike Rothstein and Nick Parkinson separate what's real and what's not.
Jake Paul vs. Tyron Woodley was a win for the sport of boxing
Raimondi: I was sitting on press row, floor level at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland on Sunday night for the Jake Paul vs. Tyron Woodley fight. During the undercard, a young spectator -- he couldn't have been more than 16 years old -- came over to the reporters seated there and asked, flashing a $10 bill, whether he could buy a bottle of water from one of us. The concessions stands, he said, did not take cash and he did not own a credit card. A few minutes later, a baby-faced, 21-year-old YouTuber who goes by the handle ConnorTV sauntered over with his father to ask whether we had a USB-C cord he could use to charge his video camera.
For nearly a decade, I have covered combat sports as a full-time living. The first fight I ever covered was in 2006. I've been at fights in dozens of cities and countries and on a few continents. And Paul vs. Woodley had by far the youngest crowd I have ever seen in MMA or boxing. ConnorTV told me that this was his first boxing show and that he had started gaining interest in combat sports because of Paul, the YouTube-sensation-turned prizefighter.
It might be difficult for some of us who have been around for a while to understand, but what Paul and his team are saying is true. He really is bringing younger eyes to boxing, and there's no way to see that other than it being a win for the sport. So, I will say "real" to this statement, absolutely.
There's another key here that must be mentioned. The crowd in Cleveland did not fill in for the main event between Paul and Woodley or the co-feature, which pitted pound-for-pound women's great Amanda Serrano against Yamileth Mercado. That would be the norm for a boxing card of this magnitude. No, the arena was almost full for the prelim fight between Charles Conwell and Juan Carlos Rubio at 7 p.m. local time.
By the time Tommy Fury walked out to open the pay-per-view portion of the proceedings, the crowd was large enough to give him an enormous pop. Fury had never even fought in the United States before, but he was positioned as a star by Showtime, Paul and his team last week. And he was treated as such. Of course, his family name and status as a former cast member of "Love Island" in the United Kingdom didn't hurt. But normally, at that point in a boxing show, the venue is half full at best and there is little interest in the fights in the ring.
Paul brought a young and captive audience to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Sunday night -- young men and women. His main event fight with Woodley was not the best presentation of boxing possible. Both are neophytes in that world, and, frankly, it just did not at all look like a high-level fight. But the fans there treated it like it was. And they were brought to their feet by the likes of Fury, Cleveland prospect Montana Love and Serrano.
Half the battle in entertainment is just getting people in the door and getting eyes on the product. Say what you will about Paul, but there were plenty of teenagers and young 20-somethings who left the building Sunday night entertained by a night of boxing. For a sport with a fanbase that skews on the older side, that's a win. Regardless of how you feel about Paul, his personality and his antics.
Mandated vaccination for fighters is good for boxing
Baby: Real. Big fights are already a risky proposition. All it takes is an injury and a fight is either scrapped or devalued (see Manny Pacquiao-Yordenis Ugas). And a fighter contracting COVID-19 and delaying a fight could have serious financial repercussions -- a situation that a vaccine can mitigate in short order or outright prevent. Look at what happened with Triller in regards to Lopez-Kambosos. After winning the purse bid, Triller was left holding the bag when Lopez tested positive for COVID-19 just days out from the fight. Now the IBF has stated that both Lopez and Kambosos will need to be vaccinated ahead of their bout in October.
A quick glance at major sports and big companies should tell people all they need to know: When big money is involved, vaccines are required. Sure, there might be a legitimate reason someone doesn't want the vaccine under specific circumstances, but the larger debate over vaccinations is often thrown out when that becomes a threat to profit margins.
It's worth noting that Lopez also took a potential long-term financial hit. Initially, Triller was selling the pay-per-view with a price tag that reached $60. After the postponement, the price dropped to $20 for a one-time purchase, the fight will be on a Tuesday instead of a Saturday, and the venue went from inside Miami's Marlins Park to the side theater at Madison Square Garden.
It's a branding hit and a career heat check that Lopez could have avoided if he hadn't contracted COVID-19 and thus had fought Kambosos in June. Instead, he's relegated to a midweek card with significant questions about his drawing power moving forward.
Even with his KO streak over, Edgar Berlanga is still must-see TV
Coppinger: Real. Even in his first fight that went the distance -- his first time even experiencing Round 2, for that matter -- Berlanga proved his power is genuine with four knockdowns over eight rounds. Demond Nicholson was his toughest foe on paper, and as the competition continues to stiffen, the knockouts will be harder to come by.
Still, Berlanga will always present danger in the ring, making him must-see TV. If he wants to maintain that status, he'll need a KO of Marcelo Esteban Coceres on Oct. 9. He'll return on Dec. 11 if all goes well, before another fight in March. If he can get back to knocking opponents out, the June fight, which is expected to be a major step up in competition and promotion, could be the bout that catapults him to stardom.
There are already plans underway to match him with a former champion on the Puerto Rican Parade weekend in New York next summer.
One thing is clear: Berlanga knows how to market himself outside the ring.
Katie Taylor is the most entertaining fighter in women's boxing
Rothstein: Not real. Amanda Serrano -- who fought Sunday night -- remains the most entertaining fighter in the sport. The best? That remains to be seen. But the way she fights is incredibly watchable. That's not to dismiss Taylor, who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. She beat Jessica McCaskill. She beat Delfine Persoon twice. She has really good speed and stamina. But from a pure entertainment factor, no one surpasses Serrano.
The reality is that a fight between Serrano and Taylor, as long as Taylor beats Jennifer Han this weekend, is the fight to make. Serrano told me last month that she wanted to unify her division first before taking the fight against Taylor, but at this point it might be worth it to fight Taylor next.
Women's boxing could use a superfight like that, and it would be an incredibly entertaining fight between two of the best in the sport.
Josh Warrington will regain his title contender status with a win over Mauricio Lara
Parkinson: Real, provided Warrington promoter Eddie Hearn can persuade Gary Russell Jr. to defend his WBC world featherweight title against Warrington in the next six months.
Warrington (30-1, 7 KOs) feels aggrieved that the first defeat of his career -- a shock ninth-round stoppage loss to unheralded Mexican fighter Lara in February -- would be so costly. Warrington, 30, went into the fight with Lara, which was supposed to be a warm-up for a bigger assignment this summer, as ESPN's No 1 featherweight. But that defeat, after he decided to voluntarily give up the IBF world featherweight title in January so he could pick his own fights, has left a title shot out of reach for Warrington. The Leeds boxer trails in the governing bodies' rankings: He is No 6 with the WBC and does not feature at all in the other three bodies' lists of contenders.
Warrington has watched with frustration as his English rival Kid Galahad went straight into an IBF world title eliminator after Galahad lost to Warrington by split decision for the IBF world title in his previous fight in June 2019. Warrington feels as if victory over Lara should catapult him back into title contention, perhaps occupying one of the IBF's top two spots, which are currently vacant.
However, Warrington has no interest in a rematch with Galahad -- it was one of the reasons he vacated the IBF belt at the start of the year. He's more likely to pursue a title shot with one of the division's other champions: Russell or Emanuel Navarrete. ESPN's Mike Coppinger recently reported that Los Angeles-based Navarrete (34-1, 29 KOs) has agreed to terms with Joet Gonzalez for a defense of his WBO featherweight title on Oct. 16, which rules out Navarrete for Warrington until 2022.
But Russell would be available for this year, and as he has not fought since February 2020, it would stand to reason that he would be receptive to offers. Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), 33, a 2008 U.S. Olympian, has not been a busy fighter, making one appearance per year from 2015 to 2020. He has yet to announce an opponent for 2021 and would be Warrington's best hope -- and first choice -- for a title fight.