Madison Square Garden’s 143-year, four-building history includes 1,749 boxing events, Showtime Boxing president Stephen Espinoza said Tuesday.
The arena’s next will be its first headlined by a YouTuber.
Sitting behind a fluorescent-colored, designer-watch-adorned championship belt declaring himself “Most Valuable Boxer,” social media star Jake Paul stated his desire to be taken seriously in the sport as he jawed with upcoming foe Hasim Rahman Jr. during a news conference at the Garden on Tuesday for their Aug. 6 cruiserweight main event on Showtime pay-per-view.
“People say, ‘fight a real boxer.’ Here we go,” Paul said. “This guy is bigger than me, has more experience. There’s no reason that I should win this.”
Sure, Paul is a professional boxer — boasting a 5-0 record with four knockouts — and promoter with his own brand, Most Valuable Promotions. But his ability to land the sport’s most iconic venue largely is thanks to his reputation as a controversial content creator and boisterous online influencer. Not his in-ring resume, which includes bouts against MMA fighters and former Knicks star Nate Robinson, yet zero fighters with prior pro boxing experience.
That number will change when he faces former sparring partner Rahman, the son of the former heavyweight world champion and owner of a 12-1 record.
“I’m going to be your lowest paid opponent, but I’m the one that’s giving you any credibility,” Rahman said. “I’m not here to negotiate through the media, I’m here to end the façade that he’s calling a career. We’re going to see on Aug. 6 when Jake Paul falls.”
Looking to legitimize his game, Paul originally eyed an August date against Tommy Fury, brother of heavyweight champ Tyson Fury, and booked MSG thanks to experience in May promoting Amanda Serrano against Katie Taylor. The 25-year-old kept the event alive by scheduling Rahman after visa issues prevented Fury from traveling to the United States.
Outside the ring, the boxing world suits Paul. He’s built a rapport with promoters and broadcasters in his short time, and his history at the center of conflict, plus over 20 million YouTube subscribers, prove helpful in selling pay-per-views.
“I think naturally, I've always been sort of a polarizing figure," Paul said. "I guess people made me the villain, and I can play it and that’s what I’ve been doing. It is a part of me and I’m good at it, so we’ll see how far it goes.”
Inside the ring, Paul’s future remains quite the mystery. A win would afford Paul some legitimacy, but a return to celebrity fights may be more appealing than a run of pro bouts.
“I think this was something on the checklist, and once I check this off I can go and fight Anderson Silva, let’s just say,” Paul said. “But if I would’ve fought Anderson Silva now and beat him, they would’ve said, ‘well he’s just another MMA fighter.’”
And after that? An optimistic Paul believes a run at a world title is in his future once his coaches say he’s ready, perhaps two or three years from now.
“I know what I'm capable of and that's why I'm so, I guess, braggadocios and loud and just say all these claims, because I backed it all up so far.”