Boxing: Love Island star Tommy Fury defeats Jake Paul in Saudi showdown

Social media star Jake Paul (left) in action against Love Island celebrity Tommy Fury in the Diriyah Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: REUTERS

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Social media star Jake Paul suffered the first loss of his fledgling boxing career as he was edged out by Tommy Fury at the Diriyah Arena on Sunday, with the British reality TV star scoring a split decision win against the American.

Watched by luminaries such as Fury’s half-brother and current World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight champ Tyson, former champion Mike Tyson and football star Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently joined Saudi club Al Nassr, Paul’s considerable shortcomings were highlighted as Fury picked him off over eight rounds.

“Tonight I made my own legacy, I made my own legacy,” Fury said, finally stepping out of the shadow of his illustrious boxing family.

“All the way through these two and a half years, I had a dream, a vision, and no-one believed me. Now they can stand up and take note,” he added.

Fury had the better of the opening exchanges but Paul began to settle in the third as he tried to lure his opponent forward and counter with big right hands.

In a bout short on technical quality, Paul looked to be turning the tide when he had a point deducted in the fifth round for a blow to the back of Fury’s head, but Fury had a point chalked off for holding in the sixth to even things up again.

A short left hand downed Fury in the eighth and final round to shift the momentum in Paul’s favour to set up a grandstand finish in which both men chased a knockout punch that never materialised.

“All respect to Tommy, he won, don’t judge me by my wins, judge me by my losses. I’ll come back, I thought I deserve that rematch, it was a great fight, a close fight,” Paul said in the ring.

Paul, who calls himself “The Problem Child”, drew loud boos with his post-fight claim that he “got sick really bad twice in this camp” and “injured my arm”, though he added he was “not making excuses”.

The American first gained fame and millions of followers on the now-defunct social media platform Vine and YouTube before pivoting to boxing about five years ago.

His 6-0 record heading into Sunday’s fight, including four knockouts, had come against a ragtag group of opponents that included another YouTuber and three mixed martial arts fighters.

He was out to bolster his credibility against Fury, who was also undefeated, though his past opponents were also hardly household names.

The two men’s unusual backgrounds have led many observers to question whether either should be taken seriously.

Saudi officials nevertheless pitched Sunday’s event as a sign of the kingdom’s growing clout in the boxing world.

It built on a 2019 fight billed as the “Clash on the Dunes”, in which Anthony Joshua reclaimed his world heavyweight crown from Andy Ruiz, the first time a world heavyweight title fight had been staged in Saudi Arabia.

Last year Joshua lost in a split decision to Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk in the “Rage on the Red Sea” in Jeddah.

In the co-main event challenger Badou Jack put on a clinical display of boxing, stopping Ilunga Makabu in the 12th and final round to win the WBC cruiserweight title, the third weight class in which the 39-year-old Swede has held a world title.

Jack downed Makabu with a big right hand in the fourth round and decked him again in a similar manner in the 11th, and though South African Makabu’s undoubted power posed a threat until late in the fight, he eventually capitulated.

With his corner telling him ahead of the final round that he needed a knockout to win, Makabu came out swinging, but Jack’s crisp combinations overcame him, forcing the referee to step in and stop the fight as the Swede claimed the belt. REUTERS, AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.