Love Island’s Fury topples YouTuber Paul in Saudi boxing showdown
British reality TV star Tommy Fury defeated American YouTuber Jake Paul by points on Sunday in a boxing spectacle meant to boost Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a top-flight venue.
Despite a knockdown in the eighth and final round of the heavyweight bout, Fury won by split decision to the delight of Saudi fans who yelled “Come on, Tommy” in the final round.
Afterwards, addressing the crowd through tears, Fury, who is the half-brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury but better known for his time on the Love Island dating show, said that he “created his own legacy” by winning.
Paul, who calls himself a “Problem Kid”, drew a lot of cheers after the fight with his claim that he “became very ill twice in this camp” and “injured his arm”, although he added that he “doesn’t make excuses”.
He told reporters that Fury had “impressive combinations” but that the loss was “a reflection of my own game”.
“I couldn’t get my momentum to move the way I wanted to, and I just felt kind of lethargic,” he said.
A triumphant Fury, for his part, boasted that he “showed everyone that I’m not afraid of anyone and that I can succeed in the big dance.”
Paul first rose to fame and millions of followers on the now defunct social media platform Vine as well as YouTube before switching to boxing about five years ago.
His 6-0 record ahead of Sunday’s fight, including four knockouts, came against a ragtag group of opponents that included another YouTuber and three mixed martial artists.
He was looking to solidify his authority against Fury, who was also undefeated, although his past opponents weren’t widely known either.
The two men’s unusual backgrounds have left many observers wondering if they should be taken seriously.
However, Saudi officials called Sunday’s event a sign of the kingdom’s growing influence in the boxing world.
– Allegations of “sports washing” –
It is based on the 2019 billed “Battle of the Dunes” fight in which Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight crown from Andy Ruiz and was the first fight for a world heavyweight title hosted in Saudi Arabia.
Last year, Joshua lost a split decision to Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in Fury at the Red Sea in Jeddah.
Spectators on Sunday included former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, comedian Kevin Hart and Cristiano Ronaldo, who now plays club football in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials say there has been a surge in domestic interest in boxing in recent years, with the number of boxing gyms rising from seven to 59.
Their goal is to have 500,000 boxers in the kingdom by 2030.
They gloated over the possibility of faking a clash between Paul and Fury after previous attempts to stage it in the United States had failed.
“Paul vs. Fury took a long time and was finally done, which is of great importance for boxing in Saudi Arabia,” Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz said at a pre-match press conference.
“We knew we wanted to make this fight. We knew its potential and we knew that we could overcome difficulties to make it happen.”
Saudi fighters Ziyad Almaayuf, who made his professional debut at the Rage on the Red Sea tournament, and Ragad Al Naimi, the kingdom’s first female professional boxer, won the undercard matches on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia’s boxing promotion has sparked accusations of “sports laundering” or the use of athletics to divert attention from human rights abuses.
But Paul downplayed the issue in an interview with AFP.
“I take things at face value for how I perceive them,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of judgment on the internet about everyone – people these days, celebrities, countries, etc. etc. – but I’ve had nothing but great experiences.”