Mike Tyson didn’t misspeak. He really thinks influencer Jake Paul will ‘save boxing’

 Jake Paul punches Tyron Woodley during a fight.
Jake Paul, left, punches Tyron Woodley during a fight on Dec. 19, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Paul, an influencer-turned-fighter, has his detractors, but legend Mike Tyson says Paul is “gonna save boxing.”
(Chris O’Meara / Associated Press)
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Mike Tyson thinks Jake Paul will save boxing.

That’s pretty high praise coming from one of boxing’s all-time greats, especially considering that so many others from the combat sports community consider the brash YouTube influencer and former Disney Channel star to be a joke.

The new Netflix documentary “Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child” features clips of people like UFC president Dana White dismissing the 26-year-old with a massive social media following as a wannabe who suddenly decided to become a professional fighter just a few years ago.


Tyson sees it from a different perspective.

“Listen, he did more for boxing than some of the champions did,” Tyson says in the documentary. “I’m a fan of people that know how to put asses in seats. Those are the guys I look up to. ...

“So we gotta keep this guy bright ‘cause he’s gonna save boxing as long as he continues to fight. He got the light, you know what I mean? He’s touched. He got the light.”

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The notion that boxing needs saving is a point of contention for several people within the sport who spoke with The Times.

“Save it from what exactly?” DAZN commentator Todd Grisham said via text. “You hear these type of comments all the time. But I agree with the the great Larry Merchant who said, ‘Nothing can kill boxing and nothing can save it.’”

If the sport did need to be rescued, many purists would have a problem with Paul as the savior. He won his first six matches, including two knockouts and two technical knockouts, against fellow influencer AnEsonGib, former NBA star Nate Robinson and aging MMA fighters Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley (twice) and Anderson Silva.

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After suffering the first loss of his career in his last fight, a split decision against pro boxer Tommy Fury (9-0) in February, Paul will face Nate Diaz, another aging MMA fighter making his professional boxing debut, Saturday night in Dallas with pay-per-view streaming available on DAZN and ESPN+.


“A lot of the backlash for Jake comes from labeling him as a YouTuber or an influencer or as a Disney actor,” said Showtime Sports president Stephen Espinoza, whose network has carried three of Paul’s fights. “... Many people stopped observing him at that point and fail to realize how seriously he has taken the sport and how he has evolved as a professional.

“So, yes, there are many people within the sport of boxing who are very traditional and are threatened by alternative paths into the sport. But I think that sort of antipathy is misplaced.”

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Espinoza said Showtime Sports “would welcome the opportunity” to work with Paul again.

“We saw firsthand that he is expanding the fan base,” Espinoza said of Paul. “He is bringing new eyeballs to the sport. And those eyeballs are not just watching Jake. They’re sticking around to enjoy the sport of boxing as a whole.”

Former World Boxing Council light-middleweight champion and current DAZN commentator Sergio Mora has been a harsh critic of Paul, but thinks he understands where Tyson was coming from.

“What Jake Paul’s doing is bringing I guess a new demographic, new eyeballs and I don’t consider that saving boxing. That’s the word I’m having trouble with,” Mora told The Times on Thursday. “Mike Tyson’s a very intelligent, articulate boxer. … I’m sure that’s not the word he wanted to use, ‘save’ boxing. I think if you give him another opportunity he’ll probably use another word. And I’m not quite sure what it’ll be because he’s too smart and articulate to really believe that one man can save the sport.

“So I really, sincerely feel that [Tyson] probably meant something like, Jake Paul is gonna bring new fans to the sport. Put that in a word, encapsulate that in a word and that’s probably what he meant to say. Because [Paul] is doing that.”


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When given the opportunity to revisit his word choice, however, Tyson doubled down.

“Jake is doing more for boxing than Mora has done for boxing,” Tyson said through his representatives in an email to The Times late Friday night. “Anyone that has brought massive income to boxing is saving boxing. He has better ratings than most our champions including the recent fight of the decade. The person that saves boxing has the highest ratings. So instead of people like Mora getting hung up on my word choice he should be glad for people like Jake Paul that help save boxing because that helps save people’s jobs in boxing.”

Mora told The Times on Thursday that while Paul has earned respect, he’s “probably still not a fan” of the polarizing fighter. Asked if Paul is good for the sport, Mora answered: “Time will tell. Initially I said no, I think right now I still say no, but I’ve already been wrong once. He’s still here. So maybe I’m the antique. Maybe I’m the guy who’s falling behind with the times.”

Grisham, who is doing the play by play for the Paul-Diaz fight, doesn’t need any convincing.

“I think he’s great for the sport!” he texted. “The Los Angeles Times has never reached out to me for a comment on a fight before. So what does that tell you?”

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