AD DIRIYAH: British reality TV star Tommy Fury beat American YouTuber Jake Paul on points Sunday in a boxing spectacle intended to boost Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a top-flight fight destination.
Despite suffering a knockdown in the eighth and final round of the cruiserweight contest, Fury won a split decision to the delight of Saudi fans, who shouted “Let’s go Tommy” in the closing stages.
Addressing the crowd through tears afterwards, Fury — who is the half-brother of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but better known for his turn on the dating show Love Island — declared he had “made my own legacy” with the win.
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”.
“I couldn’t get my momentum going like I wanted to and I just felt kind of flat,” he said.
A triumphant Fury, for his part, boasted that he “showed everybody that I ain’t scared of no one and I can cut it in the big dance.”
Paul first gained fame and millions of followers on the now-defunct social media platform Vine and also 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 likewise 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.
– ‘Sportswashing’ allegations –
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.
The crowd Sunday included former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, comedian Kevin Hart and Cristiano Ronaldo, who is now playing club football in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials say there has been a surge of 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 have gloated about being able to stage the Paul-Fury clash after previous attempts to hold it in the United States fell through.
“Paul versus Fury has taken a long time and it has finally been made, which is significant for the landscape of boxing in Saudi Arabia,” Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz told a pre-match press conference.
“We knew we wanted to stage this fight. We knew its potential and knew we could overcome challenges to make it happen.”
Saudi fighters Ziyad Almaayouf, who made his professional debut at “Rage on the Red Sea”, and Ragad Al Naimi, the kingdom’s first female professional boxer, were both victorious in undercard matches on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia’s boxing push has fuelled allegations of “sportswashing”, or the use of athletics to distract from human rights abuses.
But Paul downplayed the issue in an interview with AFP.
“I take things at face value for how I experience them,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of judgement online about everyone — people these days, celebrities, countries and so on and so forth — but I’ve had nothing but great experiences.”
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