Jake Paul fight boosts women's boxing as Claressa Shields feud continues
Calling attention to himself has been a boon for Jake Paul, as evidenced by his 20.4 million YouTube subscribers and his unlikely rise to bona fide pay-per-view boxing attraction.
Diminished among the headline-grabbing attention heaped upon Paul’s stunning knockout of former UFC champion Tyron Woodley last month was the added attention it also brought to women’s boxing.
Paul's co-main fighter, Amanda Serrano, also basked in the spotlight of that Showtime pay-per-view card in Tampa, Fla.
In a relentless attack that left opponent Miriam Gutierrez’s face badly swollen, seven-division champion Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs) won a unanimous decision, effectively clinching a pound-for-pound spring showdown with Ireland’s undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor (20-0, six KOs).
Paul and Serrano’s promoter, Nakisa Bidarian of MVP Promotions, told USA Today Sports+ a Serrano-Taylor main event at Madison Square Garden is in “advanced negotiations.”
“We are working diligently to get it done and everyone is in agreement that this is the best fight to make—not just for women’s boxing—but for boxing,” Bidarian said. “Amanda deserves her own show.”
Serrano sees the potential event as a watershed moment.
“This is the turning point for females in this sport,” she said. “It’s going to shatter this glass ceiling that’s been over us for quite some time now.”
Dissecting Paul’s emergence as an accidental champion of women’s boxing is an interesting tale, one that continues amid ongoing criticism aimed at him by another of the world’s top three female pound-for-pound fighters, Claressa Shields.
Shields, a two-time Olympic and two-division undisputed champion, criticized Paul's immediate rise and questioned the credibility of his August victory by decision over Woodley. She called his knockout in the rematch “lucky."
Paul's social-media power came through him never shying away from a beef. He has an ongoing one with UFC President Dana White, with Paul vowing he'll retire from boxing and participate in one UFC fight if White would take measures to increase fighter pay and improve medical coverage.
Paul rebuts Shields' chiding as “envy” connected to an interest in being on his cards.
“We didn’t want her on for many different reasons. She took that to heart," Paul said.
USA Today Sports+ reviewed a pair of emails sent last year to Paul's promoter by Shields’ manager, Mark Taffet, and her promoter, Dmitry Salita.
An initial effort to place Shields on the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. card in November 2020, when Paul viciously knocked out former NBA player Nate Robinson, never materialized.
“Claressa is obviously one of the best female boxers of all time, but the numbers (of viewers) she has didn’t make sense for us in terms of what Mark was hoping to achieve for her (in purse money), so I didn’t think it added to the Tyson-Jones pay-per-view, which ended up being the eighth largest in history,” said Bidarian, who also is the former UFC chief financial officer and assisted Triller’s Ryan Kavanaugh on the Tyson-Jones show.
Taffet said he and Bidarian continued “having regular dialogue, friendly conversations about working together" and that Bidarian liked the idea of having Shields in a crossover event, "believing her boxing credentials would add to the card.”
In a March 15 email to Bidarian, Taffet, who is also the former head of HBO pay-per-view, wrote:
"Claressa had a historic win … to become the first man or woman in the four-belt era to win an undisputed world title in two weight divisions. We are now beginning a plan for our next few fights, and would love to discuss out plan with you to see if Triller is interested in being the video platform of the world's greatest female fighter. We would love to participate on your April 17 card if you have a slot available."
Bidarian, knowing Showtime had withdrawn from Shields over disappointing viewership, rebuffed the request.
“There wasn’t a business need that made sense and Jake had not started to focus on, ‘What can I do for boxing as a whole?’” Bidarian said. “Jake was still focused on building his own foothold into boxing.”
Shields told USA Today Sports+ she had no idea Taffet ever requested for her to fight on a Paul card.
“I was never, ever supposed to fight on an undercard of Jake Paul. I don’t care what the email says," Shields said. “I would never do that, no matter how much they’re paying me. And everything has to go through me.”
In that April fight, Paul posted a first-round knockout of former MMA champion and UFC fighter Ben Askren, then struck a deal to fight on Showtime pay-per-view.
In a July 14 email, Salita wrote to Bidarian, “We have offices and staff in Michigan and promoted numerous events on Showtime. If you need any help with logistics running of the event, local ticket sellers, etc., would gladly be involved. Look forward to connecting.”
Bidarian didn’t respond and took the fight to Cleveland, near Paul’s hometown.
“The only reason we’re bringing this to light is because Claressa has felt this need to belittle Jake Paul,” Bidarian said. “The only thing we’re responding with now is, ‘Hey, we have the receipts: You guys were trying to get on Jake Paul’s cards.’"
Shields said she views Paul responsible for allowing their feud to carry on, citing a disrespectful comment Paul made following a defeat in her second pro MMA fight.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, I have two Olympic gold medals – something you’ll never be able to accomplish.’ I’ve dominated all the girls I’ve boxed, but after I lose in my second MMA fight after training for only nine months, never congratulating me on any of the wins, here he comes," Shields said. “I’ve never been a … 'loser.' I started from zero, from dirt poor, and I ended up where I am."
Shields is now preparing to headline a Feb. 5 unified middleweight title defense against Ema Kozin in Cardiff, Wales, and eyes her own super-fight in late spring against unbeaten WBO middleweight champion Savannah Marshall in the U.K.
“It’s the biggest 1-2 punch of fights in women’s boxing history,” Taffet said.
Despite the division between Paul and Shields, Paul said he wants a unified effort to uplift women’s boxing.
Said Paul: “It sucks that we’re at odds when we should be focused on how we can make women’s boxing a better place all the way around."
Paul has since embraced Serrano, a 33-year-old Puerto Rican southpaw who has won world titles in every division from super-flyweight to lightweight.
Serrano’s furious, power-punching efforts came to mind when Paul and Showtime united earlier this year and Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza mentioned Serrano as a possible pay-per-view fighter on the August card.
“What made (Ronda Rousey) popular was that she was a phenomenal athlete, a lady killer. So, when we looked at all of Amanda’s knockouts, we said, 'This is something we can build on,'" Bidarian said. “We’re helping her achieve something she should’ve earned years ago. We’re in the age of women empowerment and equality. Women’s boxing doesn’t fit that today. If we’re able to help bring attention to that, that will be one of the best accomplishments of our lives.”
Unlike some male champion boxers, Serrano has displayed an eagerness to bounce around all divisions in pursuit of the best fights possible, as she’s doing with Taylor.
Last month, Shields tweeted out a story saying Serrano’s fight with Taylor “would be the biggest in women’s boxing history" and added, “I agree to this!”
Yet, Serrano has been sequestered to the sport’s shadows, staging her fights at lowly-attended venues.
“This sport has been so unfair to women. It’s been so unfair to me. I’ve been fighting for 13 years, always trying to do things by the book,” Serrano said. “When Jake came along and started bringing more eyes to the sport, I was excited. So, when I got a call to be on his undercard, oh my gosh, that was the fastest decision I’ve ever made.
“He realizes how unfair it’s been, and that’s why he wants to help me and the sport.”
Serrano said her purse money has “quadrupled” after pairing with Paul. She's now envisioning a victory Over Taylor on hallowed ground that would establish her as the greatest female boxer of all time.
“Oh my gosh, I think about it all the time and I get goosebumps,” Serrano said. “It would mean everything. It would be the icing on the cake and the cherry on top.”
Paul said he recently paused while scrolling on Twitter, grinning when he saw a photo of a beaming Serrano posting, “OMG I just realized I’m officially a millionaire.”
Knowing Serrano once earned $5,000 to $20,000 while risking her life in world-title fights makes her boxing success story “more meaningful than my own," Paul said.
“It’s so rewarding because she deserves the money and the fame more than anyone … more than I do. It’s monumental. It’s historic,” Paul said. “And it’s awesome to think about how much more we can do, about how much more change is possible.”
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