The real question surrounding Paul’s boxing career is what’s the end game? Obviously, this foray into combat sports helps grow Paul’s name beyond his base market. Even so, it has to have an end point. Does Paul aim to really compete with top-ranked professional boxers? Will he sidestep his way into mixed martial arts (MMA) and repeat the process, beating up older competition until he climbs too high?
How Paul responds after his first career loss will help grant us this insight. For now, he’s staying the course, looking to rebound against a reasonable match up with major star power.
Let’s take a closer look at his boxing skill:
Paul has taken this boxing endeavor seriously. Since the beginning, it’s clear he’s been putting the time in with legitimate coaches and sparring partners. Add in some smart career management, and it starts to make sense how he’s picked up some big name wins.
Historically, Paul ensures he’s the bigger man with the larger reach. He capitalizes on that range advantage with an active and pretty quick jab. In general, he does a nice job of pumping his lead shoulder to hide that strike. He doubles and triples the jab up well, often targeting the body. Like many young boxers, Paul does occasionally stick around too long after the jab, which is how Tyron Woodley was able to line up his cross counter.
On the whole, Paul does well to work the body. He touches the torso often with the jab, and he commonly goes low with his cross too. Very often, Paul flicks a jab high to distract his opponent then takes the 2 downstairs. Sometimes the left hook follows, but Paul is also pretty willing to hook directly off the jab.
Most of Paul’s game revolves around setting up his right hand, typically as a straight or overhand. At distance, Paul will commonly follow up his jab, double jab, of jab high-jab low with a cross down the middle. He throws the shot well and always has, crisp with natural power and snap.
Paul likes the right hand but loves his overhand. It’s his heaviest punch, and he’s very willing to commit his weight fully to the shot. He’ll occasionally pair his overhand with an uppercut, a nice way to circumnavigate the guard.
It’s a credit to Paul’s athleticism and natural power that he’s always been able to throw with power from his back foot. That’s typically tough to learn, but Paul was able to flatten Nate Robinson in his second pro fight with a pair of well-timed counter right hands as Robinson rushed forward. I’m not implying Robinson knew how to box at all, but it still takes skill and coordination to time a wild rush forward like that.
He managed to crack Ben Askren in similar fashion, and he also landed some heavy counter shots on Woodley, prompting further hesitancy.
That’s really the bulk of Paul’s game. He stays reasonably light on his feet (until tired at least), has an active and effective jab, and can drop a bomb of a right hand if given the opportunity. He does decent work to the mid-section and rarely gets too out of position.
Against Silva, the same game plan was elevated. Paul still kept an active jab, good feints, and touched the body commonly. However, there were a pair of notable traits that really impressed me.
First and foremost, Paul kept his composure defensively. Silva excels at freaking fighters out! It’s what he does, and as a pretty rookie boxer with less than two dozen rounds in the ring, it would make a lot of sense if Silva could draw a bad reaction from Paul. When Silva got aggressive and started his wild feint sequences, Paul kept his hands tight, moved his head, and fired smart jabs back when it made sense. If he was on the ropes, he made it a priority to circle off.
As the fight wore on, Paul grew more confident without making mistakes. His knockdown of Silva was really beautiful stuff. “The Spider” was down on the cards and forced to make something happen, so Paul set him up. As Silva advanced, Paul flashed a jab to raise the guard, used a pair of body shots to score a new angle, then continued his combination upstairs.
Silva represented a big step up in Paul’s game compared to the Woodley fights. Conversely, Paul looked less prepared for Tommy Fury. Against a similarly fast man who could match his reach, Paul really struggled to build combinations. It didn’t help that he tired badly as well, which stole away much of his quickness.
In short, Paul found himself rendered defensive and behind on the volume game. Still, there was at least one positive takeaway for Paul, who showed an improved counter left hand. Previously, he’s used the overhand to counter the jab several times, and he showed that strike against Fury often (too often). However, it did help set Paul up to slip inside the jab then load up with either the left hook or jab.
His knockdown occurred from a counter jab, but his best land of the fight may have been an inside slip-left hook counter that turned Fury’s head around in the fifth.
More than anything else, this match up feels like a test of Paul’s cardio. Barring an early knockout, Paul will have to maintain a good pace for the majority of 12 rounds, and he’s yet to show that ability. If he can develop a higher output, maybe a rematch down the line against Fury goes differently.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.
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