Glendale, Ariz. — Only Jake Paul knows what ran through his mind Saturday night as he waited for judges to decide who won his entertaining boxing match against 47-year-old Anderson Silva.
Their scores favored Paul unanimously, 77-74, 78-73, 78-73, and empowered the popular YouTuber to declare he already knew he’d won the bout against one of his childhood heroes.
"It’s a surreal moment. … He’s a tough [expletive]. A legend. I have nothing but respect for him," Paul, 25, said in the Desert Diamond Arena ring afterward.
Silva is a former UFC middleweight champion, who reigned from 2006-13. And Paul knocked him down in the eighth and final round of their boxing match to affirm his victory.
Early in that round, Paul (6-0) slammed a sudden left to the nose of Silva, and as the proud champion lurched backward, Paul unleashed a power right hand to the head that dropped Silva to the canvas.
"We were just fighting in the clinch and he got caught on the way out," Paul recounted. "He took so many hard shots throughout the whole fight. The dude is a real dog. You’ve seen what happens to everyone else that gets hit with that. He’s the toughest guy in the world, but I just wanted it more. I’m a real dog, and I left it all in the ring.
"After I got the knockdown, I knew I had it in the bag."
The raucous crowd of 14,430 included a bevy of professional YouTube personalities and sporting celebrities, including Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker. Widespread selfies taken throughout the nightt underlined the power of social media.
"The sport is changing now. It’s entertainment now," undercard fighter and former UFC veteran Uriah Hall surmised.
Yet, Paul was forced to strip off his bling and display grit, confronting more adversity than he ever has in a pro boxing ring.
Punch statistics showed Silva landed only four less punches (79) than Paul (83). Yet, Silva landed a higher percentage, throwing 251 punches to Paul’s 336.
— SHOWTIME Boxing (@ShowtimeBoxing) October 30, 2022
Silva clearly out-boxed Paul at times, particularly during the early rounds, standing up to Paul’s pressure with effective diversion tactics while employing a strategy to corner and press Paul to the ropes, where Silva inflicted a bevy of scoring blows.
"I worked hard to put on a special show for everybody here," Silva said. "That’s the game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
"Listen, it’s tough to come inside here and fight a young kid. I tried to do my best. Jake is better than me today."
Not once did Silva ever fight as if he believed that, avoiding Paul’s heartiest blows through the first seven rounds and out-landing him in power punches, 66-51.
The action of the exchanges was riveting at times and many longtime fight observers in the press section had Silva leading entering the eighth round.
Paul told Silva at their post-fight news conference that he feels deep respect for him, praise that led them to embrace.
"I feel like I’m living in a movie. He’s the one who told me you could accomplish something if you believed in it," Paul said, referencing meeting Silva as a child. "Seeing his heart revealed in there tonight was amazing.
"I was surprised by his toughness. I was dropping sparring partners with those shots to the body and the head … but he's just different."
Paul shrugged off some protests of the wide scorecards.
If I were walking on water, people would say that I can’t swim. There’s always going to be haters," he said. "It’s an everyday part of life if you’re doing something and being successful. I don’t worry about it.
With that, Paul turned his attention to another distinguished MMA striker as his possible next foe — recent UFC main-event fighter Nate Diaz.
Diaz watched the fight from the arena and was in town for his stablemate, Chris Avila, who won on the undercard. Diaz was also involved in a backstage confrontation with an associate of Paul earlier in the night, said Paul’s partner with MVP Promotions, Nakisa Bidarian.
"Nate, stop fighting people for free," Paul urged in a backhanded comment aimed toward UFC President Dana White for the pay of UFC fighters, which Paul has criticized as unfairly low.
Paul said he and Silva will now band together to create a fighters’ association for UFC athletes, seeking mandated pay increases and improved health care.
"Dana, bro, you said I wouldn’t (defeat Silva), and I did it," Paul said, "He hates me, and he hates I’m exposing his business."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jake Paul beats Anderson Silva, now both want to take on Dana White