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British reality TV star Tommy Fury (left) fights against US YouTuber Jake Paul during a boxing match held at Diriyah in Riyadh. Image Credit: AFP

British reality TV star Tommy Fury bested American YouTuber Jake Paul on 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” as the bout wound down.

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.

Social media

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”.

The American first gained fame and millions of followers on the now-defunct social media platform Vine and 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 also 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.

Growing clout

Saudi officials nevertheless pitched Sunday’s event as a sign of the kingdom’s growing clout in the boxing world.

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.