Inside Whisper’s production of the Jake Paul v Tommy Fury boxing match
The Jake Paul v Tommy Fury boxing match that took place in Saudi Arabia at the end of February divided fight fans, with some who felt that the cruiserweight bout between two novice boxers received more attention than it deserved, while others heaped praise on the pair for bringing fresh eyes to the sport.
Prior to the fight in Riyadh, Jake Paul was undefeated having fought – and won – six times, while Tommy Fury had won all eight of his fights. So it’s fair to say that it was their activities outside the ring that helped draw a a PPV audience to ESPN+ in the US and BT Sport in the UK.
Fury took part in UK reality dating series Love Island and has some 5m Instagram followers, a figure eclipsed by Paul who has 22.3m Instagram followers and 20m subscribers to his YouTube account along with 17m on TikTok. That background in creating content for online audiences was something that production company Whisper was able to tap into.
“They were both brilliant because they get content,” says Whisper head of sport Pete Thomas.
“We tried to spend as much time with Jake Paul and Tommy Fury as we could…it wasn’t so much about technique, footwork, or how are they going to win the fight, it was more about these two men are and what has brought them here. And we had to treat the fight with the respect it deserved.”
“To Jake, content is king, and he is very aware of his time and what he shares. He was great to work with, and Tommy was as well. They gave up their time and engaged with what we asked them to do, and they understood what we tried to achieve and played a big part in that. They were both very savvy and aware.
“The night before the fight they both came down to the ring with their teams, they did their walks to the rings and we rehearsed with them so there were no surprises on the night.
“It’s something you often try and achieve, but you don’t always get that from other boxers. Sometimes they will go through the motions, but they’re not really paying attention. Both Tommy and Jake really engaged and wanted to understand what we were doing, so they walked through properly to time with music, and that all helped it to run smoothly on the night.”
Whisper was appointed by promoter Skill Challenge Entertainment to deliver the world feed host broadcast of the fight that took place on Sunday 26 February with a production team that included Thomas, executive producer John Curtis and Whisper director of production Bethan Evans along with a crew made up of staff from the UK and the local region.
Boxing is a growing sport for Whisper, which last year delivered the world feed host broadcast of the heavyweight rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua, which took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One of the main differences for the Paul v Fury fight was the requirement to provide presentation for most of the broadcasters (not including BT Sport) who aired the fight.
“We had an on-screen talent team and had to fill the gaps between the fights, so we needed to provide a coherent broadcast with features, special guests and so on. And in the week before the fight, we produced a live press conference and a live weigh-in show and produced a face-to-face show with Tommy and Jake going back and forth for 20-minutes. So it was quite an intense week.”
Hardcore fans and novice viewers
Given that many of those who tuned in would have had limited exposure to boxing, Thomas says Whisper’s approach was to “tread a line between the hardcore boxing fans and people who had never really watched boxing a great deal”.
He says: “That meant we did a few things like showing the rules before the fight started, because we were conscious that some people wouldn’t maybe understand or wouldn’t be so clued in to how boxing works. We did a few simple things to try and break down how a fight typically plays out.
“Also, we tried to spend as much time with [Paul and Fury] as we could and put that across, so we told their stories; we talked to them on the night, and we talked to them before the fight. So it wasn’t so much about technique, footwork, or how are they going to win the fight, it was more about these two men are and what has brought them here. And beyond that, we had to treat the fight with the respect it deserved.”
Director Jordi Alfaro was tasked with overseeing coverage of the Paul v Fury fight, along with the nine other bouts on the undercard. He says: “It was an event that brought the attention of a lot of people who probably don’t usually watch boxing, so for me, one of the most important things was to show what was happening in the arena with all the VIPs like Tyson Fury, Mike Tyson, Cristiano Ronaldo to show that they were interested in the event.
“And then during the main event, instead of going into the corners which we usually do to listen to the trainers it was more about showing as many replays as we could, and reactions of people watching in the arena.”
Thomas says his production team was also very aware of what spectators in the arena would see on the big screens, and the impact the live crowd could have on the overall atmosphere.
“We made sure the gaps between fights were filled with little teasers of what’s to come. We also learnt massively from the fight last year as to what the crowd would react to, because producing the show I am always conscious of not just providing a really good feed, you are also trying to keep the crowd buzzing.
“Boxing can be a challenge because in those moments between fights there may be great stuff for viewers watching at home, but things can go flat for the crowd so we were always thinking about the content that was sent to the big screens and trying to get the crowd to react to it.
“So when we had the earlier fights on the undercard we had lots of footage of Jake and Tommy arriving and cameras in with both of them to tease what was coming, and every time we put them on the screen, the crowd would cheer and it would feel like the whole place would lift. So it’s a balance between managing the crowd and also sending a great feed to the viewers at home.”
During the Paul v Fury fight, and during bouts on the undercard, interviews with celebrities and former boxing stars were also aired, with the likes of Mike Tyson and Deontay Wilder interviewed between rounds.
“That was a big part of how we engaged people in the arena and at home, to show that this was an event that people really cared about, because the great the good of boxing turned out to watch this fight. It was important to to show celebrities and who had turned up to watch.”
“That was another different thing,” adds Alfaro. “Usually, we don’t have interviews between rounds and if we do, it will be only be for television viewers. For this event, the interviews were also shown on the screens in the arena.”
It’s unclear what the long-term effect will be of social media stars taking to the ring, but boxers themselves appreciate that a large online following can have a big impact on audiences – and the size of a purse. Says Thomas: “One of the fighters on the undercard was Muhsin Cason. He’s got lots of fans on all the different platforms, and so lots of people might confuse him as not being a boxer first.
“When I spoke with him he explained that he is very much a boxer first and foremost, but having been in a training camp with (YouTuber) KSI he saw what KSI made on his debut, and it was a lot more than the $500 or something that a fighter might typically make on their debut.
“So he thought, there’s something I’m not doing right. I need to engage followers in a different way. So he’s been creating YouTube and TikTok videos from his camp and now he’s got a lot more fans who will be interested in his next fights.”