Jake Paul started out as a social media influencer, a YouTuber who, although he possessed an impactful and far-reaching presence, was still better known as Logan Paul’s younger brother. Jake was a celebrity in the loosest sense of the word, but nonetheless he was still a celebrity, making money and gaining fans as his presence on social media expanded. But how he was seen and how he was received changed when Jake immersed himself in the world of combat sports.
In the last three years, Jake Paul transformed from YouTuber and social media influencer into a legitimate combat sports star, and even more importantly, an advocate for fighter rights and fighter pay in multiple combat sports. Today I address three things about Jake Paul that challenge conventional wisdom regarding his legitimacy as an athlete, his impact as a fighter advocate, and the changing perception of him as a businessman:
1. Jake Paul Fights On Two Fronts
Jake Paul has mastered the art of selling a bombastic personality; this is what draws attention, makes him money, and maximizes his reach. It also acts as a distraction from the real life work he does. Regardless of who and what Jake Paul is as a fighter, the fact of the matter is he has made the sacrifices, dedicated the finances, and put the team in place that has allowed him to make a genuine, concentrated, and realistic effort to build himself into a legitimate fighter. Much like with Conor McGregor, people buy into the show, the act, and the over-the-top antics, COMPLETELY ignoring the physical tools, the preparation, the technical growth, and the mental toughness, all of which has afforded him the opportunities and the platforms to make himself into one of the faces of combat sports.
Being a fighter alone will never be enough to make yourself into a crossover star — your image, your character, your willingness to promote yourself or sell a narrative is what determines it. This is why many fighters coming up will never have the earning potential of a Jake Paul; they fight on one front and dabble in another. The reason for Paul’s success is that he has immersed himself in establishing a brand, then maintaining and expanding that brand. Then, he immersed himself in establishing his skills/conditioning, maintaining his skills/conditioning, and expanding his skills/conditioning with the same tenacity that he established his brand. He is a workaholic who doesn’t need a foil to make money or to establish himself, because he has fought the battles, made the sacrifices, and done the work to maximize himself on both fronts.
Most of the guys who have the branding of a Jake Paul don’t have the toughness, heart, and work ethic in the combat sports arena; most of the guys with legit skills, talent, and experience in combat sports don’t have the awareness, depth, or business sense to succeed in branding themselves. As Ronda Rousey once said, people want that fame, that check, but they don’t want to burn the candle at both ends regarding their work inside and outside of the cage. Jake Paul has two arenas he competes in, and burns the candle at both ends.
2. Jake Paul Is Calling the Shots
Combat sports is like the music industry — the more leverage you have at the beginning, the better your salary is; the more consistently you are pushed, the more respectfully and intelligently you are moved or positioned. Most fighters enter the sport at the mercy of a promotion or a promoter; they get dictated to because they don’t have proof of their value. They may have proof of skills and talent, but what most don’t have is evidence that it translates into real life results (i.e. TV ratings, live butts in seats, internet clicks, or PPV buys). Most fighters come in on a promoter’s terms, and as they progress in regards to wins, titles, popularity, and presence, they become more of a promoter’s partner, and in some cases become promotional bosses in their own right. Examples of that are McGregor, Rousey, Oscar De La Hoya, Laila Ali, Canelo Alvarez, Floyd Mayweather Jr. — they grew from positions of weaknesses to positions of strength.
Jake Paul, on the other hand, created an interest, created a demand, and made money independently, so when it came to really signing with a promoter or cable platform, he had the control from the jump that Floyd Mayweather had to wait years for as a professional, and even more time as an amateur. Paul has been able to pick his opponents and call out future ones, because he has control, backing, and enough of a media presence that his lack of athletic accomplishment doesn’t hinder his ability to draw interest or earn money. Nor does it really have a detrimental impact on the manner that he is treated by potential opponents, media members, and platforms. The money he is making, and the disgust fighters have for him and his success, directly affect the opportunities — both professional and financial — that he has in chasing this dream of combat sports success.
3. Jake Paul Is A Force for Change
No shade to other fighters who have gotten to the top or very close to it, but most of them, due to their lack of financial independence, have been unable to openly and consistently talk about the many wrongs in regards to combat sports and the athletes competing in it. Many fighters in boxing and mixed martial arts have touched on finances, but most of the time, those discussions are nakedly self-serving, flimsily masked under the auspices of caring about fighter rights, fighter finances, and fighter safety. Part of why that is is that they don’t have the money or influence to really make an impact or foster real change; they can only help themselves, and do what they can to do so.
On the other side are the guys who have made it to the top and are now in boss positions, but are still ultimately only looking after themselves when it comes to finances, fame, and life after the sport. These fighters may give praise on social media, they may let you on their cards, but if you aren’t on their teams or with their promotions, they aren’t going to come out of pocket — they aren’t going to make sure you get every opportunity, and they aren’t going to make sure you get paid.
Jake Paul seems to have moved past that. On tonight’s Woodley-Paul PPV card, longtime boxing champion and neophyte MMA fighter Amanda Serrano is fighting, and she is getting a career high payday, as is her opponent. Do you know why that’s happening? Because Jake Paul demanded it. How many stars would do the same for a fighter who isn’t under contract with them, who they won’t benefit from directly? Is Mayweather doing that? Is De La Hoya doing that? Is McGregor? Is Rousey? No. They help their folks, their fighters; they aren’t helping others who aren’t directly helping them.
On top of that, Paul is using his voice and his presence to constantly challenge the status quo in regards to pay, rights, and opportunities for MMA fighters, as well as spotlighting the inconsistencies, unfairness, and outright criminal nature of some of the contracts and management of fighters in a sport he isn’t even competing in. Paul comes out of his own pockets to support these fighters financially, or put them in fights where they make the biggest paydays and have the best opportunities to expand their respective brands.
I’m not a shill for Jake Paul. I don’t think he is above reproach as a man, or as an athlete. He has had some very public missteps and mistakes, most of which I don’t have enough information on to comment intelligently or responsibly. As a boxer, outside of being very dedicated to the craft and having legit skill, I still think he lacks the ease, comfort, fluidity, and awareness of a seasoned boxer. His success is a lot more about who he is facing than how good he is as an actual boxer, and his reasoning for this venture is somewhat self-serving as well. But the fact of the matter is Jake Paul has gamed the system in two different arenas.
He is a sideshow, and he is unproven as a real boxer, but the fact of the matter is he is a genius of self-promotion, misdirection, and reinvention. This has resulted in a phenomenon that has afforded him financial stability, business opportunity, and the freedom to make a direct impact in both social media and in combat sports. How many social media guys actively attempted to make money as fighters? How many celebrity boxing promotions came up after Jake’s ventures? How many social media guys were sparked by Jake’s success?
I don’t know if he is ever truly going to be great as a man, competitor, or businessman, but I do believe that he has already made an impact, and has the potential to change the nature game regarding the intersection of social media and combat sports. This weekend’s fight with Tyron Woodley is another chapter in this book. Whether it’s the last one or one in many, we won’t know until after the fight, but what we do know is what has been written so far has been compelling.
Paul vs. Woodley takes place on Sunday, August 29, at the Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland, Ohio.