Sunday December 3, 2023

Jake Paul Is Fighting For Respect

  • The YouTuber-turned-boxer tells us who he wants to fight next and why he’s beefing with the UFC’s president.
  • We also discuss how much of an investment he made in the UFC's parent company Endeavor.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports/Design: Alex Brooks
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Jake Paul swears that he’s serious about his efforts to improve conditions for the UFC’s notoriously low-paid fighters. The sincerity of those efforts has been called into question — unsurprising given Paul’s well-earned reputation as an internet troll whom no stunt is beyond.

Like him or not, it’s getting harder to uphold the narrative that Paul’s only motive is personal gain when he highlights the UFC’s inequitable revenue splits with its fighters and lack of long-term healthcare benefits for them.

Even if his apparent prioritization of fighter wellbeing is just a series of clever maneuvers by an incredibly social media savvy individual looking to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor, he’s helping some folks out along the way.

A disruption of the UFC’s business model is what the “Problem Child” says his investment fund’s decision to buy stock in Endeavor, the UFC’s parent company, is all about.

When I ask how many shares of Endeavor the fund bought, he tells me, “We put our foot in the door with a low six-figure investment just to get the ball rolling. As far as I’m concerned, that makes me a part-owner of the UFC.”

So, how does Paul, who says he wants to start a fighters union, expect to have any material impact on how the UFC operates with such a relatively small investment in Endeavor, a $14 billion market cap company?

“It starts with one person questioning everything,” he says. “Now that we’ve taken this position, there are other people with big money who want to back this and be a part of the movement.”

The Dana White Feud

Owning a bit of Endeavor stock hasn’t stopped Paul from his ongoing antagonization of UFC president Dana White. In a diss record released in late January, aptly titled “F*** Dana White,” the 25-year-old boxer accuses White of abusing cocaine, cheating on his wife with sex workers, and of course, ripping off his fighters. He tells me that White and his team have sent his manager letters threatening to sue.

I asked Silicon Valley entrepreneur Geoffrey Woo, Paul’s partner in their investment fund Anti, how they plan to do business with Endeavor when Paul continues to attack the figurehead of one of its most successful subsidiaries.

“If you actually look at the major shareholder of Endeavor, it’s Silver Lake,” Woo said, possibly implying that there may be “backchannel” ways of influencing the firm.

Anti is backed by heavyweights like Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon of a16z, and Paul says he has no problem turning off his online persona when he transitions to the boardroom. “I fit right in. I’m a very hard worker, I’m very articulate, and I pay a lot of attention to detail,” he says. “I try to lead by example.”

Promoter Mode

Perhaps more immediately impactful than the potential upside of purchasing shares in Endeavor is Paul’s advocacy for women’s boxing.

He’s the promoter for seven-division champion Amanda Serrano (42-1), who will face off against the undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor (20-0) at Madison Square Garden on April 30. It marks the first female main event in the iconic venue’s history.

Paul says each woman will earn a guaranteed seven figures for the fight, plus a cut of the pay-per-view haul. The fight’s pre-sale was reportedly the second-highest grossing ever for a boxing event at MSG.

“This isn’t just about the UFC. This is about fighters in general getting paid better, which is what I’ve done to help with women’s boxing and equality there and getting the world record-setting payday for women with Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor,” he says. “It’s never been done before.”

Last summer, he helped cover training costs for former UFC flyweight Sarah Alpar, donating $5,000 to a GoFundMe she started. “SMH… Imagine a rookie in the NBA had to start a GoFundMe to play,” Paul tweeted at the time.

Undefeated In The Ring

No matter what he invests in or who he promotes, the bulk of attention is undoubtedly on what Paul — currently 5-0 — does when the gloves are laced up.

His fighting career started out as more of a celebrity boxing stunt with his first two professional wins coming against fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib and retired NBA player Nate Robinson in 2020.

His next victories brought more credibility.

He knocked out former Bellator MMA and ONE Championship champion Ben Askren in the first round of their bout last April and defeated former UFC champ Tyron Woodley twice to close out the year — their second fight ended in a sixth-round KO that left Woodley slumped on the mat.

ESPN called it the “knockout of the year”; “rigged” was trending on Twitter by the time Paul jumped on the ropes to celebrate.

“It’s illegal to rig these fights. It’s impossible,” he says. “Anyone who thinks that has an IQ of 4 and I feel bad for them. I would go to jail if I was rigging fights. I’m doing such an amazing job with my career that people can’t believe it’s real.”

Still, there’s the common belief that Paul needs to face stiffer competition before he’s wholly respected as a boxer and not just a polarizing social media star who’s found another medium where he can attract millions of eyeballs. But he, as the kids would say, wants all the smoke.

He tells me that knocking out Conor McGregor and putting “an end to his career” is among his most important goals and a surefire way to cement his reputation as a respected fighter. He has his sights set on Canelo Alvarez, too. “I want to do the biggest, most historic fights possible and prove to people my ability because they haven’t seen anything from me yet.”

One can only imagine the monumental payouts Paul would see from squaring up against more challenging opponents. Forbes reported that his 2021 fights against a retiree and a past-his-prime fighter in their first boxing matches, in addition to some outside-the-ring ventures, earned Paul a cool $45 million in 12 months.

The real number is “about $10 million more than that,” he says. “A lot of times I get paid for sponsorships in Ethereum so it fluctuates.”

A Hell of A Year

Taking home a cut of pay-per-view revenue is a large part of what makes these fights so valuable for the Ohio native. Paul has claimed that the Askren fight generated $75 million and 1.5 million PPV buys and that the first Woodley fight saw more than 500,000 PPV buys.

He refutes reports that the second Woodley fight bombed and drew under 65,000 PPV buys, saying that the accurate figure is in the “hundreds of thousands.”

However, he does acknowledge that Tommy Fury — a true boxer, closer to Paul’s age, who also holds an undefeated record at 7-0 — pulling out of their planned fight due to a chest infection and rib injury knocked the wind out of what may have been his first real test. The Woodley rematch was a last-minute replacement. 

For all of Paul’s talk about helping UFC fighters, disparaging some of them isn’t yet beneath him. The Dana White diss track also contains shots at two of the promotion company’s most popular stars, Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz.

“You have to ruffle people’s feathers to get attention. No one cares about someone who comes in and is like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be nice to everybody and we’re gonna try to start a fighters union.’ No, you have to evoke emotion out of somebody to make them care,” he says.

If Jake Paul has accomplished anything as a boxer, it’s making us care — enough to bash him, enough to praise him. In his position, it seems like either one is good for the brand.

“I play the villain, and parts of me are the villain,” he tells me. “But I have a very big heart and my movement is way bigger than fighting people and knocking them out. I want to make change. I don’t need Dana White. All of these UFC fighters are thinking what I get to say.”

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