The last time I chatted with Jake Paul, the YouTuber-turned-boxer had just announced his 2020 bout against ex-NBA player Nate Robinson. During that chat, Paul explained to me how seriously he took the sport of boxing and gave the general impression that he held the combat sports community in high regard, too.
In fact, when I asked the 24-year-old if he had any secret plans after the Robinson fight, like calling out former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Paul gave the right answer.
“Absolutely not. I want to live,” Paul said.
So imagine my surprise when Paul’s next step after scoring his viral knockout over Robinson was calling out UFC superstar Conor McGregor instead.
During our recent chat, Paul explained to me the difference between the men.
“First of all, Mike Tyson is a boxer,” he said. “Second of all, he’s a heavyweight.”
While I couldn’t entirely follow the logic of how the 32-year-old McGregor is less dangerous than a 54-year-old retiree, I think the salient point of the whole thing is this: Paul revels in being one of the most controversial figures in combat sports, and it’s totally working for him.
“People are always going to have opinions. Welcome to life,” Paul said. “I chose to be controversial and to be polarizing.
You can watch the entire interview below.
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The Method to Paul’s Madness
For many, Paul’s callouts of UFC superstars such as McGregor and Nate Diaz would seem like the wrong move considering the wide gaps in overall combat sports experience and perceived skill levels.
But the former Disney Channel star vehemently disagrees with that assessment.
“I’m way more advanced than an MMA guy who’s trained striking for a decade. If they come into a boxing ring, they’re getting worked,” Paul said.
It’s exactly the kind of statement that has caught the attention of so many in the combat sports community.
UFC President Dana White provided a cutting assessment of Paul and his brother Jake’s skills on the Shout! podcast recently, deeming them nothing more than gimmicks.
But Paul doesn’t care what White or anyone else in his new social group thinks.
“If people don’t like me, they don’t like me,” Paul said.
While Paul admitted his antics and callouts were part of his overall business strategy, he also didn’t back off of anything he’s said or done in recent history that has drawn the ire of some people within the fight community.
“I chose this life. I chose to be controversial and to be polarizing,” Paul said.
But he’s got a pretty good right cross, too. Anybody who tells you different doesn’t know what they’re looking at.
“I haven’t even shown people what I’m capable of in his sport. I’m just scratching the surface,” Paul said.
To go along with it, Paul fully understands the sometimes hidden truth of combat sports: all that matters is how much interest you can draw in your fights.
“At the end of the day, this is a business. If you can sell those tickets and push those pay-per-views, that’s all that matters,” Paul said.
So there’s a method to Paul’s madness. He’s out to sell fights, and he’s doing it.
Paul Doubles Down on McGregor Rhetoric
To that end, Paul suggested McGregor was “washed up” after losing over the weekend to Dustin Poirier at UFC 257.
Still, the YouTuber also said a boxing match between himself and McGregor might still be on the table at a later date.
But you can forget about the $50 million Paul said he offered the first time around. Now, Paul says any potential McGregor vs. Paul bout would have to be negotiated under new terms since the Irishman is coming off a loss.
“He obviously should have taken that. He probably regrets it now. But that offer is no longer on the table. He can’t even win in his own sport,” Paul said.
Paul Already Better Boxer Than Most Expected
Paul is 2-0 as a pro boxer. He’s looked the part of a legit fighter, especially juxtaposed to the kind of limited competition he’s faced so far. He knocked out fellow social media star Ali Eson Gib in January 2020, then did the same to Robinson 10 months later.
Beating a contemporary YouTube star and former NBA Slam Dunk champion is one thing. Facing a professional fighter trained in the art of combat is another.
Regardless, few people would have envisioned Paul taking on a former MMA champion like Askren just a year ago. Even fewer would have thought it possible just two years ago.
While no one will ever confuse Askren with Floyd Mayweather, the 36-year-old has traveled the world and made a darn good living in combat sports.
Askren is a former Bellator MMA and ONE Championship welterweight champion. While the ex-UFC star’s style inside the cage relies mostly on his expert wrestling skills, he’ll easily be the most decorated fighter Paul has faced as a professional.
Even Paul admits that.
“It’s definitely a huge step up. That’s what I want to do in this sport. I want to prove myself,” Paul.
So beating Askren would continue Paul down his chosen path.
Triller Fight Club: Paul vs. Askren
Paul is headlining his own boxing pay-per-view event in just his third professional fight, and the Cleveland native is fully aware this is because of the interest he generates.
“You can be the best fighter in the world, but if nobody knows who you are and nobody wants to see you fight, it doesn’t matter,” Paul said.
Paul is set to face Askren on April 17 at a location to be determined.
Paul vs. Askren is the next installment of Triller’s Fight Club series, something the company’s co-owner Ryan Kavanagh says began with the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. event in 2020 and will continue to happen at a minimum of four times per year.
“We technically didn’t call it that, but that was the first Fight Club event,” Kavanaugh said.
While there were many options for Paul’s next opponent, Kavanaugh suggested it was actually scientific data analysis that helped his company determine Askren was the one for the job.
“It was pretty damn clear,” Kavanaugh said.
Additionally, Kavanaugh said that the same kind of data-driven thinking is something that makes him confident in predicting that the Paul vs. Askren fight would sell more than the 1.6 million pay-per-views Triller’s Tyson vs. Jones Jr. event sold last year.
“We expect this to beat the last one and be the biggest fight of the year,” Kavanaugh said.
Paul’s Message to UFC President
If Paul vs. Askren sells as many pay-per-views as expected, Paul will ironically have to thank Dana White for that. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani revealed White actually had to sign off on Askren facing Paul.
True to form, when I asked boxing’s newest star what his message to White was, he stuck to being controversial.
“Thank you. Thank you for giving me permission to beat the s*** out of one of your fighters. Let’s do more business,” Paul said.
Like it or not, so long as he keeps winning fights, that will probably happen.
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