Photos by Chris Allmeid
Special thanks to ITG Miami for providing the location.
For as long as he has been in the public spotlight, perhaps for as long as he’s been on this Earth, Jake Paul has shown a preternatural ability to get under people’s skin. There’s something about the way he acts, something about the things he says, maybe even something about the way he looks, that can make your blood boil.
There’s something about Jake Paul that makes you want to punch him in the face. And that’s exactly why people hate him… and why others love him.
“I think a lot of people shamelessly love the villain and I think even more people quietly love the villain and don't say that they love the villain, but they,” Paul says. “They’re secretly rooting for the villain. It’s why I have such a strong fan base. I think it’s 50/50; there are 50 percent of people out there who are rooting for me, and on the other hand there are people who fucking hate me and they want to see me die in the ring.
“I love that,” Paul continues. “Because guess what? You still bought the pay-per-view, so thank you.”
Boxing, once the most popular sport in the country, barely registers among even the most ardent sports fans these days. In any environment, the very idea of a boxer who has spent less than five minutes in the ring as a professional headlining a pay-per-view is ludicrous, but with the sport in such a lull it feels impossible. Of course, Paul isn’t your typical fighter.
Paul built his reputation as a rapscallion first on Vine and later through his wildly popular YouTube channel. Along with his older brother Logan, the Paul brothers have amassed over 50 million subscribers, earning both the adoration of Gen Z and the scorn of their chagrined parents. Wherever Paul goes, controversy isn’t far behind. As such, it would be easy to dismiss his fledgling boxing career as yet another in a long line of headline grabbing stunts. Paul would hardly be the first celebrity to cash-in by stepping in the ring, throwing some wild haymakers and soon moving on to the next thing.
In the end, that would be fine. Nobody is going to fault the Jose Cansecos and Nate Robinsons of the world for having a little fun and making a little cash, even when they wound up flat on their ass in the middle of the ring. But Paul isn’t looking for a quick paycheck and a couple of headlines, he’s looking to throw himself into the sport completely.
“I’ve made this big change in my life by getting out of L.A., to be here in Miami to focus full-time on fighting,” Paul explains. “In L.A., that was the old Jake Paul. I’m leaving behind the YouTuber causing trouble and being a little shithead. I wanted to leave that behind and start a new chapter.
“I think changing locations is a huge part of that,” Paul continues. “Now it’s time to be a man. It’s time to conquer boxing, to conquer combat sports. So I made that move to symbolize the new chapter.”
On paper, Paul’s young boxing career is exceptional. Over the course of three matches—two as a pro—Paul is undefeated with three knockouts. But when you look deeper at who he has fought—a fellow YouTuber and a former NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion 13 years his senior—his resume loses its luster.
On April 17, Paul looks to change that when he steps into the ring against Ben Askren. Like Robinson, Askren is 36, but the similarities end there. The former Bellator Welterweight Champion is a seasoned fighter, not a celebrity masquerading as a boxer. Choosing Askren as his next opponent was a calculated decision intended to legitimize his new career.
“I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to go up against a quote/unquote ‘real fighter,’” Paul says. “After I knocked out Nate Robinson people were like, ‘Yeah, well he’s not a real fighter.’ So I just want to continue to prove people wrong.”
Askren was one of many MMA fighters to start talking trash towards Paul in the aftermath of the Robinson fight. When it came time to actually sign contracts and agree to the terms of a match, Askren was the one who followed through. For some, this showed Paul was taking things seriously, but many others couldn’t help but notice his opponent wasn’t much of a puncher.
True, Askren established a 19-2 record in mixed martial arts before his retirement, but he was known as a wrestling-specialist. Even if he is regarded as a subpar puncher, he has made a career being hit in the head. With the exception of a flying knee to the face from Jorge Masvidal, Askren has proven to have a strong chin throughout his career, having only been knocked out that one time. Paul remains unconvinced.
“People think he has a good chin, but he’s coming off of a knockout and he hasn’t been hit with the power that I can bring to the table,” he says. “I’m a big boy in the ring, which is something a lot of people don’t realize. Timing and speed is everything, so when I hit him with the right shot and the right time, he’s going to go down. I don’t care how good your chin is.”
Considering the impetus of the fight came from Askren talking smack on Twitter, it should come as no surprise the two have been lobbing insults at each other since the bout was announced. Fans of Askren, along with those who simply loathe Paul, have focused on his relative inexperience in the ring and his status as a YouTube celebrity as points of derision.
“I think it’s great that a YouTube star can go and become the biggest thing in the world,” Paul says in retort. “You have to remember Shawn Mendes was a YouTube star. Dua Lipa was a YouTube star. Justin Bieber was a YouTube star. You want to call me a YouTube star? Yeah, that’s why I’m one of the biggest names in the sport, everyone knows who I am.
“I think it’s great that he’s underestimating me and he’s in for a very, very rude awakening,” Paul continues. “I take it as a compliment, and yeah, he’s going to get beat up by a YouTube star, which is all the more embarrassing.”
The copious amount of trash talking coming out of Paul’s mouth is more than just an act, it’s a manifestation of who he is. He’s a natural troll. It’s why his nickname, The Problem Child, is so apt. Feeling the hatred others spew towards him in the months leading up to a fight motivates Paul to go even harder in his training. Each time an MMA fighter logs into Twitter to insult Paul, they’re unwittingly putting more fuel into his tank. “I use everything,” he explains. “I use every single negative comment to feed what I’ve become today.”
In conversation with Paul, you also get the feeling he wouldn’t remain interested in boxing for long without the jabbering. He can’t let the sport take place only in the gym, he needs it to infiltrate every aspect of his life. “I wake up every single day and try to keep things interesting for myself, for my team,” he says. “We’re always wanting to have fun and have the best energy. We have the best job in the world—you get paid to beat people up and talk shit.”
It sounds like a pretty good time when phrased like that, but Paul is leaving out one major thing—getting punched in the face. Repeatedly. At some point, even the best fighters get their clock cleaned. It happened to Ali. It happened to Tyson. Odds are it’ll happen to Paul. Everyone gets knocked out.
“I’m not everyone,” Paul rebuts. “I’m the top, top, zero point zero zero one percent of humans. I won’t get knocked out, I won’t get knocked down, I won’t even lose.”
It’s that confidence—and all the bluster that comes alongside it—that makes Paul’s fight such a draw. When people fork over their hard-earned cash to watch the Paul-Askren match on pay-per-view, Paul doesn’t care if they’re rooting for him or not. What matters is that they paid.
Make no mistake about it, those pay-per-view dollars are a major motivator. Much like a certain infamous boxer who went by the nickname of Money, Paul doesn’t even try to hide this.
“Floyd Mayweather was the highest paid athlete for five, six, seven years straight,” Paul says. “I’m a businessman at the end of the day, so if I love what I’m doing and I can become one of the highest paid athletes in the world, then that’s what I’m going to do. I think a lot of people look down upon being motivated by money, but I think it’s one of the greatest things in the world.”
The public is well-acquainted with this side of Paul—the cocky shittalker who is quick to point to his own largesse. But when he starts speaking about his tattoos you start to see that there is more substance underneath his brash exterior. He considers his ink to be an expression of himself, and the one piece that resonates most with him is the script on the back of his neck that reads: “I wish I could explain.”
“It sort of embodies what this entire call has been about,” Paul says. “I wish I could explain everything that’s happened in my life that is in the public. I wish I could explain to you my genius plan. I wish I could explain to you the things we do behind the scenes. I wish I could explain to you some of the things I’ve been through and the situations I’ve been in. It symbolizes that 99.9% of people will never understand the life that I’ve led.
“I want people to know [what it’s like], but there needs to be mystery,” he continues. “That’s why it’s ‘I wish I could explain.’ I wish I could but it sort of defeats the purpose, and that tattoo adds to the mystery.”
Paul insists that even though much of the persona you see is a true representation of his personality, there is a clear line between who he is when the cameras are on and who he is at home. He talks about having a massive heart and how he does charity with the Make-A-Wish program. He relishes being seen as a role model. But, like the tattoo suggests, he doesn’t let too many people see this side of him.
“I’m so happy in real life because I disassociate the two,” he explains. “For a lot of people, their internet persona becomes who they are or they think they have to be someone they’re not. I’m able to disassociate being confident and boastful and marketing myself versus how I am in real life.”
This small nugget of wisdom gives you a peek behind the curtain, maybe even more than he wishes. It’s a winking acknowledgment that much of the Jake Paul you think you may know may be a character, not the real man. Or it could just be another layer of mystery, added intentionally, to further mythologize who Jake Paul really is. We may never know.
The one thing that is certain is that on April 17, Paul will be stepping into the ring to fight Ben Askren in an attempt to get one step closer to becoming a boxing legend. And whether you watch eager to see him prove the haters wrong or if you tune in with the hope that he’ll get knocked on his ass, Paul knows you’re going to be watching.
“I don’t fight for them,” Paul says. “I fight for myself and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to watch.”