Influencer boxing and the rebirth of Jake Paul

Jake Paul, once deeply unlikeable, has won back his reputation through big-money celebrity boxing matches, streamed to millions around the world.

Jake Paul, once deeply unlikeable, has won back his reputation through big-money celebrity boxing matches, streamed to millions around the world.  If you believe in second chances, it seems boxing is a sure shot at redemption.

It is the 21st of April 2021. The Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The controversial internet personality, Jake Paul, is in the first round of a highly anticipated boxing match against former UFC fighter, Ben Askren. One and a half million people are watching at home.

Jake probes the body, opens up Askren’s chin, and throws a bomb. It connects and Askren falls, face down, as the commentary of hip-hop royalty Snoop Dogg rings out. “Get me my motherf***ing money, Jake!”, he repeats, over and over, as the referee declares a knockout and 1.5 million people are stunned. They tuned in to see Jake, he is the star, the main event. In that moment, Jake Paul has just earned, for the first time in his tumultuous career, mainstream acceptance.

It should be said that, in his years as a professional fighter, Askren relied almost entirely on his abilities as a wrestler and grappler. His striking has long been considered among the worst of all high-level competitors. Askren was also the recipient of perhaps the UFC’s most iconic ever knockout, at the hands of Jorge Masvidal.

Since his night in the ring with Akren, just under 18 months ago, Paul has fought another former UFC fighter, Tyron Woodley, twice, prevailing in both bouts. He defeated Woodley in a split decision, and knocked him out. The latter earned ‘Knockout of the Year’ accolades from DAZN and ESPN. And now, Jake is someone people want to be seen with, from retired fighters to rappers and entertainers. Frankly, people want to be seen with the guy who’s knocking people out.

Paul’s knockout of Woodley was sublime, with many fight-game pundits, including Joe Rogan, drawing attention to the natural brilliance of the punch. In a moment of clarity in the chaos of a fight, Paul had the bearing to feint for the body, drawing Woodley’s guard down, and delivering a devastating uppercut that ended the fight without a count being required.

As of writing, he is scheduled to face a third former UFC fighter in October: one-time middleweight champion and one of the sport’s greatest fighters, Anderson Silva.

It is said of life that fortune can be found in the strangest of places. When ‘influencer boxing’ first exploded out of the UK, with the KSI vs Joe Weller fight, many souls of online fame have found new and divergent paths in the sub-sport. Some have found new revenue streams, a return to relevance, or simply a boost in followers. But for the Ohio native, whose time in the public eye has been marred by an image of petulance, immaturity, and recklessness, it represents something far more important; redemption.

It began with the first global influencer boxing event, a bout between Olajide “KSI” Olatunji and Paul’s older brother, Logan. Jake fought KSI’s younger brother, Deji; earning a fifth round TKO (technical knockout).


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The story goes that the bout was initially a publicity stunt with a big pay-day thrown in to ease the pain. However, during Paul’s training camp, his coaches noticed a natural affinity for combat sports. After the fight, he was encouraged to continue, which he did.

Sandwiched in between his boxing debut and the aforementioned fights with Askren and Woodley were two brutally efficient dispatches of fellow influencer ‘Anesongib’, and former NBA player Nate Robinson.

Perhaps all that Jake needed was a positive outlet for his boundless energy. That same restlessness and hyperactivity that made him such an unpleasant teenager and young man, could make him a truly great competitor.

It is not lost on me that Jake Paul had earned little in the way of a glowing reputation by the time he entered the ring. For the better part of a decade, Paul’s ego, circle of sycophants, and seemingly endless enablement has led to a slew of controversies and legal issues.

To give an abridged version, Paul has: revealed his own address online to bring thousands of fans to his house and the surrounding street; committed arson; partaken in a riot; posted sexualised content for his underage fanbase; debatably scammed his underage fanbase; encouraged his underage fanbase to gamble; started a few legally dubious enterprises; and been accused of sexual misconduct. In a recurring act of sardonic self-awareness, his nickname in the ring is ‘The Problem Child’.

Logan Paul suicide forest

Jake Paul’s brother Logan came under fire in 2017 after filming himself in a forest in Japan known for being the site where people take their own life

Both of the Paul brothers have experienced something of a renaissance of late. Logan, once the centre of the world’s ire after his bafflingly stupid decision to post a video from the ‘Japanese Suicide Forrest’ in 2017, has fought KSI twice and Floyd Mayweather once. His podcast, now one of the biggest in the world, has earned him the same acceptance his brother now enjoys. Both were once deeply unlikeable.

However, I believe in second chances. I also believe that one’s errors of youth are not deserving of a life sentence, within reason. We all do bad things, and make bad decisions; but we do not all live our lives under such intense scrutiny. Jake has stopped posting onto his YouTube channel, with the exception of boxing-related videos. Outside of a podcast, he has ceased content creation all together. He seems passionate, dedicated, focused. He is clearly a very talented boxer, with a natural instinct for the sport.

Eventually though, he will need to prove himself by fighting a true boxer. Jake’s fights against Tommy Fury and Hasim Rahman Jr. have both fallen through, and Anderson Silva will be his toughest challenge yet. But, for now, the Problem Child is moving in the right direction.

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