“Are we doing video?” Jake Paul asks, half-aiming the question at me and half-directing it towards his representative on the Zoom call. “Err, yeah?” I reply. “I don’t usually upload the video from these sorts of chats, but...”
But it would seem strange to interview one of the biggest screen presences of the last decade and not have him appear, well, on screen.
‘Biggest’ replaces ‘most popular’ here, given the word ‘popular’ tends to imply widespread affection, and it’s fair to say that Paul is more well known than well liked. Controversies have arisen at intervals since the American emerged on Vine in 2013, three years before his two-season stint on the Disney Channel series Bizaardvark. Paul, who turned 26 three weeks before our interview, has nevertheless only seen his profile grow in the decade since, with 20 million YouTube subscribers and 22m Instagram followers as of this month. Still, he does not identify as a YouTuber or influencer anymore; he’s a professional boxer.
If his knockout win over former NBA star Nate Robinson in 2020 didn’t convince you, or his knockouts of MMA stars Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren in 2021, or his decision win over UFC legend Anderson Silva in October, then he hopes his fight with Tommy Fury will. Well, kind of; he’d argue he doesn’t care what you think at all.
When I start off by asking what the biggest misconception about Jake Paul is, he takes a moment to think, before laughing: “I think people... they don’t think I’m a real person. And I think they judge me from my past a lot, versus looking at who I am today. I think, as humans, we naturally do that, so I get it. But yeah, I think that’s it...
“And they compare me to my brother,” he quickly adds, referring to Logan, 27, who has followed a similar path to his younger sibling. “Whenever he does something wrong, I get in trouble for it. I would probably say that’s the biggest thing.”
Paul has an almost unrivalled proclivity for, simply put, winding people up. It is one of the clearest explanations for how the American has secured bouts with some of the highest-profile names in combat sports en route to going 6-0, and it is how he secured a bout with Fury – former Love Island contest, and half-brother of world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson.
Paul, a lot of the time, is a troll, and some people genuinely detest him for it. When friends learn that I spoke to him this month, their reactions eclipse any interest they have in the fact that I met Anthony Joshua for the first time on the very same day. Love him or hate him – and you’d probably say you hate him – people care about Jake Paul.
“I think the smart people in the world see that I’m able to play chess in the entertainment industry and make really smart moves,” the Ohio native explains. “Then there’s the sheep who are like, ‘Argh, that kid! I saw he said this! Blah, blah, blah.’ Like, I did that on purpose, to get you riled up. It’s marketing at the end of the day.”
It can be argued that the side of Paul that some find irritating is just a facade, and fairly obviously so. Why, then, are people so irked by what he says?
“I think because it’s true,” he suggests, a slight smirk splitting his lips. So when Paul says something mean about you, he believes it – even if he doesn’t mean it. Like the incisive, inebriated insults that you withdraw when the alcohol has washed away.
“The deepest insults are the ones that you believe to be true within your own mind,” Paul continues. “Those are your insecurities. If I’m attacking these people’s insecurities, they’re gonna get all riled up, p****d off, bent out of shape.”
Paul, for his part, does not seem to take anything that anyone says about him remotely personally.
“When they say anything about me, I’ve dealt with all my insecurities as a man. I’ve looked myself in the mirror and gone through so many spiritual, healing journeys. You don’t just all of a sudden not have insecurities, but I’ve dealt with mine. So, if someone brings them up, it’s like... I don’t care, because I love myself.”
He hasn’t always loved himself, though. When asked what motivates a young man who has already reaped such riches, like a $20m-plus net worth, to now spend so much of his time getting punched in the face, he starts, “It’s funny...” before following up with reasoning that is anything but that. Still, he smiles as he says it: “I need boxing. Boxing saved me. I was in a super dark place in my life.
“I lacked discipline, lacked routine, lacked community, lacked passion, lacked progress. Boxing gave me all of those things, and I loved punching people and getting punched! I love the pace of it, the strategy, everything behind it. It’s an art. Then there’s the build-up, the content, the press conferences, the outfits. All of it made me fall in love with boxing, to a point where I need boxing on a daily basis just to function. I love the sport, that’s really what it is.”
And that’s the thing: For all the criticism Paul gets for not having fought a ‘real boxer’, he has at least taken this endeavour seriously.
“It’s the most intense thing you can imagine in your mind,” the 26-year-old says of his training. “I’m going to my limit every single day. It’s a team of eight people, fully dedicated to making this operation work – from strength and conditioning coaches to stretch therapists to three boxing coaches who are watching my every single move. It’s strategy, it’s gameplan, it’s film review, it’s repetition – pounding it over and over again. I’m studying my opponent and training like a professional athlete, with state-of-the-art facilities. It’s as serious as it gets, because my life’s on the line, so I’m not gonna take that lightly. And I don’t want to lose, and I have all the resources available to have the best team and things around me.”
Furthermore, as of 26 February, Paul will be able to say he has fought a real boxer. While some debate Fury’s pedigree (to a remarkable extent, given his relatives) the 23-year-old is, for all intents and purposes, a professional boxer. After two failed attempts to make the fight, Paul is scheduled to square off with the Briton in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia next week.
Many actually have Paul as the favourite against his 8-0 opponent. “It’s hilarious to me,” Paul chuckles. “This guy’s been boxing since he was 12, I turned pro like three years ago, and I’m the favourite. But I think people see my determination, my work ethic, my heart; I’m not gonna ever back down from somebody, and I think the bookies see that.”
In many ways, this match-up has long felt like an endgame for Paul; win or lose, he can dismiss suggestions that he has not fought a professional boxer. Win, and it doesn’t matter what comes next. Lose, and it’s likely that nothing comes next.
Nevertheless, “I think I’ll always box, for sure,” Paul insists. “And I hope to be a boxing coach one day. I’m obviously already a promoter; I think I’ll promote fights for the rest of my life,” he says, referencing his significant work with champion Amanda Serrano, for whom he secured the first seven-figure payday in women’s boxing history.
“This sport is now a part of my DNA forever,” he concludes.
Talking to Paul, rather than about him, you see glimpses of the “real person” that others don’t believe exists. But it is largely down to Paul that people don’t see the man behind the mocking.
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