WIll Jake Paul’s foray into MMA be good for the sport?

On January 5, the Professional Fighters League took the world of combat sports by surprise after announcing that Jake Paul had put pen to paper on a mixed martial arts contract with the company. Needless to say, this news would have left many in the MMA industry scratching their heads and even unsure what to make of the details of the deal. It is, of course, an unexpected development when you take into account that Paul has only recently embarked on a professional career in the boxing ring. At the time of writing, Paul holds a 6-0 record having beaten various MMA stars of yesteryear, including Anderson Silva, Tyron Woodley, and Ben Askren during extremely lucrative crossover bouts. 

Having read that last sentence, you may be tempted to begin connecting the dots as far as Paul’s decision to fight in the SmartCage goes. The 25-year-old is seemingly confident that he can continue to beat aging MMA fighters, albeit now in their own environment. That isn’t necessarily a misguided conclusion but there may be a few other key reasons leading Paul to step into the MMA arena at this time.

Who is Jake Paul?

Most people will know Paul as a YouTuber given that this was the platform on which he successfully established a captive audience. As of mid-January 2023, Paul has over 20 million subscribers, which illustrates how his popularity continues to grow after venturing into the boxing ring. In addition to his legion of YouTube subscribers, Paul has over 21 million followers on Instagram, 17 million on TikTok, and 4.5 million on Twitter.

In short, this is a man who holds a significant amount of influence, which helps to understand why the PFL might have been keen to strike up a deal with Paul. As far as Paul is concerned and as briefly alluded to, he would have had his own reasons for wanting to swap the ring for the SmartCage. 

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A supporter of MMA fighters’ rights

To truly understand why Paul has signed a deal with PFL, you first have to focus on his long-running dispute with UFC president Dana White. Indeed, the YouTuber has often accused White of underpaying his fighters and has repeatedly put the cat among the pigeons by publicly demanding that the UFC president give his contracted fighters more than a fifth of the revenue that the company receives.

You could say that Paul has successfully managed to turn the spotlight on the matter – so much so that the current UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has become the most high-profile name to question the pay disparity. On this occasion, the Cameroonian is claiming that White has shortchanged him and is demanding over $5 million in lost earnings. This is because his current fight fee is just $600,000 which, according to the heavyweight, is not befitting of his status as world champion. Needless to say, Ngannou’s demands are causing ripples in the UFC company. 

Conversely, and this is where it begins to get interesting, PFL offers its fighters 50 percent of the revenue it receives. Paul’s signing with PFL is likely to get UFC fighters examining whether their efforts in the Octagon are being fairly remunerated. It might not be the sole reason for Paul’s decision to pursue a career in MMA, but you imagine that it was certainly a contributing factor. The reality is that whatever you make of Paul as an individual or his potential motives, MMA as a whole does stand to gain a considerable amount from his participation given how vocal he is about the rights of fighters.

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How will Paul positively contribute to MMA?

Paul’s questioning of White’s share of the profits is undeniably positive. Any pay rise for fighters will ensure a better product in the Octagon. 

On top of potentially securing bigger cheques for the industry’s athletes and courtesy of his mammoth social media following, Paul’s presence in MMA is likely to bring millions of new eyes to the sport who wouldn’t typically have ever tuned in to watch an MMA showdown in the past. Again, with a surge in numbers purchasing pay-per-view events, the MMA industry as a whole will only go from strength to strength. 

Lastly, the YouTuber does offer an alternative voice in the world of combat sports and isn’t scared of upsetting the biggest names in the industry. For example, Paul has been trading insults with legendary fighter Conor McGregor after recently suggesting that Islam Makhachev would beat the Irishman in the same way that Khabib Nurmagomedov did at UFC 229 in 2018 after forcing the Dublin-born fighter to submit in the fourth round.

Unsurprisingly, Paul’s strong opinion hasn’t stopped McGregor from angling for a fight with the 31-year-old Russian in 2023 but Makhachev is, of course, first scheduled to go head to head with Alexander Volkanovski on February 12 in a lightweight title bout at UFC 284. The Russian is the clear favorite to defend his title at odds of just -350. It’s worth keeping in mind that things can change which is why fans should keep up to date with the latest UFC betting tips and advice as the showdown in Australia draws nearer.

With that said, should the much-fancied Makhachev defeat Volkanovski in Perth then fans can expect to see a bout against McGregor in 2023. Irrespective of that fight’s winner, the fact remains that Paul’s observations on MMA’s current status quo, however outlandish or insightful, give fights their own unique narrative. Put another way, there is no such thing as bad publicity and Paul’s voice helps stir up interest in the sport.

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The negatives

For those MMA fans who aren’t familiar with Jake Paul’s antics, you should prepare to be left feeling incredulous at some stage in the future. At least, Paul has a tendency to inflate his own ability despite being incredibly selective about who he fights. In the past, the YouTuber has been accused of picking aging opponents that he is certain to beat instead of going toe to toe with established and active names. In essence, this is Paul’s modus operandi and it seems unlikely that he will deviate from a strategy that has seen him earn an undefeated record in the boxing ring.

Intriguingly, we’ve seen Paul carry on this theme to a certain extent after signing with PFL by calling out 37-year-old Nate Diaz, who is 12 years his senior. As for whether this type of method is a negative for the MMA industry as a whole, it’s up to fans to decide but as we’ve seen in boxing, it does bring the integrity of genuine competition into the spotlight. 

The overall verdict

When weighing up all the pros and cons of Paul’s choice to begin a career in the SmartCage, you would have to conclude there is a net gain for the MMA industry, purely thanks to the exposure the sport stands on the brink of receiving. Will we ever see Paul win a world title or defeat the most accomplished fighters on the planet? It’s unlikely, but the 25-year-old’s involvement is sure to open doors for up-and-coming fighters that were previously closed.