Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Sport
Alex Pattle

The hidden side of Jake Paul

Getty Images

“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, 26, has nevertheless only seen his profile grow in the decade since, with 20 million YouTube subscribers and 25m Instagram followers at the time of writing. 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 2022, then he hoped his fight with Tommy Fury would have. Well, kind of; Paul would argue he doesn’t care what you think at all, even after Fury outpointed him in February.

When I start our interview – conducted a week before that fight – 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, 28, 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.”

Jake Paul says people don’t think he’s a ‘real person’

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 7-1, and it is how he secured his fight with Fury – half-brother of world heavyweight boxing champion Tyson – and then a clash with UFC icon Nate Diaz.

Paul, a lot of the time, is a troll, and some people genuinely detest him for it. When friends first heard that I had interviewed him, their reactions eclipsed any interest they had in the fact that I met Anthony Joshua for the first time on the 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.

Paul during his defeat by Tommy Fury in Saudi Arabia – the first loss of his career
— (AP)

“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 reported $38m net worth, to 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.”

Paul knocked out Tyron Woodley in their short-notice rematch in 2021
— (AFP via Getty Images)

And that’s the thing: For all the criticism Paul used to get for not having fought a ‘real boxer’, he has always 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.”

Paul dropping Nate Diaz in their bout in August
— (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Before the fact, Paul’s match-up with Fury in February felt like an endgame for the American; win or lose, he would have been able to dismiss jibes that he had not fought a professional boxer. But it was not the endgame that many had predicted; just six months on, Paul dropped and outpointed 38-year-old Diaz – an MMA fan favourite who achieved crossover fame by submitting Conor McGregor in 2016, and who left the UFC in September 2022. Next up for Paul is pro boxer Andre August in December. At this point, it is unclear what Paul’s endgame will be.

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. Yet it is largely down to Paul that people don’t see the man behind the mocking.

Note: Interview first published in February 2023; updated in November 2023.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.