Jake Paul: The unlikeliest of heroes in combat sports

He stands on stage — shirtless — with about $1 million in jewelry draped around his neck and wrists. On Sunday, he’ll have his fourth boxing match, against former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. It will easily be the most-viewed boxing match ever for a fighter with four bouts. 

He’ll eventually start talking about the matchup at the final prefight press conference, but first, he has a message. Because YouTube sensation-turned-boxer Jake Paul has become the unlikeliest of heroes in all of combat sports.

PAUL VS. WOODLEY: Date, time, PPV price, odds & location for 2021 boxing match

“Today is woman’s equality today,” says Paul. Granted, later on there will be a near-melee after a member of Paul’s team gets into a war of words with Woodley’s mother. 

“I told my mom how much I love her and told my girlfriend how much I love her. Shoutout to all the amazing women out there,” Paul adds. “This whole week Amanda Serrano has been saying that she’s on the card and, to me, it didn’t feel right that she was just saying that she was on the card. So I want to make her the co-main event. She’s deserving of that.”

It’s a certainty that Serrano will make more Sunday than she has in a boxing career that has spanned 12 years, 42 fights and nine major world titles across seven different weight classes. Serrano has been vocal about the wage disparity between men and women in boxing and has picked up a job as a boxing trainer while having a second career in MMA just to make ends meet.  

“To be a female boxer, you have to have a 9-to-5 [job], and it sucks because boxing is a dangerous sport,” Serrano told Sporting News in 2018. “You have to fully concentrate. You can’t just say after work [that] you’re going to train. Female boxers have to have an extra income.”

That will change if Paul has his way. According to Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports — which is televising the Paul-Woodley pay-per-view — everyone on the undercard is receiving a record payday. That’s thanks to a 24-year-old whom some people just can’t take seriously as a boxer. Some believe his fighting is a joke or a ploy to capitalize in a new arena. After all, Paul and his brother Logan are known more for their antics than for taking anything seriously. 

It didn’t help when, shortly after Paul commemorated women’s equality, a member of his camp began exchanging words with Woodley’s mother and the scene nearly turned into a full-scale brawl. It certainly took away from Paul’s message and added fuel to the detractors who have routinely called Paul’s boxing a glorified publicity stunt. 

But Paul is as serious as a heart attack when it comes to advocating for fighter pay, and it’s beginning to overshadow his budding boxing career.

In June, Paul donated $5,000 to a GoFundMe that UFC women’s flyweight Sarah Alpar set up to cover the training costs for her Sept. 18 bout. Triller, Paul’s old promoter, followed suit and helped the campaign exceed its goal of $30,000.

Paul then tweeted his displeasure with the UFC’s pay structure, further fanning the flames of a fiery feud between himself and UFC president Dana White. 

“SMH … Imagine a rookie in the NBA had to start a GoFundMe to play,” Paul wrote. “I let Sarah @TOOSWEET_Alpar know she has my support and contribution. It’s my honor and privilege to help fellow fighters in any way I can.” 

Paul being a thorn in White’s side has been a theme for several months. Both have exchanged jabs in the media as Paul continues to dig in his heels on fighter pay. But his opponent Sunday doesn’t believe Paul is doing this for anyone other than himself.

“He’s a vulture of culture and a vulture of combat sports . . . you ain’t gonna change s—,” Woodley said in an interview with BT Sports’ Ariel Helwani. “He ain’t helping out the sport; he’s helping himself out.”

Paul bristles at the notion he’s doing this out of self-interest.

“He’s sitting on lies,” Paul told Sporting News of Woodley’s efforts to disparage him. “I’ve done more for this sport than he has in however many years he’s been in it.”

Paul added he made sure Woodley made “four times his highest UFC payday” for stepping into the ring with him. 

“I’m not just saying it; I’m actually doing it,” Paul said. “That’s taking money out of my pocket to give all boxers on the card the biggest payday of their lives. It’s disrespectful for him to try and discredit that, especially after I put him on this pedestal. Without me, he would just be the guy who got cut from the UFC and is doing nothing with his life aside from being a 40-year-old rapper.”

You may dislike the messenger, but the message remains as relevant as ever. More and more UFC fighters are speaking about their financial woes despite the company landing a $175 million sponsorship deal with Crypto.com. Fighters reportedly won’t see a dime of that money.

Jared Cannonier and Cheyanne Buys have been vocal about being “broke” following a UFC fight. Former title contender Miesha Tate said “98%” of the $200,000 purse she received for her return to the Octagon went to expenses.

Maybe Paul will be the spark that brings more attention to the issue and emboldens other fighters to take a stand.

“Hate all you want, but I don’t see anybody else out there doing that kind of stuff,” Paul’s trainer B.J. Flores told Sporting News. “If someone in the UFC says it, they won’t be fighting. It takes someone like Jake to raise awareness because they have a really good monopoly going on over there. [White] dictates everything.

“I think the UFC is undervaluing their fighters and what they bring to the table. Fans come to see the fighters. They don’t come to see Dana and everyone else. They need to get paid better.”

Whether pay for women in boxing or fighters in the UFC changes remains to be seen, but never before has this much attention been paid to the situation, and Jake Paul deserves a great deal of recognition for that. He has made it a very public cause that stretches beyond boxing and MMA circles. Say what you want about his antics and persona; he may be the villain inside the ring, but outside it he’s the most unlikely hero combat sports has ever seen.

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