- Jake Paul, a celebrity that built his fame on YouTube, is veering towards becoming a full-time professional fighter.
- A career in combat sports is, ironically, one where he can do less damage.
- Paul's chaotic years on YouTube have included allegations of abuse from his ex-girlfriend, accusations of exploiting children, and an FBI raid.
- He may have found the perfect home in boxing, where such stunts are commonplace, and fans are older and are more adept at deciphering what's real and what's for show.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul complained in a viral hit posted to his channel in August 2017 that the media had the wrong impression of him. He whined that despite his best efforts, the only stories people heard about him were negative — terrorizing his neighborhood, and parting ways with his television show on the Disney Channel after his problematic antics, for example. As such, Paul has cultivated what is widely recognized as a negative reputation among influencers.
But being vilified in the media may be exactly what Paul needs to succeed in his new career path as a boxer, an arena where Paul's found an easy home. Controversy is ubiquitous in combat sports, and Paul may be a perfect reflection of its characters for the social media age. He's already challenged Conor McGregor to meet him in the ring for $50 million and won a match against NBA player Nate Robinson on November 28 with shocking knock-out.
While Paul is quite literally causing physical damage in the ring, his boxing career will surely do less damage than his career as an influencer catering to children.
Paul is no stranger to being divisive
Paul started his internet career as a young teenager from Ohio making 7-second videos on Vine in 2013. He and his older brother Logan Paul quickly became two of the platform's biggest stars, before the app was discontinued in 2016 and they migrated to YouTube.
But over the next few years, Paul's persona evolved from family-friendly pranks and skits to the classic trope of the kid who grew up in the spotlight. Fame and money appeared to go to his head, and he started causing problems in his LA neighbourhood, turning it into "a living hell" and a "war zone," according to residents, thanks to the partying of his notorious entourage Team 10.
Driving obnoxiously loud motorcycles up and down his road and setting mattresses on fire in his back yard earned Paul mainstream disrepute, but legendary status on the internet. The follower count kept climbing, giving Paul no reason to rein in his behavior. Since then he's built a fanbase of over 20 million subscribers.
Commentary YouTuber Fraser Macdonald, who posts videos on his channel iNabber where he has 650,000 subscribers, told Insider Paul's decision to lean into his controversial behavior is "a numbers game."
"I know a lot of people have thrown around the phrase 'sociopath' when it comes to Jake Paul, but in reality it's all a massive game for him where he is trying to portray himself as a villain to get numbers," he said. "The more controversies, the more views, the more money and overall the more relevance."
Jake Paul has been labeled 'every parent's worst nightmare'
Paul aptly named his fans "The Jake Paulers," guiding a generation of kids who grew up dreaming of being YouTubers to be just like him — loud, cocky, and obstreperous. But that may be a worry to parents with children with aspirations to be like their favorite online nuisance. Paul's past is littered with contentious events, just one of which might tarnish the entire career of someone less privileged.
In 2017, Paul was accused of emotional abuse by his ex-girlfriend Alissa Violet, a fellow YouTuber, who said he had also once dragged her down a flight of stairs and smashed her iPhone. Paul has had three other high-profile and controversy-laden relationships since then, most recently with World Series flasher and founder of digital glamour magazine Shagmag, Julia Rose.
In parading the women that hang around him, Paul has been repeatedly accused by critics of making sexually explicit content that is inappropriate for his target audience, which at the height of his YouTube relevancy was, in his own words, between 8 and 16 years old.
Paul has also been accused of "predatory" money-making schemes. He aggressively peddles merch to this young fanbase and advertises "mystery boxes," which have been criticized as being akin to gambling. YouTubers Nerd City, who do deep-dive analyses of creators' behavior, labeled him a "parent's worst nightmare" when a review of his channel showed 50% of his video-time was spent trying to get his viewers to buy stuff. His intentions were summed up well with the release of a Christmas song in December 2017 where he sang the line "buy that merch" over and over again.
Paul later launched Edfluence in 2018 — a website where fans could apparently learn to become social media influencers. Online commentators such as YouTuber Drew Gooden criticized the videos as lazy and unscripted, and noted that after a $7 entry fee was paid, children could unlock more levels with their parents' credit card, racking up increasing costs without needing further permission.
The Edfluence website quietly disappeared without any explanation less than a year later, but not before promoting a 50% offer on its Twitter page to get in a few last sales. Paul launched another, almost identical venture, called the Financial Freedom Movement in February 2020, which he has barely mentioned since.
While adults can assess risks and make educated choices, young viewers "have a reduced ability to exert self-control and more difficulties in understanding valuation and probabilities," states a study on "loot boxes" published by the European Parliament in August 2020. Thus they are less likely to consider the consequences of following an influencer's lead — spending all their pocket-money on online games, schemes, and clothing under the illusion it will make them as rich and popular as the stars they idolize.
Throughout the remainder of 2020, Paul's attention has been focused elsewhere. He was one of the many LA influencers that ignored COVID-19 guidelines, being spotted in crowds of looters at an Arizona mall in May and getting tear-gassed (after which he was charged with criminal trespassing), and hosting a massive rager at his mansion in July where he invited hundreds on unmasked guests to get drunk and swing from heavy machinery.
His house was also raided by an FBI swat team in August.
Macdonald said Paul's controversies are "the only thing keeping him relevant" online.
"No one cares about Jake Paul's videos," he said. "They simply care about the dangerous things Jake Paul is doing."
Jake Paul is a maverick hero to children
To a young, developing mind, Paul is a rebel. He doesn't stick to the rules, earning him a maverick reputation. As much as Paul may attempt to excuse his behavior as being a joke or playing a character, there's no doubt children growing up with him as their hero will be more prone to thinking causing disrespectful chaos could be a way to achieve money and fame.
As Chris Stokel-Walker discussed in a paper titled "The dark psychology behind YouTube's success," published in New Scientist, viewers can become addicted to the increasingly bad behavior of the YouTubers they admire. As the influencer pushes boundaries to chase relevancy, their behavior on-screen gets more and more extreme, and young viewers may become desensitized and more likely to repeat what they see — just without the funds and safeguards available to famous YouTubers.
Controversy is commonplace is boxing
When it comes to boxing, however, you're dealing with an older fanbase.
A study for Sports Business Journal by Magna Global, for example, found that the median age for viewers watching boxing on television was 49 in 2016, with only 10% of the audience being under 17 years old. Data from World's Greatest, a video platform by and for athletes, found the majority (41%) of boxing and MMA fans are 25–34 years old, while 6% are 13-17.
"I think Jake is definitely trying to get a more mature audience nowadays, but I don't really think it'll work," said Macdonald, who isn't convinced Paul will win over loyal devotees of combat sports. "Most boxing fans seem to laugh at YouTubers getting into boxing, and most boxing fans probably think Jake Paul is a moron."
However, there's no question YouTubers are bringing in a new audience. According to data obtained by Insider Sports, 52% of the people who watched Logan Paul vs KSI were under 24, while that age bracket only made up 9% of a match around the same time between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
Combat sports audiences thrive on major controversies. It's where Mike Tyson made his debut shortly after coming out of a juvenile detention center, went to prison for three years, then returned to bite of the ear of contender Evander Holyfield during a match. It's also where Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has been sent to prison and put on house arrest several times, egregiously flaunts his wealth. Conor McGregor, who Paul is eager to fight, has been accused of numerous wrongdoings, including sexual assault.
Paul's hijinks, in comparison, seem tame — throwing wet toilet paper and water balloons at Dillon Danis, and feuding with Dana White on Twitter, for example. He seems to be stuck in-between wanting to keep his young fanbase with childish pranks they'll enjoy, while also trying to make a name for himself in a grown-up world where the people he comes up against are a lot more intimidating. Nate Diaz recently warned he was going to end up getting his "a– whooped for real."
Saying goodbye to the 'problem child era'
In some ways, Paul does seem to be taking his new career path seriously. He trains hard, and has just announced he's selling his Calabasas mansion and is leaving LA altogether.
If this all means making fewer YouTube videos, it may have parents everywhere breathing a sigh of relief. Paul's fanbase will likely evolve and grow into one that understands that while controversy makes good television, it's not something you have to copy to be successful.
Boxing, where publicity stunts are commonplace, and fans are less impressionable, may be the perfect place for someone like Paul to end up.
But if he wants to be respected there, he might have to stop trying to cater to both audiences and grow up, rather than playing the victim when he's called out for being a bad influence. Otherwise, Paul may find his new burgeoning audience will never take him seriously.
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