The jury remains out on Jake Paul as a fighter, both as a boxer and now as a mixed martial artist, since he signed on Thursday with the Professional Fighters League and will compete in MMA. The New York Times first reported Paul's signing with the PFL.
There is no doubt, though, that Paul is a genius when it comes to marketing, garnering attention and earning a lot of money from a sport in which he remains a neophyte.
Paul said that he'd like to fight ex-UFC fighter Nate Diaz twice in 2023, once in boxing and once in MMA. That, though, won't happen according to Diaz's representative, Zach Rosenfield.
Rosenfield replied "Nah," via text message when asked if there was any talks for a Diaz-Paul fight. He then texted Yahoo Sports a statement in which he said, "We are still in the process of looking at a half-dozen offers in boxing, which Nate has stated what he intended to do when he became a free agent. I won't discuss who those offers are with."
So we won't get Diaz-Paul in 2023, or, most likely, ever. But that doesn't diminish what Paul is doing. He generates more attention in fighting than all but the biggest stars in both boxing and MMA. To this point, he's boxed exclusively and has yet to fight a professional boxer.
He's been praised for his work ethic and development as a boxer, but struggled to defeat MMA legend Anderson Silva in October in a boxing match even though Silva is 47 years old and had only four bouts when he'd met Paul.
Fighters — mostly in MMA — have repeatedly called him out and offered to fight him, because he's able to generate notoriety and fan and media attention. With those things usually comes money.
The PFL announced Thursday it had entered into what it referred to as "a two-part exclusive partnership with Paul that will accelerate PFL's mission to innovate and grow the global sport of MMA."
Paul's fights in the PFL will not be part of its yearlong season in which champions are crowned with the winner earning a $1 million prize. They'll be known as "PFL PPV Super Fights," separate events sold on pay-per-view in which the pledge is to share 50 percent of the revenue with fighters on the PPV
Paul has been vocal in his criticism of the UFC's pay structure and of UFC president Dana White, and has said publicly he wants to form a fighter's union.
In a statement released by the PFL, Paul said he would make an effort to recruit fighters to help them improve their earnings.
“I’ve proven myself in and out of the boxing ring and now I am going to do the same in MMA, and there is no limit to the positive impact I can make on the sport,” Paul said in his statement. “I plan to enter the PFL SmartCage and once again show the world that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. Outside of the cage, equal fighter-pay and advocating for female fighters has been my passion, and I am aligned with PFL to evolve the sport. I believe in PFL, their mission, and what they have accomplished in a very short period of time. That is why I chose to partner with PFL exclusively, both as a fighter and a businessman. As Head of Fighter Advocacy, I will consistently promote PFL fighters and I invite all top MMA fighters, both men and women, to join the PFL and get a payday like they’ve never had before.”
Paul's effectiveness at this role would seem to ride on his effectiveness as a fighter. The UFC has had many competitors over the years who had outstanding talent and grandiose visions of overtaking it and becoming a major player in MMA, but it largely hasn't panned out.
Paul doing interviews and tweeting about the PFL likely won't change that.
He'll garner the most attention when he fights, and that's when his message will have the most impact. So the more often he competes, the better he's going to be able to do, theoretically, at chipping away at the UFC's massive lead.
But Paul doesn't have to bring the UFC down to be successful, nor does the PFL. Right now, the majority of the world's fans recognize the UFC as the industry leader and the major league of MMA. If Paul is able to help lift the PFL's profile, generate more revenue and attract a higher percentage of the world's best fighters, this day will prove historic.
Paul, though, remains a rookie in boxing, and it's not going to be any different in MMA. Claressa Shields is the best women's fighter in the world and, arguably, the greatest women's boxer of all time. But she's had her struggles as an MMA fighter as she's fought in the PFL and is 1-1 in the organization. Shields is a vastly better and more developed boxer than Paul, as well as a better athlete. So if she's struggling, it makes sense that Paul will have his struggles, too, as he transitions to yet another new sport.
Then that brings the question of how to sell his PPV fights. If he's facing low-level MMA talent, it's going to be hard to sell that as a PPV. A fight with PFL veteran Anthony Pettis, a former UFC lightweight champion who called out Paul on social media Thursday, would attract great interest, but Paul would be tremendously overmatched.
It's an interesting gamble for both Paul and the PFL.
But if Paul is successful in raising fighter pay and benefits, it will be a gamble well worth taking.