JAKE PAUL HAS taken to scrawling poster board messages in the living room of his home in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico. Consider the writing on the wall: "Make History." "Inner Athlete." "Win." "Win!!" "Give Back." "What Would Jordan Do?" "Secretary Bird," "Orca Energy," "Box Jellyfish -- no heart, deadliest animal."
On the other side of sliding glass doors that lead outside to his pool, Paul shudders through his daily ice bath in what looks like a toppled refrigerator. Paul's assistant, Marcos Guerrero, has invited me to sit with Paul while he makes a few business calls. There's more on the posters, goals for each week heading toward Paul's bout against former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley on Sunday. Next to each agenda item are circles to color in when the task is completed.
"6 Ice baths" -- colored in. "3 sparring sessions" -- colored in. "Troll UFC" -- colored in. "Meet Trump" -- colored in.
Paul walks inside and sits down at the head of his dining table. His ramen noodle hair flops on his head and his nose veers off-center. He's wearing a white T bearing the blue block font of his new charity, Boxing Bullies. Mounted on the wall behind him is a painting of Paul screaming on the turnbuckle after his KO of Ben Askren in April. Paul's chef, who told me Paul and his team go through about two 18-egg cartons a day, brings him an omelet. Paul lays out several ivory sheets of lined paper with lists of things to do each day, what he's doing wrong in sparring and "Moves 2 Make."
Move 2 Make -- "I need to step my style game up."
Guerrero, who turns 22 the next day but who one team member describes as "really about 45," sits nearby in an oversized T-shirt and shorts, looking up from his phone or laptop to speak in short, quiet bursts of Sorkinesque hypercompetence. He reminds Paul when his next meeting is, with whom he'll be speaking and what about. Paul picks up his pen and scribbles a new note after almost every conversation he has on the phone or with Guerrero. A new bubble needs filling, a new action item appears. It turns out Paul, one of the savants of our online visual culture, is scripturient.
I ask what the secretary bird, orca and box jellyfish stuff is about. He says he studies a new deadly animal each week to remind himself that boxing is ruthless. He picks up his phone to take a call with Tyler Winklevoss, one half of the bitcoin billionaire twins who didn't invent Facebook.
Paul loves talking to billionaires because he has wanted to be one since he left his childhood home in Ohio at 17 and moved to Los Angeles with his brother, Logan, to pursue social media fame. If you know Jake Paul's name now you either hate him or know you're supposed to. Some of his transgressions are trivial: His song, "It's Everyday Bro," is the 16th-most disliked video in the history of YouTube. He's not welcome in Beverly Grove or Calabasas. There is the air of the scammer about him: If the pay-per-view numbers from his April KO of former MMA champion Askren are at all proximate to fact, Paul, at 3-0, is one of the most lucrative boxers on earth, despite never having boxed a trained boxer. Critics say he duped young fans eager for social media success into purchasing a bogus how-to-become-an-influencer program called Edfluence. But more than that, he also has been accused of crimes: Last summer, the FBI raided his California mansion in connection with looting in a Scottsdale, Arizona, mall in the aftermath of a protest (the FBI has since declined to press charges). Former employees and friends have called their tenures with him abusive and exploitative. And earlier this year, Justine Paradise, a prominent TikToker, posted a 20-minute video on YouTube in which she said she was sexually assaulted by Paul, a charge he has denied.
He has been recording himself for the internet since he was 10. He has lived several child-star adolescences already: Fired by Disney (the parting was described as mutual at the time), recorded using the N-word in a freestyle rap, sued for the reckless stunts that made him famous. None of it has halted his accumulation of followers, subscribers and money. He has learned he can run headlong over the cliff, that waiting in the chasm is a thermal that will float him blithely up, high into the troposphere of notoriety.
He specializes in the boom-and-bust moral cycles of the internet, violation then contrition, contrition then a promise to change, a brief respite and then the next violation, this time followed by defiance, perhaps -- one can't let the audience get bored. The offense is just an investment after all, a growth stock in the capital markets of attention. "It's Everyday Bro" went platinum. Its remix features rapper Gucci Mane.
At first glance, Paul's money and fame confound. Scrutiny reveals a shrewd, ambitious young man bent on winning on the impoverished terms the culture has supplied him. He allowed follower attention and brand sponsorship money to decide his life for him as a teenager and hasn't stopped wondering since who he is supposed to be. Now his attempted flight from his own gnawing emptiness, from one kind of illusory celebrity to a purportedly more secure one, casts him upon the narrow, perilous shoal of professional boxing. "I'm an entertainer. Period. That's who Jake Paul is," he says. "My means of entertaining are just evolving as I get older." Boxing is his latest bit, and he is committed enough to its rigors to fool himself, maybe even enough to change.
PAUL MEETS THE Winklevoss twins in June at Bitcoin 2021, the annual cryptocurrency festival, held in Miami this year. Paul is scheduled to appear on the last panel of the day with the twins and the comedian Tim Dillon. Outside the festival's geodome-shaped tents, the grounds are strewn with Venezuelan 50 bolivares notes, a jape about the destiny of fiat currency. Jack Mallers, a crypto evangelist and CEO, openly weeps onstage. "I will die on this hill," he shouts between sobs. "You are improving humanity and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
A young man wearing a red "Make Bitcoin Great Again" hat holds a sign over his head that reads, "Take Me Down Get One Bitcoin." I ask him how it's going. He pulls up his white T to flaunt wine-colored abrasions along his back and rib cage.
Bewildered by the whole thing, Paul tells me later it felt like walking into an "army or cult."
Backstage, where the assembled cool kids have no green rooms, there is a different kind of excess. The feeling is that of a house party on the verge of running too long. One of the Winklevii wears a shirt adorned with the iconic Corinthian columns of the New York Stock Exchange, underneath which is written, "Rage Against The Machine." Here are rich kids and scenesters, speculators and confidence men and earnest seers, losers, YouTubers and TikTokers, the clueless and those who should know better, all cosplaying as exiles from the old consensus, all clamoring for the brave new world, a windfall.
Weeks later on their FaceTime call, Paul and Tyler Winklevoss exchange jargon ("metaverses" and "NFT marketplaces" and "a crypto credit card," series Bs and Cs) and talk potential collaborations. Paul invites Winklevoss to the Woodley fight and a brunch that's meant to bring together Hollywood with tech and crypto types.
In Paul's mind, Hollywood stands for the entire edifice of what he sees as unchallengeable and legitimate fame and wealth and access. It is his long game. Boxing is his exit strategy from the kind of celebrity he has enjoyed thus far, that of the influencer.
Part of what Paul hates about his social media career is its circular quality. "It's a bottomless pit. Imagine someone eating and the food just goes right through them. Social media, you have to keep posting. You have to keep creating. You have to keep on coming up with new ideas and be hustling all the time. All the time, if you want to be the best in that category. But as soon as you stop, then there's nothing left to show for it.
"The money stops. The merchandise sales slow down. No one wants to sponsor you anymore because you're not putting out that content. So, it's like you're working every single day to have nothing if you stop working, which to me is a dead end."
I ask Paul the difference between where he wants to go and where he has been, between a celebrity and an influencer.
"An influencer, take away their Instagram, take away their TikTok, take away their YouTube, they're f---ed," he says. "What are they going to do? That's an influencer. If you could take away all their social media profiles and they can still do whatever it is that they do, they're not an influencer then. They're a celebrity."
I ask him later if a loss to Woodley jeopardizes his plans. Hesitating, he says yes, before confessing that losing on Aug. 29 is his biggest fear.
"If I play my cards right over the next couple of fights and win and win and win a couple more times, then I could walk away from this sport having made $250 [million] to $500 million. That would suck to not do that.
"One of my earliest goals was to become a billionaire. Just to see if I could do it honestly. And so now, it's there. And I think regardless of winning fights or not, I think I will become a billionaire just as a challenge to myself. I don't even know what I would do with all that money. I don't even really even do anything with my money now, but just as a challenge. I like a challenge more so than anything. And having that get cut short because of a loss would just suck, first and foremost."
Guerrero tries to explain the new status Paul wants: "All these big outlets that people see in a normal household, on a day-to-day basis when they go to a store, when they're watching TV and so forth, versus these smaller outlets where it's like YouTube based and blog based, that's the difference right there. Influencers, you don't really see them too much in the mainstream media. You don't see them on 'Good Morning America.' You don't see them on SNL. You don't see them on the Conan show. You don't see them appearing on ESPN."
In other words, they think I'm here to help.
AFTER PAUL DEPARTS the festival, he attends a late private dinner in a downtown Miami restaurant. Seated around a long banquet table are a clutch of billionaires; crypto financiers; venture capitalists; self-styled founders and creators; the DJ 3LAU; Chris Kelly, a part owner of the Sacramento Kings, former first general counsel for Facebook and one-time runner-up to Vice President Kamala Harris in the democratic primary for state attorney general of California, who patiently answers my questions about "Whales," "SPACs" and "Elon Musk;" and the singer Trey Songz.
Dinner begins with an icebreaker. One by one the attendees stand and introduce themselves. When Paul's turn arrives, he stands, casually working his right fist into his left palm. Paul wears two watches, a ring on each ring finger, two bracelets and three chains. There is no message in the bling, it doesn't catch the room's apricot light or make noise. He's just 24 years old and rich.
"My name is Jake Paul. How we doing ..." he begins in his customarily downtempo speech. Not thoughtful per se, though he is capable of clear-eyed self-assessment, but extruded at a rate and in a manner that's vaguely hypnagogic. Even when he's staring at and addressing you it can be like he's returning to himself from a daydream.
He continues: "I run a venture fund with Geoff Woo," and gestures to his business partner and co- founder of Anti Fund, their new VC company, at the other end of the table. "We got crypto stuff, business stuff, consumer products. Oh, and I box people and knock them out." This to peals and applause.
Minutes later, a dinner table shuffle finds the host, Nikil Viswanathan, CEO and co-founder of Alchemy, a startup that received a half-billion-dollar valuation this spring, seated next to Paul and urging the latter to tell the room his "original hustle story."
Paul ventures into a childhood memory about the origins of his competitiveness with his older brother. Soon after they started posting videos on the now-shuttered app Vine, the two teenagers were standing in the kitchen, with their father, a friend of Paul's, and Logan's girlfriend when Logan tried to give his younger brother some advice on a clip he was working on. "Why would I do that?" Paul retorted. "What do you know? I have more followers than you." Paul's friend and father laughed, so did Logan's girlfriend. Logan went quiet.
"I was like damn, he's right. My younger brother does have more followers than me," Logan recalls. "F--- this guy. I went out and started making Vines with the intent of becoming famous on the internet."
Over the next few days Paul noticed a difference in his brother's videos: They were funnier. Logan's views went up. Their long-running competition began there, says Paul, who is in Miami this weekend for the absurd spectacle of his older brother's fight against Floyd Mayweather the following night.
Paul was born in January 1997, which makes him one of the very earliest members of his cohort, Generation Z. He grew up in Westlake, Ohio, an affluent Cleveland suburb some 30 minutes west of downtown. His parents divorced when he was a child. He says his first real memory is of police entering his home to quash an explosive domestic dispute between his parents. "It was a very normal bubbled suburban kind of childhood," Paul's mother, Pam Stepnick, says.
Their family roles are so fixed it's like listening to people recount a sitcom. Stepnick was loving, indulgent. Her ex-husband Greg Paul cast himself as the drill sergeant. The meagerness of his Christmas gifts -- wood-cutting knives, socks, bar soap, pop tarts, all wrapped in newspaper -- are the stuff of family lore.
Both brothers credit their father with their work ethic (they are convinced of nothing so much as the belief they've earned their money and notoriety), but he also imparted to them a reckless attitude to the world around them. Greg recorded my conversation with him, because he's wary of journalists "twisting" his words.
About his own manhood: "I'm a savage. I'm an alpha male. When everybody else runs away from the burning plane, I'm running to the burning plane."
About alimony, unprompted: "I've heard women say I've been married to him for this long and I deserve this. Really? You don't deserve s---. What makes you think you deserve something?"
About Logan's infamous video of a hanging man in Japan's Aokigahara forest, known as the Sea of Trees, a place where people go to kill themselves: "For me personally, quite frankly I didn't give a -- I could care less if he filmed a dead person that had already hung himself. ... I said, 'What bothers me is that you put a dead fish on somebody's taxi. That you hung a squid on a restaurant owner's window. That you went into a store and you broke something.'"
A true suburbanite, nothing disquiets his mind like property damage. His feats of moral jiu-jitsu displace, with a flick of the tongue, his children's responsibility for their lapses, continually reducing them to the meme of large adult sons. He's a disciplinarian without a conscience.
"If I had all the success and money and stuff that Jake and Logan have achieved at their young age, if I had all that when I was 19 back in the day when there weren't cameras around and blah, blah, blah, I don't know that I would have lived to make it to 23 or 24," he says.
At the end of our phone call, perhaps stricken with the uneasiness of having been found howling at the moon, he says, "Please don't be one of the people who twist the story for content or to get more views or more reading. Know what I'm saying?"
Logan was a golden boy, his younger brother a barely lovable knucklehead. One the type of bright-faced, dead-eyed achiever adored by coaches and teachers; the other more sensitive, wounded by his parent's divorce, acting out in unpredictable ways.
In ninth grade, Paul participated in a small ring of boys stealing iPhones from their classmates for resale. When the boys were caught, they were suspended and ended up in court, where they received community service. His parents were humiliated. He didn't want for anything -- what was this about?
His brother was coming to the creeping realization he didn't know or like his sibling. "I remember thinking, who is this person? Who is my brother? I thought I knew this kid, but he's a little bit of a s---head," Logan says.
"I didn't think anything of it. I was just like, I saw the dollar signs," Paul says, recalling the time with visible embarrassment. "I didn't even know what I was planning to spend the money on."
Logan went to Ohio University on a full scholarship for engineering. By that time, he had amassed enough of a social media following on Vine that he began to imagine pursuing a career in entertainment. At the end of his freshman year, he came home and told his parents he planned to drop out and move to Los Angeles. His growing brand sponsorships would finance the move. His brother decided to come with him.
Besides insisting that Paul eventually get his diploma online, Pam and Greg didn't resist the move at all. "I just knew they would be OK," Stepnick says. "I was less sure about Jake, but I was pretty sure Logan would be OK." In June 2014, at ages 17 and 19, the brothers left Ohio for L.A. Stepnick disenrolled Paul from high school and called OU to relinquish Logan's scholarship on the same day.
By early 2016, Paul had been cast in Disney Channel's (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of ESPN) comedy "Bizaardvark." He played a version of himself named Dirk Mann, a character who takes on dares from fans on the internet. And that summer he moved into a $17,000-per-month mansion in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles and brought other influencers in with him to start a content collective called Team 10, so named because there are 10 digits in a billion. It wasn't the first "collab house," as they're now called, but it was the most prominent, pioneering a method that has been replicated throughout the social media industry. The Hollywood Hills are now dotted with TikTok and gaming houses.
Over the next 18 months, Paul's talent for creating controversy began to appear. The Beverly Grove address was leaked, causing a daily swarm of fans to the street in front of the house. The pranks that made him famous started to get out of hand. Firefighters had to come extinguish a mattress in an empty pool. The local news station, KTLA, showed up to the street the neighbors had started referring to as a "war zone," and Paul responded by climbing onto the news van. Disney kicked him off "Bizaardvark" in response. His follower count went up anyway. He and his brother engaged in an ugly public feud involving one of Paul's ex-girlfriends and unlistenable but startlingly personal diss tracks. Their mother, somewhere on vacation, wept.
"The media and the public made me the villain. ... After a couple of years, I was like, 'I don't know why I'm fighting this anymore. I'm just going to lean into it.'" Jake Paul
In October 2017, Paul bought and moved into a new mansion in Calabasas and brought the members of Team 10 with him. But something was happening inside him, an attrition of self: "I used to have so much anxiety and was very lonely I think in life. And I had a lot of anger and resentment towards people because of all the things I went through from accusations, my friends falling out, business managers stealing money from me, the media just constantly tormenting me. That can create a monster. It was starting to create a kid who just was like ... I mean to be blunt it's like why do you see so many stars kill themselves."
At the end of the year Logan uploaded his video from the "suicide forest" in Aokigahara, Japan. Sponsors withdrew, YouTube demonetized his account temporarily. As 2018 began, Logan looked like he might be deplatformed, and Jake's life was imploding from the inside. Boxing, when it came along, was not their idea.
When YouTuber KSI called out the brothers in February 2018 after winning the first influencer boxing match over YouTuber Joe Weller in London, he could not have known the favor he was doing the Pauls. The August event, matching KSI against Logan and Paul against KSI's younger brother, Deji Olatunji, made the siblings the talk of the internet. Logan lost; it didn't matter. Jake won, it did.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the Manchester Arena, an exhausted Olatunji's corner threw in the towel in the fifth round of a six-round bout. "When I won that fight, I jumped upon the ropes in front of [21,000] people who were wanting to see me lose. And I roar like a lion and flex. Like, "Ahhhh." It was one of the best feelings in my life," Paul says. "I was like, 'I proved all of you wrong. Ha Ha. I get the last laugh.'"
Returning to the Team 10 mansion was a devastating comedown. He started to fantasize about smashing his phone against a wall, wordlessly getting into his truck and slipping away to the woods. One morning he woke up alone and hung over in his Calabasas mansion with a shattering feeling of emptiness.
"We were just lost f---ing kids in Los Angeles, just drinking their problems away. And I was just like, "Who are these people around me?" And I feel like I was  years old, moved to Los Angeles and it's almost like I blinked and woke up here."
He didn't want to live this way anymore. In truth, social media pioneer that he is, he says he has never truly loved it. "I started to become famous and see money, and that's what motivated me, '' Paul says. "I didn't wake up every single day with a burning desire to do social media." I'm stunned to hear that a person with 20.4 million YouTube subscribers, 16.9 million Instagram followers, who's generated 70 billion YouTube views, has never had a poster's heart, has never wanted to be there.
His pivot to boxing comes down to being in better shape than Olatunji was that August night. That's the truth of it. It's more accident than he is probably capable of admitting to himself. When you want salvation bad enough, every penny on the street will glow with the aura of providence.
"FOR YOUR JAKE Paul profile, could you just write, "He's scum" 3,000 times?" An email from a former colleague.
"ESPN is really going to give this dude clout?" A text from a family member.
"Come the f--- on. That garbage human deserves NONE OF OUR ATTENTION." A text from a friend.
Everyone who asked what I was working on had this reaction when they heard it was Paul. Any serious consideration of Paul must deal with it -- the idea that Paul is an illegitimate subject, and that to give him any attention is to fall for his gimmick. It's not just that Paul is disliked for potentially being a bad person; it's that his success is considered illegitimate. He's perceived as being famous for being famous, as being a non-boxer making money fighting non-boxers while stealing money from real boxers and having a laugh at the sport.
Paul is merely another media creature, rescued from banality only because he has so deeply internalized the incentives of engagement, of self as billboard. There's nothing alien in his motivations. What sets him apart, rather, is the degree to which he has taken them. Any media person who has ever spent an entire day online reposting and responding to every positive comment they receive knows intimately what neuroses pursue and drive Paul.
On my first day in Miami, I watch Paul record a podcast episode at the South Beach mansion of Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports. When Paul arrives for the interview, he's hunching over his phone in the passenger seat of his white Lincoln SUV while the rest of his entourage disembarks. His bodyguard opens the door and Paul says to his manager, Nakisa Bidarian, without looking up, "posting posting posting."
"What's up?" Bidarian asks, stopping short of the lecture about tardiness he had been warming up while he and I waited for Paul to arrive.
Paul looks up for a second before returning to the phone, alternating between smiling at the screen and a blank, more concentrated look -- mouth slightly open, thumbs working quickly.
"I'm shutting down the internet right now," he says. "I'm getting into beef right now."
He is accusing his erstwhile friend and fellow YouTuber turned boxer, Austin McBroom, of being a serial adulterer.
After the interview, we hear McBroom is outside Portnoy's house waiting for his own podcast appearance. Here now is one of Paul's greatest tricks, the ability to conjure via prestidigitation on his phone, the irreality of the internet into flesh and blood happenings of almost no consequence whatsoever. The two men confront each other outside as security steps between them. I count at least three videographers and several smartphones. No one looks very concerned this will grow violent.
I stand just beyond the group. As the two parties separate and McBroom goes inside for his interview, a line of pink neon script hanging in Portnoy's dining room pops into my head: "It doesn't get any better."
A FEW WEEKS later I arrive in front of Paul's Dorado Beach house just in time to hop into the back of one of two departing golf carts. As we speed toward the fitness center, Jacob Chavez, one of Paul's trainers, gives me a brief history of the resort.
"A Rockefeller built this," he says. "And that woman who flew around the world, she took off from here the last time. What was her name?" He swivels slightly to look over his shoulder at BJ Flores, Paul's head trainer, who cannot hear us over the breeze or the toy rattle of the cart.
"Amelia Earhart?" I say.
"Who lives here?"
"Bunch of tech guys, millionaires ..." I lose his voice for a second as we take a slight downhill bend too hard. I squeeze the seat's guard rail.
"Because of Act 20 and 22 there's like no personal income tax if you live here 183 days a year. And you never really have to leave and go outside it. There's a grocery, movie theater, everything."
We drive past an expensive and dreary waterpark. It's in the high 80s and clear. Across the way, groups of workers clear dead palm fronds from front yards.
"There's the waterpark. If you don't live here, you can't use it."
We pull up to the gym behind Paul's cart, and the eight of us head into the sleek fitness center with vaulted wood beams and floor-to-ceiling glass. Paul wears a gray sleeveless shirt and a backward cap, and begins to warm up on the treadmill. There are a handful of teen and early-20s boys in the gym. A couple of them eye him furtively, a few ignore him histrionically. He puts on a YouTube clip of Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko. I ask what he's looking for.
"I actually fight like Klitschko," he says.
"What do you mean?" I ask.
He stabs his right fist into his left hand with a loud slap. "I use the jab to control distance, I got the brute power in the right hand and I use the check hook." Flores, standing beside the treadmill, nods along to his pupil's appraisal.
His third trainer and occasional sparring partner, J'Leon Love, is a student of the late Emanuel Steward's revered Kronk gym in Detroit. It was from Steward that Klitschko acquired the late style that allowed him to dominate the heavyweight division for a decade.
I watch him shadow box and rehearse his footwork under the exacting eyes of Flores, Chavez and Love, who are always prodding, adding details, harping on his fundamentals. It's obvious within minutes that his fledgling boxing career is no scam. As it was obvious when I watched him at Evander Holyfield's gym in Miami weeks before. Paul and his team spent the morning before I arrived in Dorado Beach studying footage of the previous day's sparring session. If his self-defined style sounds rudimentary, it's consciously so. Someone who picks up boxing in their early 20s is unlikely to develop the intricate technical mastery purists admire. Flores has developed a style in which Paul makes up for his lack of amateur background by perfecting the basics.
Out back, where tennis courts sit against a tropical backdrop as pristine and shimmering as a Thomas Kinkade, Paul and his strength and conditioning coach, Dejuan Butler, who goes by DCut, go through reflex and core-strength work. Paul removes his shirt to reveal cupping circles on his back. DCut stands in front of Paul and drops tennis balls that Paul has to rescue before they hit the ground.
Later, Paul groans as the last abdominal exercises take their toll. DCut yells, "They not working hard as we do and if they are, they not working as smart and if they are, they don't got a team behind them and if they do, they not in Puerto Rico and if they are, they not eliminating distractions! Nobody doing what we do, bro!"
Assuming Paul was moonlighting as an influencer fighter instead of transforming himself into a professional was the mistake his first three opponents made. In the fall of 2019 Paul traveled to Big Bear, California, a two-hour drive from L.A., to train with Hall of Fame boxer "Sugar" Shane Mosley. Two years before, Paul and Mosley had become acquainted because the Hall of Famer's kids were fans of Paul's and dragged their father to the Team 10 house. Paul recognized Mosley and had his security let them inside for a visit, even showing up sometime later to Mosley's daughter's 16th birthday as a favor.
By the time he arrived in Big Bear the idea that he was going to transition to boxing full time was already forming in his mind. He surprised and pleased Mosley with his teachability and effort. Mosley sparred with him and put him in against some pros who he cautioned to harry Paul but not hurt him, trying to preserve his confidence. When Mosley noticed Paul was getting a little too confident, he took him down the road to Abel Sanchez's gym and let a smaller fighter beat him up, bring him back down to earth. Paul got the message and doubled down. They worked through the holidays.
In January, Paul won his first pro fight when he stopped YouTuber AnEsonGib in the first round in Miami. Because the opposition was hapless, no one noticed that Paul was developing basic competency.
Flores, an experienced pro who developed a rapport with Paul at the Big Bear camp when he sparred with him and then took the time to tell Paul how to improve, took over for Mosley after the Gib fight. In February, Paul asked him to move into the Calabasas house and work with him full time. They worked throughout that spring with no next fight scheduled.
At Flores' urging, Paul started to live more and more like a professional. He loved what he was doing, loved waking up every morning with a purpose. He had built a ring at his mansion, shocking friends when he'd emerge from sparring sessions bloodied and smiling. Paul started pruning his gaggle of friends. Alcohol and partying were banned in the house. An 11 p.m. quiet hours was enforced. People like DCut and Ibok Ibok, Paul's Yoga coach and longevity instructor, had joined the entourage.
Paul's focus began to shift away from the churn of online content. "I could see him changing so quickly and it's hard to represent that in your content going out, because people are used to a certain type of content," Ibok says. "There was a level of stress in that gap between who he had to be and who he was becoming. ... He felt like a slave to YouTube. He's created all this success, and everybody's expecting him to keep going. But he's different than Logan. You could see that there was something bothering him."
In May, Flores sat Paul down and told him it was time to go to Las Vegas. Flores' plan was to have Paul spar with professionals for three to four months straight, attempting to accumulate as many as 50 sessions. If Paul was serious, then he had to make up for not having an amateur career.
Paul rented a house outside the city, sparred, trained and watched sparring films all summer. Fighting primarily out of Clarence "Bones" Adams' gym, Paul took on all comers: heavyweights, welterweights, MMA fighters, anyone who would get in the ring. Adams won't reveal any names, honoring the omerta that typically governs sparring, but describes many of Paul's opponents as fighters who "have been on TV."
Surprised at what they encountered in the ring, some of Paul's opponents continued their combativeness outside of it. Adams remembers one super middleweight who was jawing with Paul in between rounds.
"You ain't hit me with nothing clean," Paul shouted after the last round.
"I was taking it easy on you," the other man said.
"No one said take it easy on me."
Adams doesn't remember the next part of the exchange, but he does remember Paul finally shouting, "Listen, son, I made half a million dollars today, what the f---- did you do?" The gym erupted in laughter.
"Sometimes I wish my fighters would want it as much as he does," Adams says. On Paul's off days he would come to the gym and watch sparring. "He's a living-eating-drinking-smoking everything, whatever it is everything boxing."
The Gib scenario replayed itself with Nate Robinson, an opponent with no experience who figured he was fighting Jake Paul, YouTube enfant terrible, not someone who had been fighting pros every week for months and running Red Rock in 90-plus-degree heat screaming, "I, Jake Paul will knock out, defeat and embarrass Nate Robinson."
He annihilated Robinson in less than 90 seconds last November, turning Robinson's prone and rigid body into a meme. It was a crossover moment of sorts, and one that had sharp-eyed observers noticing Paul's development. But five months later, one final opponent, MMA champion Ben Askren, would wager that Paul still wasn't the real thing.
Paul took three weeks off after the Robinson fight, and then put his L.A. house on sale and relocated to Coral Gables, Florida, to leave behind his old reputation, and avoid state income taxes. He replicated the Las Vegas process, sparring talented prospects like Ulysses Diaz and Daniele Scardina, championship-level fighters like Andrew Tabiti, and former lineal light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal.
In April, Askren lasted just under two minutes.
Backstage before the fight, Love and Tyron Woodley, former UFC welterweight champion and longtime friend of Askren, had a tense exchange that was captured on Triller's stream of the fight. After some more back-and-forth on social media after the event, Woodley emerged as the next logical opponent. He will be Paul's first serious test, and the first opponent to take Paul seriously. For the first time, Paul will have to fight without the element of surprise.
ONE NIGHT WE drive to the Casa De La Juventud, a winsomely run-down gym just down the road. The night is windy and damp, rain on the way. Paul is building his own gym nearby, but for now this place is at the heart of his whole project.
The place has a bracing physicality. Outside, the sea wind breaks against the squat walls, while the trees overhead nod obligingly, tires from the car bringing his sparring partners turn slowly on the asphalt; the same sound as unrolling athletic tape for his hands. The gym lights glow sulfur in the threshold, from which petrichor seeps inside, volatiles perking up in response to the wet air, what you never remember insisting on itself again, the fibrous, dense tension of things, you can nearly draw your finger against it -- real life.
No wonder he's given himself over to the sport -- its rituals are a direct repudiation of everything he thinks of already at the age of 24 as his old life. Here he records only for himself, here every action is purposeful, significant, every mistake punished.
An industrial fan in the back doorway growls on, fails to allay the dank heat but instead covers all other sounds in a maternal way -- a mollifying drone sharply repealed when the action starts. Watching Paul spar his diminutive opponents emphasizes a fact he has used to his advantage in his three previous bouts: He has yet to fight anyone his own size. Up close Paul is broad, thick limbed and at around 6 feet, deceptively tall. Flores says he will come down from just over 200 pounds to make the fight's 190-pound catchweight limit against Woodley, who is 5-9 and has fought at the 170-pound welterweight limit in the UFC for years. Flores envisions Paul competing against cruiserweights at the 200-pound limit eventually.
Paul goes six rounds -- it is late in the week and early in camp, so the workload is moderate -- against two different fighters, one an experienced journeyman useful for keeping Paul technically honest and the other young, energetic Anthony Taylor, who will face off against Tommy Fury on Paul's Showtime undercard in Cleveland.
Bidarian reached out to Showtime Sports EVP Stephen Espinoza after Paul vs Askren's reported 1.4 million PPV buys, no matter how disputed, proved that Paul was a lucrative talent. Espinoza and his staff went to work, doing their homework on Paul's history, and Espinoza had several long conversations with him via Zoom. He was impressed with Paul's boxing knowledge, his commitment to training and improvement and his marketing acumen. The obvious thing happened -- money won.
Espinoza is one of the headiest entertainment executives in the world. Seeing the influx of influencer boxing, legacy exhibitions and boxing-MMA crossovers, which he helped pioneer with the towering financial returns of Mayweather vs McGregor, he sees his business as now existing in three genres: "We've got the championship-level fights. We've got ShoBox, the developmental series, and this is sort of a separate element of the business that is obviously still within the same sport but different from what we've been doing. ... I've struggled for a name. I have to be very clear. These are competitive fights. They're not exhibitions. They're not influencer events. These are legitimate competitive sanctioned boxing events where there's going to be a winner or loser. The difference is it's neither fish nor fowl."
Whether Paul's union with Showtime signals the immanent or imminent death of boxing is beyond my ken. I have heard and read boxing declared dead so many times it can come to feel like a zombie sport, sometimes near the pulsing heart of the culture and sometimes enfeebled and at the margins.
I ask Espinoza if the April sexual assault accusation against Paul played a role in his decision. "There certainly were some candid conversations about everything, about things that have been reported and things that haven't," Espinoza says, adding that Paul categorically denied the allegation. "If we were not convinced that Jake was mature enough and committed to being a positive representation of our boxing program, then we wouldn't be in business with him."
On April 9, Paradise accused Paul, in detail, of forced oral sex. A follow-up New York Times story said Paradise told three friends immediately what had happened, and they corroborated her story and that she plans to file charges. Paul insists he has never made any sexual contact with Paradise and further that the screen grabs of text messages between them are fake. I was unable to reach Paradise for further comment for this story. Paul declines to answer whether he will pursue charges of defamation he threatened in his statement denying the accusation.
Panic spread through Paul's camp in the aftermath of the allegations. His parents and manager and lawyer and PR reps called incessantly. Logan pulled him aside and asked him to deny the accusation to his face; so did his business partner Geoff Woo. Sponsors withdrew from the Triller fight. Everyone wanted to handle the response in a different way. Finally, Paul grew so frustrated that he told everyone to back off so he could think. Four days after the video posted, he released a statement he had written himself denying the accusation.
It reads in part: "Sexual assault accusations aren't something that I, or anyone should ever take lightly, but to be crystal clear, this claim made against me is 100% false. ... At the time of her story, I was in a relationship, and as someone who was a momma's boy growing up, I respect women and mothers more than anything. I most certainly have never laid a finger on a girl without their consent."
Whatever happened between Paul and Paradise has left her the object of scorn and abuse from his followers online and left him right where he was before the accusation -- hated and rich and progressing toward his meaningless ambitions.
"As long as they're [the audience] consuming, that's my main goal," Paul says. "The media and the public made me the villain ... after a couple of years, I was like, 'I don't know why I'm fighting this anymore. I'm just going to lean into it.' And I think it was freeing because that's when I stopped being at the mercy of others. ... Because I was like, 'Oh, now, I'm in control. I'm not the media's puppet anymore.' ... I've always said that my favorite role to be in a movie would be the Joker."
"YOU GOTTA LEARN to say Viva Puerto Rico," Flores says to Paul. "The only Spanish Don King ever knew was viva someplace, it worked for years. Yo soy Jake Paul, viva Puerto Rico."
Paul is taking pictures one by one with the roughly 90 kids who are attending the inaugural event of his new charity, Boxing Bullies, held in a San Juan sports facility. In the center of the gym is a boxing ring where young amateurs will fight in exhibition matches as the final part of the event.
One boy says he thought Paul would be taller. Paul laughs and stands on his toes and says, "You should see Woodley though."
He has a natural rapport with teenagers, his original audience. Suddenly the vlog kid shouting soon-to-be-outdated slang into a shaky cam reappears. "Let's get it!" he says. And, "I don't want that smoke." And, "Flex on 'em." And, "I like that fit, bro."
Paul's mother is here, as is a Showtime crew, as is Tydus Talbott and his family. Tydus is known on the internet as Mini Jake Paul. He has 1.3 million followers and he's 7 years old. He first went viral when a video of him snowboarding at 17 months was reposted by Shaun White.
Talbott's father, Travis, invented the Mini Jake character when he recorded a video of his son imitating Paul in various skits. Paul liked the video enough to fly the family out to California, and Tydus has since been featured in Paul's content and attends his fights. The Talbotts have become family friends.
I catch glimpses of Tydus throughout the afternoon. A small drama unfolds in fragments. Travis nudges the boy to go stand at Paul's side and "help Jake." Tydus smiles like a seasoned professional for a fan picture. Paul and Tydus briefly huddle together on folding chairs, Paul leaning down to whisper something to his protégé. Travis nudges Tydus to climb into the ring while Paul leads the children through stretches, lifting his son onto the ring apron like a package. Tydus, anxious and unsure, stands outside the ropes for an unbearable 15 seconds before Paul notices him out of the corner of his eye and beckons him in. The satisfied smile on Travis' face as he picks up his camera, the way it dissolves into blank concentration as he begins to record.
It's true that Paul is here to launder his reputation, to extirpate what Logan calls "the stigma of being a YouTuber" and behave like a normal celebrity. It's also true that the assembled young people have enjoyed themselves and that the president of the Puerto Rican Boxing Federation, Jose Laureano, says Paul has agreed to help sponsor amateur boxing events throughout the island. In as much as Boxing Bullies does anything (there's minimal anti-bullying messaging), that's what it does.
FOR ALL THE talk that boxing has saved his life, Paul and everyone in his circle insist he plans to fight for only about three more years. Paul's content chief, Jon Marianek, and principal videographer, Gustavo Noah, told me they're at work on a documentary meant to capture the five planned years of Paul's boxing career. Even when he's found religion, it comes with a five-year plan.
The only dissenter is Flores, who suspects Paul might become addicted to the routine of boxing, the way it gives you a direction to walk in when you wake in the morning. Perhaps. Paul knew the emptiness once, and one day, when boxing ends, he will wake up in a mansion somewhere and know it again.
The final time we speak, Paul is eager to correct the record about why a loss to Woodley would be damaging. He fears he came off as too materialistic. "It's just much deeper than that, it's missing out on the opportunity I have to change the world with the impact that I could create. ... I can take these superpowers of media attention and all this stuff and give back and do good and change the sport and make an everlasting impact.
"This is like a story. I think that if I go out 10-and-0, become a world champion, and do so much for the sport, I think it's something that will go down as one of the greatest boxing stories ever. And again, that's my goal is to simply make history with everything that I'm doing."
People are always feeding you the cover-up after they've confessed the truth. Buried somewhere in that palaver, Paul thinks, is a desire to serve something besides himself. What am I supposed to take from this, that his fame has some kind of civilizing mission?
Logan tells me that his dream as a teenager was to become an engineer and invent something that would "make meaningful change in the world."
"Ironically," he says, "I just became that product. ... I believe I have inspired a significant amount of people."
Inspired them to do what? I asked.
"Believe in themselves."
Their understanding of fame, of success in the moment they are living through, is the purest I've ever encountered -- their gift to us is themselves. What's shocking is how received it is, how common. The endless self-promotion and vicious careerist streak, the cynical posturing that what redounds to one's personal advantage does anything more than precisely that, the self-medicating delusions, the abuse of words like "story."
I ask Paul, given his contentious relationship with the press, why he agreed to do this story.
"I think it's cool to see how someone interprets my life. So I honestly am genuinely excited to see the article that you write," he says. "And I also think what I'm doing is different, special, sort of a once-in-a-century narrative for this sport specifically. And I think it's cool to maybe get my message out there more."
I ask what his message is. He says he didn't mean "message;" he meant his "story." He tells me Muhammad Ali is actually his biggest inspiration. I bite my tongue.
What he has never considered, what his life has likely taught him is impossible, is that disclosure of any kind can diminish his stardom. He has watched every viral video. Since at least ninth grade he has understood that money's true purpose is to allow the holder to continually perform the victory of having it. He is still struggling to understand what the performance of that victory means. He sees himself as a "simple person." He wants to get his message out. The message is there is no message. He thinks I'm here to help. Maybe he's right.
For if Paul's final talent is transforming attention into money, then writing about him is another way of paying him; then writing about him makes us both media creatures. By which I mean our gimmicks aren't so different -- he wants you to read this. So do I.