The recent Twitter feud between Jake Paul and Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), highlights a unique use of social media to influence combat sports. After White refused to sanction fights between UFC fighters and the YouTube star, Paul used social media to exacerbate tensions between UFC fighters and their employer over issues of low pay and medical wellbeing.
Paul has been described as an influencer for years. However, his recent savvy use of social media has arguably made him influential in a new sense. He has publicly aired the dirty laundry of a company worth billions of dollars with total impunity.
What’s social media got to do with Jake Paul?
Social media is the foundation of Jake Paul’s influence. Firstly, it is the single source of Paul’s considerable bankability as a fighter. In contrast, a UFC fighter’s bankability comes in part from their appeal with audiences, but also from the UFC giving their fights the go-ahead, which is why Paul is the first fighter to really challenge the UFC in this way. Secondly, Paul’s online reach as an influencer enables him to direct a lot of attention towards whatever he chooses; in this case towards corporate greed.
Social media and bankability
Paul’s entire boxing career is built on his bankability. Paul has fought in five fights over the last two years, and at least two of them generated one million pay-per-view (PPV) purchases each. As a point of reference, last year’s heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder generated roughly 600,000 PPV purchases, so Paul is attracting huge interest. Since fight contracts usually stipulate that each fighter will receive a cut of the PPV profits, Paul will not be short on opponents (and, therefore, a boxing career) any time soon.
Paul’s bankability is also built on his enormous social media presence. Over his career, Paul has amassed 20 million YouTube subscribers, 18.5 million Instagram followers, and 4.2 million Twitter followers. Controversial fighters like Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor have shown that obnoxious behavior on social media makes for bankable fighters—both participated in the four highest-grossing fights of their respective sports—and a glance at Jake Paul’s PPV numbers and Twitter page shows that he has very much followed in their footsteps.
In short, Paul’s social media presence and the bankability that comes with it have created a demand for his fights among both audiences and rival fighters. The UFC certainly has no contractual control over Paul like it does UFC fighters, and it cannot seriously damage the social media following that underpins his bankability either. So, Paul is financially free to say whatever he likes about companies such as the UFC, if and when he chooses to pick a fight with them.
Social media as a weapon
Just as Paul’s social media presence acts as his financial insulation from companies like the UFC, it can also be weaponized against them. One of the most recent developments in Paul’s Twitter feud with Dana White came on January 1, 2022. Jake Paul tweeted that he would immediately retire from boxing and agree to a one-fight deal in the UFC if White agreed to increase minimum fighter pay from $12,000 to $50,000, to guarantee that fighters would receive 50% of the company’s annual revenues, and to offer all fighters long-term healthcare plans. In other words, Paul directed his 4.2 million Twitter followers’ attention towards the UFC’s financial and medical neglect of their fighters.
In summary, Paul’s enormous social media presence has enabled him to put a multi-billion-dollar company on the naughty step and to do so with total impunity. An influencer has arguably never been so influential.