The Great Divide is a recurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which two of our staff debate a topic in the world of MMA — breaking news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and we try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments below.
This week, we brought out the big team to unpack the escalating feud between Jake Paul and Dana White. The UFC president and YouTube star turned boxer have said a lot, trading insults and challenges after Paul’s callouts of Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz in the wake of his highlight-reel knockout of ex-UFC champ Tyron Woodley. But what, if anything, is going to come of it all? Will any of Paul’s demands be met? Will White eventually give Paul a shot in the octagon? Will Masvidal and Diaz get a chance to face Paul in the ring?
MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti, Alexander K. Lee, Damon Martin, Steven Marrocco, and Jed Meshew debate the fallout of the feud in this edition of The Great Divide.
What’s the endgame? Attention. Simple and plain. That and a chance to troll the other side.
In other words, there is no endgame.
Jake Paul isn’t going to fight in the UFC, let’s get that out of the way upfront. He’s doing just fine on his own and there’s no reason for him to do the UFC that kind of favor. Also, this feels important to mention: He’s not an MMA fighter. Crazy, I know, but it’s true.
That being said, it’s impossible to deny how savvy this entire gimmick has become. The Jake Paul vs. MMA narrative essentially printed money in 2021, and Paul knows White is both too proud and too stubborn to not continually take the bait. Every time Paul can coerce White into defending the one topic the UFC boss hates thorough dissection of most, it’s another round of “fighter pay” headlines splashed across the internet and another chance for Paul to convert any lingering holdouts in the MMA fandom who’ve thus far avoided paying attention to his antics.
It’s funny. In case you haven’t noticed, the sport of boxing really doesn’t pay Paul much mind. Aside from his usual demographic, the MMA audience is really Paul’s target audience. He knows what MMA fans want to see, and hyper-stylized videos of him dunking on the president of the UFC are going to hit every time. The better question is, why on earth does White keep engaging? He may be a grizzled veteran of internet beefs, but his familiar tactics of deflection and name-calling aren’t equipped to handle an adversary like this. Whether you like Paul or not, this is his world, and we saw over the weekend just how silly it is for a 52-year-old to wage a social media war with the TikTok generation. Every time it happens, one doesn’t have to look far to see more and more professional MMA fighters warming up to the YouTuber’s side.
Ultimately the only real result from these shenanigans will be more MMA eyes on Paul’s next fight. But hey, if it gets the people talking, I suppose that’s endgame enough.
Alexander K. Lee
I’m on record having predicted this and I’m not backing down: A Paul brother is going to fight in the UFC. And it looks like it could be Jake.
This may seem like a terrible idea for the former Bizaardvark star, but it sounds like there are times when Paul has one foot out the door despite previous proclamations that he’s all-in on becoming a legitimate contender in boxing. As genuine as Paul seems to be about fighting, he has the luxury of stepping away from this unforgiving path at any time and he’s mentioned that he’s well aware of the deleterious effect that concussions are having and will have on him in the future. So if he’s at all curious about what it’s like to be a cagefighter, he’s going to make the jump sooner rather than later.
To me, that is one of the main motivating factors behind Paul’s recent meeting of the minds with White. Yes, I do believe he and manager Nakisa Bidarian are actually interested in seeing fighter pay go up (if only because it would be a major public victory over White and the UFC should that happen); just as importantly, I think Paul’s team sees this as the best way to drum up interest in a one-off UFC appearance. A fight with Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, or (gulp) Conor McGregor is going to do boffo box-office no matter what, but add in the narrative that they’re fighting for the heart and soul of combat sports? Bye-bye old pay-per-view records.
It might not be in 2022 or even 2023, but the challenge has been laid down and it’s sitting on a pile of cash that both Paul and White will eventually find too irresistible to ignore.
I would call this an engagement play. Dana White vs. Jake Paul on selfie video gets everybody commenting and the feud generates secondary coverage that benefits both parties’ brands (and of course us here in the media). I am surprised slightly that Dana chose to respond directly to Paul using his personal platform. For a guy who loves to look down his nose at the YouTuber’s business, going head-to-head with him can be seen as a tacit admission that it’s a smart decision to engage in a war of words. It could also be Dana’s way of starting a conversation that could lead to some kind of deal.
But at the end of the day, probably not. Unless compelled by the government and/or litigation, the UFC will continue to do business the way it’s done, which immediately puts it at odds with Team Paul and his boxing model. So as compelling as all this stuff is to watch for the MMA faithful – and there’s something particularly charming about an old, rich white guy getting dunked on by his younger social media superior for all the lousy stuff he does – this stuff is really low-investment content that produces a big return for the individuals. Like the most successful content on social, it’s first and foremost designed to keep your attention – it’s not designed to actually change anything. Paul gets a big pop playing the court jester and justice warrior, and White the ur-bro slaps down the big fake. It’s a chuckle that keeps both relevant and promotes the businesses.
If it leads to Jake Paul fighting in the octagon, it will be a deal that mostly benefits the UFC. If not, it keeps everyone talking.
The reality is the feud between Dana White and Jake Paul will continue to blow up on social media. There will be plenty of articles written about it, but it’s not likely anything substantive will ever come of this rivalry. Now, to be clear, Paul is winning the war of words. As a social influencer, this is what he’s been doing for a living since he was old enough to hold a camera in front of his face. Paul is also winning in terms of ideas. He’s actually putting it on White to either refuse to address – or essentially laugh off real problems that exist at an institutional level within the UFC. There will surely be a few people to come to White’s defense, but the topics that Paul has highlighted — fighter pay, revenue percentages being paid back to the athletes, healthcare, etc. — are serious issues that have been festering in the UFC for well over a decade. The problem is no matter how much Paul bangs the drum — even with his immense audience — White and the UFC aren’t going to listen.
For all the back and forth, Paul and White are never going to actually concede to any of these so-called demands or agreements for drug testing, or whatever else has been thrown out there. The UFC most certainly isn’t going to start paying out 50 percent of the company’s revenue to the fighters because Paul called them out on it. Chances are the end game for this rivalry will be another UFC fighter eventually exiting the promotion and cashing in with a boxing match against Paul that both sides can promote. Of course, White will also seize on Paul losing a boxing match, no matter the opponent, because that’s just how things go. Otherwise, expect more interviews where Paul and White take shots at each other and plenty more social media posts. But don’t expect much else to come out of this rivalry, especially when it comes to either one of them actually striking a deal with the other.
Remember that scene in The Dark Knight when The Joker is talking to a freshly two-faced Harvey Dent in the hospital and he explains that he doesn’t have a “plan,” he’s just a dog chasing cars? “I just do things,” Joker says. Well, that is exactly what’s going on here. There’s no endgame because endgame implies a plan and there is no plan here. Jake Paul is just doing things, and getting a bunch of cheap love as a result.
Whatever you think of Jake Paul, the man is not an idiot when it comes to generating interest - literally his entire life has been the pursuit of that - and he’s certainly not an idiot about the fight game. Paul knows that there is literally a 0 percent chance that Dana White would acquiesce to even one of his demands, much less all of them, so Paul gets to take continuous free shots at Dana White for as long as he wants, boosting his profile and reminding the biggest stars in MMA that there is another option for them that pays more than pennies on the dollar.
For White, I have no idea what he’s doing. I’m not entirely willing to discount the notion that he’s egging this along for his own ends but I struggle to see where he benefits from the broader media being repeatedly reminded that he’s a miserly kleptocrat on the level of Ebenezer Scrooge, that pays fighters a pittance of what they generate despite them literally risking life and limb every time out. My gut tells me this is yet another instance of White letting his ego drive the ship despite the fact that he has more than enough money to not give two tugs of a dead dog’s tail about what anyone thinks. In the end, it won’t matter really. Nothing will change and the fighters will continue to get shafted in the pay and healthcare department but in the meantime Jake Paul will get to keep scoring free points and we will all get the generous content benefits that come with it.