The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jake Paul signs multi-fight deal with PFL in a move to MMA

Jake Paul and the Professional Fighters League announced a partnership on Thursday. (Ashley Landis/Associated Press File)
4 min

Jake Paul, who has parlayed his success as an entertainer, YouTube star and social media influencer into a boxing career, has signed a mixed-martial arts contract with the Professional Fighters League, he announced Thursday.

“I’ve already disrupted boxing and now it’s time to disrupt in MMA,” he said on YouTube. “I know this is such a tough sport and it’s not going to be easy, but if I did it in boxing I can do it in MMA.”

Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, Donn Davis, chairman and co-founder of the D.C.-based PFL, told ESPN it is a multiyear, multi-fight deal in the five-year-old league that is a rival to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which Paul and others have criticized for its fighter pay. He will compete in a new PFL division called Super Fight, with events on pay-per-view. He plans to fight this year and, although a bout has yet to be scheduled, he challenged Nate Diaz, a former UFC fighter who is now a free agent.

“I’m so dedicated that I’ve offered Nate Diaz a two-fight deal — first we box then six months later we fight in the PFL SmartCage. … Nate Diaz, I’m down to fight you in your own damn sport.”

Paul, who has 21.5 million Instagram followers and 4.5 million on Twitter, is eyeing the 37-year-old Diaz, who has won 22 of his 35 MMA bouts. Paul, 25, was greeted skeptically when he started out in combat sports in 2020, but he has a 6-0 boxing record with four knockouts. His biggest fights have been in the MMA octagon against, among others, former UFC champions Tyron Woodley and Anderson Silva. Paul most recently defeated Silva by unanimous decision in the eighth round in October.

“Today is a massive day for pay-per-view fighters because you have another massive league that is ready to do big business. I’m taking this seriously, I still want to become a world champion in boxing, but as you guys know I was a wrestler first. When all of these influencers started boxing and calling people out, I said I wanted to do MMA,” Paul said.

The UFC is synonymous with mixed martial arts. Has a new challenger emerged?

He and Nakisa Bidarian, his business partner and the UFC’s former chief financial officer, own an equity share in the PFL and are among the founders of the new division in which fighters will earn at least 50 percent of the pay-per-view revenue, with bouts distributed by ESPN and the streaming service DAZN.

PFL fighters compete across six divisions in a regular season schedule that runs from April through November, with winners advancing to a win-or-go-home playoff tournament that concludes Friday. Each tournament winner is crowned PFL champion for that weight class and earns $1 million. Gone is the arbitrary scheduling of fight cards and title matches, with athletes getting a more predictable schedule, albeit it at the expense of shorter rest periods between fights and greater risk for injuries with a relatively tight schedule.

The Super Fight division, which is separate from the PFL’s usual rosters, will feature two fight cards this year. Kayla Harrison, a two-time PFL champion and Olympic gold medalist in judo who is the league’s most popular fighter, and Paul are the only Super Fight athletes signed so far. Donn Davis, PFL co-founder and chairman, said it could take a year for Paul to make his debut.

“I think what’s made Jake interesting to fans is that he works hard and he doesn’t underestimate what it takes,” Davis told ESPN. “He knows he’s not ready [for his MMA debut] right now, but he’s starting to train. I think it’s going to be about one year from now, so early 2024, where you’ll see him take on his first opponent. But the kind of opponents he is thinking of will shock the world in terms of their status and name brand.”