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Sadness in a boxing ring

Self-respect is elusive for a master marketer like Jake Paul

Jake Paul speaks during a news conference on Sept. 12, 2022, in Los Angeles. Associated Press/Photo by Ashley Landis

Sadness in a boxing ring
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I watched the Jake Paul vs. Nate Diaz fight—originally on the sports streaming channel DAZN—several weeks after it happened. I knew it would be terrible, but I watched anyway. Jake Paul, for the uninitiated, was an early-gen YouTube sensation and is now a boxer. I don’t care about YouTube sensations, but I do care about boxing. That’s why I watched the fight.

To this point, Jake Paul’s boxing matches have been against other YouTubers/social media influencers (who cares), a former NBA player (Nate Robinson), an MMA guy who looked like he’d just gotten off the couch (Ben Askren), and now a different MMA guy who is old (Diaz). Paul has partnered with a former MMA marketing genius, and was the subject of a recent sad documentary on Netflix, as part of the “Untold” sports series (is any part of his life actually “Untold”?), which wasn’t intended to be sad but was anyway.

Paul is sort of our first data point in a generation that has lived most of its life on the internet. He rose to fame (I know this only because of the documentary) by making dumb videos, controversial videos, practical joke videos, and videos where he was beefing with someone else via video. He was otherwise an unremarkable kid from Ohio with a brother who was doing similar inane things on the internet. These inane things were apparently very compelling to a large subset of people—which subset doesn’t include me or anybody I know.

I don’t consider myself a “highbrow” person at all, but from where I sat (as a dad, and a believer) Paul’s life seemed kind of stupid and meaningless and it made me sad. It has, though, made him an obscene amount of money (more than I’ll ever see) and there’s the aforementioned subset of people (many of whom go to high school with my son) who admire Jake Paul or think he’s cool. Appearance-wise, he looks like someone who is “going” as a rapper for Halloween, in that his entire body and some of his head is covered in tattoos, and he kind of looks faux-tough. There is jewelry involved at almost every level. Otherwise just picture a derpy 25-year-old white guy you might see in any shopping mall, anywhere in America.

When picturing his opponent, Nate Diaz, picture a bald 38-year-old guy who looks like he’s 58, and sleepy.

This—making money by just being a person—is now the most aspirational thing to be for parts of two generations.

Right before the fight an advertisement disguised as a mini-documentary indicates that “The Problem Child” Jake Paul is in fact a Celsius Brand Partner. Cut to shots of him swilling from a can of Celsius (an energy drink) intercut with shots of him hitting heavy bags and stuff. Say what you want about Jake Paul, but he knows how to make money by being Jake Paul. This—making money by just being a person—is now the most aspirational thing to be for parts of two generations (Gen Z and millennial). This is probably a problem.

About boxing: Boxing is, from a human/worldly standpoint, probably the most true and honest thing a person can do. You step into the ring, alone, with someone who is trying to hurt you. There is nowhere to hide. If you fail, you fail alone, in front of everyone else is in the arena/gym/club. It’s a scary business.

That said, it seems like a rather large step toward self-respect for young Paul, save for the fact that he keeps doing it disrespectfully (to himself and others) by creating fake beefs to sell fake fights to cynical audiences. The result is always inauthentic and uninspiring, and has the unintended consequence of making self-respect the elusive white whale for Jake Paul, despite the fact that it is raining a literal torrent of money down on his touseled, bottle-blond, weirdly tattooed head. It’s a strange world we live in.

A sentence on Jake Paul as a boxer: He’s training with real people in real ways and is getting better.

In the economy of boxing, what Jake Paul most needs, for self-respect, is to fight a real cruiserweight, on a non-PPV card (perhaps on ESPN) and lose by knockout in a fight that is a war. Meaning, he needs to get into a real knock-down drag-out with a real fighter, and go out on his shield. This would garner him real respect from the boxing community, and perhaps, get him closer to self-respect.

Of course, what he really needs is the love of the Father. A love that is unconditional and not tied to clicks, “likes” (what a deeply ironic term), or the amount of money he can generate for someone. And interestingly, for the Christian, “self-respect” is tied very closely to remembering who we are (sinful, broken, totally depraved apart from Christ and unworthy of praise) in light of who Christ is (sinless, perfect, holy, worthy of praise). This seems like increasing “foolishness to the world” in a culture that encourages people to scream PRAISE ME at all times.

It is only in Christ that any of us find self-respect, ironically, in self-forgetfulness.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the award-winning internationally published author of 30 books, and his journalism has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, and many other outlets. He is screenwriter and co-producer on the upcoming feature film Silverdome and co-hosts The Happy Rant Podcast and The Kluck Podcast.  Ted won back-to-back Christianity Today Book of the Year Awards in 2007 and 2008 and was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book Award winner for his football memoir, Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football.  He currently serves as an associate professor of journalism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and coaches long snappers at Lane College. He and his wife Kristin have two children.

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