Jake Paul to Fight in Mixed Martial Arts in Deal With Professional Fighters League

Jake Paul, the most successful fighter riding a recent influencer-to-professional-boxer trend and one of the most vocal critics of fighter pay in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, will fight in mixed martial arts for a rival promotional company.

Paul recently signed a multiyear contract with the Professional Fighters League to compete in a new division, known as Super Fight, with events on pay-per-view. Paul does not yet have a bout scheduled, but he plans to fight in 2023.

Paul and his business partner, Nakisa Bidarian, are among the founders of the new division and now own an equity share of the P.F.L., although terms of the deal were not disclosed by Paul or the league.

Paul’s official role will be “head of fighter advocacy” — a fancy title that means that Paul will post on social media about the P.F.L. to his millions of followers. Bidarian, who was previously chief financial officer at the U.F.C., will assist with league operations and logistics for the pay-per-view events.

The Super Fight division is meant to attract fighters who can instantly draw paying customers rather than those mainly looking to win a championship at an established weight class.

In the Super Fight division, fighters will earn at least 50 percent of the pay-per-view revenue, with bouts distributed by ESPN and the streaming service DAZN. The revenue share is significantly higher than what fighters earn in the U.F.C., the world’s most popular M.M.A. organization, where fighters earn less than 20 percent of total revenue, which includes other sources of revenue like ticket sales and sponsorships.

“This is about changing M.M.A., disrupting, innovating, and creating the next big league,” Paul said in an interview.

In the N.F.L., where athletes unionized, for example, athletes receive roughly 50 percent of league revenue. Athletes are not unionized in combat sports, including M.M.A. and boxing.

The revenue split in the U.F.C. has been a contentious point for fighters, and some have spoken out about their frustrations. Jorge Masvidal and Jon Jones, two of the sport’s most popular fighters, threatened retirement from the U.F.C. in 2020 in search of increased pay. And Henry Cejudo, who held belts in both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, retired in May 2020 but left the door open to a return if he were paid more.

“If I’m bringing in XYZ dollars, giving me 18 percent of those dollars that I bring in, it’s not fair, man,” Masvidal said on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in June 2020.

A lawsuit was filed against the U.F.C.’s parent company in 2014 that accuses the company of having both an illegal monopoly and monopsony power, which is when a buyer of services faces little competition. That litigation is still ongoing.

Paul has been the most successful fighter to come through the influencer-to-boxer pipeline.Credit…Jason Miller/Getty Images

The P.F.L., which had its debut season in 2018, doesn’t rival the U.F.C. in popularity but has gained a fan base partly because of a television contract with ESPN and because of a format, with a regular season and playoffs, that is different from the U.F.C. and other combat sports leagues. There are six divisions (one women’s lightweight), and fighters compete in two bouts in the regular season, accruing points for wins and finishes by knockout or submission. The four fighters with the most points in each weight class advance to the playoffs. The winners of the single-elimination playoffs are declared the champion and earn $1 million.

The P.F.L. season will still operate as usual, with the Super Fight division featuring two fight cards in 2023. Paul and Kayla Harrison, a two-time P.F.L. champion and Olympic gold medalist in judo who is the league’s most popular fighter, are currently signed to the Super Fight division.

“You’re not a prisoner anymore to U.F.C.,” said Donn Davis, the P.F.L.’s co-founder and chairman. “You can now choose U.F.C. or P.F.L., but what makes P.F.L. different is we’re coming out with a true economic partnership for fighters.”

The turn to M.M.A. for Paul is somewhat surprising given his unusual path in boxing. Paul, 25, who is 6-0 as a professional boxer and striving for legitimacy in the sport, outboxed the former U.F.C. champion Anderson Silva, who was 47 years old during the October fight, for his most impressive boxing victory. The win showed Paul’s evolution as a boxer, and in a news conference afterward, Paul lobbied to box next against Nate Diaz, a popular U.F.C. fighter who is now a free agent.

Paul still wants to fight Diaz in 2023, he said, but in a two-fight deal where they would fight in a boxing match first and then compete in the Super Fight division in M.M.A. about four to six months later. If the two-fight deal happens it is unclear where the boxing match would be distributed. Paul’s previous professional boxing bouts have been on Showtime and Triller, but he is not currently under contract with either.

“He’s got a growing boxing career, but it doesn’t prevent him from entering into the sport of M.M.A., and we’re excited about that,” said Peter Murray, the P.F.L.’s chief executive.

Paul’s pushing for a boxing match with Diaz follows his typical script of fighting popular figures with little or no professional boxing experience. However, fighting Diaz in M.M.A. would be unlike anything Paul has done in his fighting career, and seems far-fetched.

“I would beat Nate Diaz up in a M.M.A. fight,” Paul said, adding an expletive. “There’s nothing he could do. To me, I’ve always felt like I’ve jumped in the deep end, even in boxing, maybe besides, like, Ben Askren.” (Paul knocked out Askren, a former mixed martial artist with a wrestling background, in the first round of a boxing fight in April 2021.)

Paul pointed to his high school experience as a wrestler and two years of jujitsu training in his childhood as evidence of why he could compete in M.M.A. Yet, he said that he had been training for “like 15 minutes.”

“The biggest thing for me would be getting the kicks down,” Paul said. “But I’m going to start now, moving forward with some extra time I have within this camp. I’m going to put in some extra time, rolling around doing some jujitsu and learning some kicks.”

The new division is expected to blend fights with influencers and celebrities who show some “level of fighting proficiency” with bouts between established professional fighters, similar to the circus that has become routine with a Jake Paul boxing event.

Some fighters from the P.F.L.’s roster may crossover to the Super Fight division, but Murray said the league was more focused on signing new fighters who can be pay-per-view draws.

“And giving top fighters in the world an opportunity to compete on a global stage against the best talent in the world and an opportunity on a guaranteed basis to earn more money to fight,” he said.

Kevin Draper contributed reporting.

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