CLEVELAND, Ohio -- For a sport so structurally divided, where a YouTube star like Jake Paul could transition into being a legitimate pay-per-view brand in record time without an excessive amount of barriers for intrusion, boxing remains as unwelcoming to outsiders as any across all sports.
Paul (3-0, 3 KOs), the 24-year-old influencer, actor and entrepreneur, has pulled no punches regarding his want for acceptance among boxing traditionalists entering his toughest test to date as a bonafide boxing brand when he faces former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley (Showtime PPV, 8 p.m. ET) on Sunday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Born in Cleveland and raised in the nearby suburb of Westlake with his older brother of two years, Logan, who made his own Showtime PPV debut in June by boxing Floyd Mayweather, Jake Paul enters a homecoming of sorts as the local boy who made good in his blue-collar city. Yet it's the dues he feels he has already paid in terms of making sure his meteoric transition into boxing was done the right way that still has him fighting for respect among the hard-core gatekeepers of the sweet science.
"I would love the boxing community to fully embrace me," Paul told "Morning Kombat" after Wednesday's media workout. "I think a lot of people have already but now it's basically the boxing purists who really don't understand exactly what I'm doing. I would love that respect."
From Paul's perspective, he has not only shown the proper respect for the sport by going all-in on accepting the spartan lifestyle of the full-life immersion that the training at this level demands, but he has also surrounded himself with legitimate boxing minds during training camp in Puerto Rico run by former world title contenders B.J. Flores and J'Leon Love.
Paul, who was wearing a self-referential custom hat inscribed with "Just a Disney kid" on the front, can certainly understand why those in power would be initially slow to accept his "Problem Child" persona as a master troll with a backlog of online ridiculousness on his resume. He's hoping, though, that once they take a hard enough look at him amid his newfound craft, that a different opinion might emerge.
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"I love boxing, I fell in love with it," Paul said. "There is something about knocking someone out or cracking someone in the face. My whole life has been a fight. I've never had anything handed to me so I feel like I'm at home. I feel like I was put on this earth to fight and I like challenges. I'm driven by challenges.
"Boxing is a 24/7 job -- it's training, sleep, eat, recovery, no partying, no distractions, no girls. All of it makes it the hardest job. The background that I have is trolling, is the internet, is marketing and twisting things and using that to troll people. At first I do seem arrogant, loud and obnoxious but there is a deeper thing to everything."
Fresh off of shadowboxing inside the ring to the cheers of his hometown fans in downtown Cleveland's Public Square, Paul couldn't help but take a moment of reflection to let it all sink in.
In the first fight of his exclusive Showtime PPV deal that also grants him 50% of control over the broadcast and promotion of the fight, Paul has worn many hats heading into the toughest test of his young boxing career. No fighter in the sport's history has drawn this much commercial attention to what is just his fourth professional fight.
"I couldn't have dreamt this, that's why I was just looking around. How am I here?" Paul said. "This is the city that made me and it's the perfect crescendo to my boxing career that is just starting out. Looking around, seeing friends and family and seeing this beautiful city, I'm having fun and trying to soak it all in because you don't get moments like this twice in life."
"This is about more than fighting. This is about my team, my friends, my family -- I have the opportunity to make history and do something that very few humans, once a century in this sport, get to do. I'm not going to live that down and I'm not going to mess up and slip up."
Paul, of course, does realize a major part of boxing's reluctance to accept him has been the strength of his matchmaking following a trio of early knockouts over boxers who could barely be confused as anything resembling professional ones -- YouTuber AnEson Gibb, former NBA guard Nate Robinson and retired MMA fighter Ben Askren.
Although Woodley is a step in the right direction towards Paul taking on the kind of challenges that will force him to show just how real his fighting ambitions truly are, Paul has continued to receive criticism for largely targeting decidedly older and smaller opponents, most of which come from MMA and not boxing.
The not-so coincidental placement of untested light heavyweight Tommy Fury (6-0, 4 KOs), a reality TV star and half-brother of WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, on Sunday's undercard serves as a potential future opponent that could certainly help those matters.
Yet Paul's earlier quote of "there is a deeper thing to everything" is an interesting transition back to the boxing purists who consistently yawn at the site of Paul taking the spotlight within the sport away from those more deserving. In an ironic twist, Paul has sort of taken on the persona of a modern day Robin Hood intent on making things better for the same people who are slow to accepting him as one of their own.
The first stumbling block Paul is hoping to use his platform to change is the topic of fighter pay, a hot one right now in MMA circles, particularly to UFC fighters who feel they are badly underpaid. But Paul believes his voice -- and more importantly, his actions -- can help make change on the boxing side, as well.
"I did not plan but apparently I'm the advocate for that now," Paul said. "[UFC] fighters can't use their voice. If the UFC fighters talk about how they are not getting paid, they are going to get shilled and put to the side. Dana White is not going to put them in fights so I'm really the only person who has a platform that is speaking up about it. And when I did, everyone agreed with me so I said that I am going to run with this more because it is something that I do believe in.
"I do think it's something that needs change, even for boxers. I made a point on this card to take less money to make sure that the people on the card are getting the biggest paydays of their career. So I'm not just saying it out loud, I'm actually taking the actions because this is the hardest thing I have ever done. I think people deserve to get paid."
Whether or not Paul defeats Woodley this weekend, he knows it will still be an uphill climb to turn the hearts of everyone associated with the sport. But what he's hoping his commercial success can do is serve as a rising tide for the deserving world champions around him who don't get the crossover or mainstream attention they deserve.
"All I'm trying to do is having boxing take over as one of the top two sports," Paul said. "I want [boxing] to take over the NBA, take over the NFL and I want to take over MMA, which I believe took over past boxing for a long period of time.
"I believe with the lightweight division -- with [Ryan] Garcia, [Devin] Haney, Gervonta [Davis] -- the heavyweight division and all the fights that are about to happen, and you add in me and my brother, and all the other YouTube creators that are boxing, we can make this sport go No. 1. That's all I am here to do."
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