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For Nate Diaz’s Boxing Adventure, Everything Was Jake

Diaz-Paul had a little bit of everything: Robots, tanks, celebrities, imagination, family feuds, regrets, and … oh no, rematches?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Jake Paul arrived at the American Airlines Center by tank for his boxing match with Nate Diaz. His brother, Logan, who began the night in Detroit competing at WWE’s SummerSlam event, got there by private jet and a determined police escort, still wearing his wrestling gear and a fresh shiner from his match with Ricochet.

It’s not that the pageantry for Diaz-Paul was as big as Texas on Saturday night; it’s that the Paul brothers are the pageantry. Even with a chorus of boos during his walkout, Jake blew kisses into the hostile sea of faces like the most grateful supervillain ever invented, still sporting that smile that pisses so many people off.

Diaz’s job was to knock it off his face. For 10 rounds, he gave it the old college try. But by the end of the night, that smile was wider than ever.

Jake Paul took out yet another MMA icon in the boxing ring via unanimous decision, adding Diaz’s name alongside Anderson Silva, Tyron Woodley, and Ben Askren. This time, he set a tone in a furious first round in which he punished Diaz with heavy shots. In the fifth round, Paul landed a hook above the temple, sending Diaz down to the canvas and nearly through the ropes. In the 10th, with Diaz still walking defiantly into the line of fire, Paul continued to deal punches with impressive reserves, even as Stockton’s finest momentarily put him in a standing guillotine choke in homage to his MMA roots.

What to make of Diaz’s first boxing match, which looked like it was going off the rails early yet ended up being a quintessential Diaz-esque Nate Diaz fight in which #DiazNeverDie? It could have gone a lot worse. Had Diaz fallen in the first round—and for a moment, that looked like a real possibility—it would have been a disaster, at least for a Diaz Army that subsists on absolute faith. Nate had only been stopped twice by strikes in 34 professional MMA fights, and to go out like that after all the hoopla might’ve ended his Real Fight Inc. promotional arm before it got started.

Yet Diaz, who came in as a 3-to-1 underdog, did what he always does. He hung around. He threw wispy punches in bunches, peppering blows that added up like bug bites. There were moments, like in the fourth round, when it seemed as though Diaz was beginning to overwhelm Paul with straight gangster determination. When he got dropped in the fifth, most of the romanticism of the fight fled Dallas. Diaz’s outlook was bleak because there wasn’t any evidence that he could knock Paul out. But the spin was already in, especially as Diaz seemingly won the eighth and ninth rounds and played around in the 10th.

If this were a fight to the death, Diaz would undoubtedly prevail. It’s the regulatory restraints that hinder him. If they fought in the street, different story. If it were 20 rounds instead of 10, watch out. And if they fought in an MMA fight, where Diaz’s native instincts are still very much in tune … well, here’s the thing about that.

After the fight, Jake said he would welcome a rematch against Diaz, this time in the MMA cage. He wants to do it in the PFL, where he works as an influencer and the head of fighter advocacy, with a $10 million purse. Diaz didn’t seem against the idea, though he did say he wanted his Real Fight Inc. involved. There’s nothing really to hinder this from happening, so long as there’s a public for it. If people are willing to suspend the belief that Paul has a chance in the cage, especially in this “Why not?” year of 2023’s crossover fights, what’s to stop it? Diaz didn’t knock the smile off Paul’s face yet, but now we’re stacking the advantages the other way. Nate’s big brother, Nick, was also chatting up a fight with Jake’s brother, Logan, as all four sized each other up in the ring afterward.

Potential fights are coming together on the fly, which is how the Paul brothers prefer to do business. Just let shit unfold, and hire a tank and a private plane when that shit gets made.

Whatever happens, this one thing is certain: The Pauls have altered the fighting landscape. It’s fair to say Diaz made more money in his boxing debut than in any of his UFC fights, including the record-breaking PPV he had in his second fight with Conor McGregor. Something is compelling about the idea that Paul has not only manifested a boxing career out of an urge in just three years but is also defiantly succeeding. Not just in victories, but in compelling attention. In revitalizing MMA’s past prime names and giving them paydays. In generating talk. In showing what’s possible.

And in not embarrassing the sport he is allegedly trying to save.

Not that the fight was spectacular. It wasn’t a great fight, even by a content creator’s broad standards. Between Diaz-Paul and the UFC Fight Night main event between Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font, the only viral fight footage on social media Saturday night was José Ramírez’s looping right hand, which dropped Tim Anderson in a baseball game between the Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox. Though Paul looked vastly improved from his bout with Tommy Fury back in February, this was still boxing karaoke next to what Naoya Inoue and Terence Crawford each did last weekend.

But for as long as Paul can keep it going, he will. And if Diaz is his ultimate foil in the end, turning what started as another lucrative lark into a miniseries on the fight game margin, so be it. Diaz wanted liberation from the UFC; this is what that looks like. He lost another fight, but—as is always the case with Nate—he lost very little. The Cult of Nate Diaz lives on. The trilogy fight with McGregor is still alive and well for him down the road, and he knows it.

For now, the man people love to hate, Jake Paul, has become a pretty good business ally. The influencer has gotten into his head.

Chuck Mindenhall writes about combat sports without bias, and sometimes about his Denver teams with extreme bias. He cohosts The Ringer MMA Show on Spotify.