I had never heard the name Nate Diaz before (apparently he was the first MMA fighter to defeat Conor McGregor in UFC), and all I really knew about Jake Paul was that he wasn’t the YouTuber who had to apologize for showing a dead body in one of his vlogs (that was his older brother, Logan). I couldn’t tell you why they were fighting, what weight class they were in, or even really what a weight class was, and when I accepted the assignment, I asked my editor if I would have to hear the punches. He reminded me that no, I wouldn’t, because boxers famously wear gloves. 

Knowing next to nothing about a sport has never stopped me from covering it before, so I happily walked into the American Airlines Center on Saturday, smartphone in hand and ready to Google at a moment’s notice. I had already learned a lot. Jake Paul, whose online nickname is “the Problem Child,” had been moonlighting as a professional boxer for several years. This “highly anticipated” match would be his eighth. Only once had he lost, because only once had he fought an actual professional boxer. The Diaz face-off was more in line with Paul’s usual modus operandi: challenge a respected mixed martial arts fighter, hopefully one who is retired. Guarantee them a career-high purse—or something close to it—win or lose. Book an arena, ink the pay-per-view deal, get UFC fans riled up, dangle the possibility that they’ll get to see you get your ass kicked, and walk away a couple million dollars richer, no matter the outcome. 

Though I arrived at the AAC knowing little, one thing was immediately clear. Of the 20,000 or so people in attendance, roughly two-thirds of them wanted Paul to lose. Doors had opened at 4 p.m., and merch tables were sold out of “Team Diaz” shirts by 5:45. At 7:15 a random guy on the upper concourse of the arena asked me, “Nate Diaz, right?,” and when I replied “Neither!,” he gave me a fist bump because at least I hadn’t said “Paul.” I heard the first “F— Jake Paul” chant as early as 8:30, hours before either competitor in the main event would even leave his locker room. This wouldn’t have bothered me if not for the presence of quite a lot of young children in the crowd. I know because the kids stood out—they were the only ones proudly sporting “Team Paul” merchandise. 

“Jake has the most knockouts,” one six-year-old boy told me. “Jake’s the strongest.” All of his siblings had been following Paul’s content since they were little, and the whole family had come in from Hamilton to see the fight. 

A young man holding a selfie stick, who said his name was Romeo, told me he was rooting for Paul because “a young dog is a hungry dog.” For Nate Diaz, Romeo said, this was all for fun: “He’s not angry. He’s already shown that he’s one of the top fighters in the world. He doesn’t have to prove that. Jake Paul does.” 

Jake Paul has been “proving himself” to haters since he was a teenager. He first blew up on the now-defunct short-form video platform Vine, amassing millions of followers who couldn’t get enough of his filmed pranks. He soon got a role on a Disney Channel show, but Paul’s broader introduction to an adult audience came via a 2017 news report about how bad of a neighbor he was. He was terrorizing his exclusive Los Angeles community, hosting loud and lengthy parties, lighting furniture on fire, and regularly posting his address to his millions of subscribers. Paul showed no remorse, tweeting “Don’t conform to society” and later claiming—without evidence—that one of his neighbors was plotting to kill him. 

Ever since, he’s been more or less the living embodiment of the phrase “this f—ing guy.” Rich, white, blond, rude, loud, and always posting, Paul is the sort of person it is fun to actively root against. As he’s pivoted from vlogging to acting, then acting to rapping, and then rapping to boxing, the world has always been ready to see him fail.

Like contractions during childbirth, the “F— Jake Paul” chants increased in frequency and intensity the closer we got to the main event. I was right by the ring, having received a floor seat courtesy of the energy drink company Celsius, which sponsors Jake Paul. Even at ringside, the crowd seemed made up of adults who care about prizefighting and children who care about YouTube. It felt like there were celebrities present, but I was never sure. I know I saw at least one prominent influencer, because the little girls sitting in the section next to mine started screaming before asking some guy in a bucket hat to take a selfie with them. The person behind me said they could see the rapper E-40, and I think a guy in a cowboy hat two rows ahead was a famous quarterback. I saw a crowd gathering around another individual, so I asked a teenage boy who that was and he said Kevin Holland, which Google informed me is the name of a very popular MMA fighter. 

Another thing I learned about boxing that night is that when your ticket says the fight starts at eight p.m., it means a fight starts at that hour, and there are a half dozen of those before the main event kicks off. The crowd didn’t even get a glimpse of Paul or Diaz on the JumboTron until eleven. When the feed cut to Paul bouncing around in his locker room, thousands of fans booed, and they only got louder when Paul’s brother, Logan—who is trying to turn himself into a successful professional wrestler—joined him.

Jake Paul played into it. Hulking, bearded, and covered in tattoos, he seemed to feed off the crowd’s ire, growing stronger the more he was antagonized. In the ring, he came out swinging. He clocked Diaz in the eye early in the first round, and the “F— Jake Paul” chants only grew louder. “They seem to be banging on each other’s heads a lot,” read my notes from round two. 

By round four, Diaz’s eye seemed swollen almost completely shut, and in round five, Paul actually knocked Diaz down, which caused the crowd to scream for at least a solid minute. In round six, a Diaz fan behind me shouted “F— him like a cowboy,” and though none of Diaz’s punches seemed to pack the power Paul’s did, you could tell the MMA fighter was landing some blows, because Paul’s sweat-drenched Richard Spencer haircut kept flopping from side to side. People started standing on chairs around round nine, and the Diaz fan behind me tried to psych himself up.“He’s not tired; he’s playing with him,” the fan said. “Paul’s never seen somebody with this kind of cardio.” 

I started heading for the exit at the end of the tenth and final round, but I could still hear the roar of 15,000 boos when ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the judges’ scorecards that made Paul the winner by unanimous decision. 

I thought to myself, At least some kids are going home happy.