Can Tyron Woodley Ground “The Problem Child” Jake Paul?

Jake Paul and Tyron Woodley go face-to-face for the final time before their fight. Photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Jake Paul has waged an assault on the MMA world and is shaking up the business, but he is up against his most dangerous challenge in Tyron Woodley this Sunday.

When Jake Paul was a teenager on Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark, he likely didn’t imagine that less than a decade later he would become the target of the most dangerous cage fighters on the planet.  Through the galvanization of his multi-million follower fan base and meticulous matchmaking, he has gone from riding the coattails of his older brother’s boxing career to becoming one of the most discussed combat sports athletes in 2021.  His success has been the catalyst for a new niche in the combat sports market, with influencers and older pugilists alike getting in on the immense money to be made by stepping into the boxing ring.  It has also made Paul a double-agent, making him MMA’s public enemy number one inside the ring and an advocate for change in the business outside of it.

“The Problem Child” has played his role perfectly, antagonizing the respected elder statesmen of the fight game while also expanding his brand beyond the Generation Z audience that made him wealthy in the first place.  Saturday is seen as one of the last tests of Paul’s abilities.  It is another MMA fighter, one far more athletically gifted and tremendously more proficient in striking than all of his past opponents combined.  If there is a next step to his boxing career, then it will be his most difficult one.  While he has cashed in on these showcases against MMA fighters, a victory on Sunday could hear his bucket scratch the bottom of the well he has been dipping into.  Fans will want to see him face a true test if he wants their hard earned money for a third time, and that would mean taking on a challenge that a fighter of his experience would usually not be prepared for.

Tyron Woodley is by far the most dangerous threat that Paul will have faced in his young career.  From 2016 to 2019, Woodley was regarded as the best mixed martial arts welterweight on the planet as he claimed the UFC championship and delivered victories over then title-holder Robbie Lawler, perennial contender Stephen Thompson, and current middleweight standout Darren Till.  For those who would put him in the same category as former Paul foe Ben Askren, it can not be overstated that Woodley’s striking is in a completely different stratosphere compared to his former teammate.

Going into Sunday, “The Chosen One” is admittedly at a precarious crossroads.  Consecutive losses to the UFC’s best in reigning champion Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns, and Vicente Luque have brought his once flourishing MMA career to a crashing halt.  It is a valid question to wonder if the wear-and-tear of his career might be catching up to him at his age.  To his credit, he made a brilliant business move in securing the Paul fight at this stage of his career as it is expected to bring in a significant payday even by UFC standards.  That said, it could still be a huge gamble if he comes up short.  While only one of the aforementioned fighters finished him with strikes, Woodley goes into the bout giving up significant height and size which could prove to be the deciding factor.

Movement and shot selection will be the key to a Woodley victory.  He is expected to be the faster fighter, but with larger gloves he must be weary of expending too much energy trying to stop the larger Paul quickly and leaving himself at a deficit later in the fight.  Being able to get in-and-out effectively will be the key to unraveling the more inexperienced YouTuber.  Paul’s size and physicality will be his biggest weapons as he should look tie up Woodley or push the fight toward the corner where he can control the tempo and force the former UFC champion to fight off his heels.

A Jake Paul victory would lead to an intriguing situation.  He is too famous to fight the more anonymous up-and-comers that would be regarded as his equals in terms of fights and experience.  That said, the stage appears to be set for Paul to face Tommy Fury, the younger half-brother of heavyweight superstar Tyson Fury, who fights on Sunday’s undercard.  Should the two be matched up, ideally on the undercard of the elder Fury, it would be the kind of fight to truly push Paul from boxing sideshow to a must-watch prospect.  A Woodley victory would halt the momentum of Paul, to the point that a one-sided loss could lead to Paul not invoking his rematch clause.  Both men in that scenario would move on with their share of volunteers for bouts, though Paul’s drawing power is likely to be diminished.