In the fifth round of their boxing match on Sunday, after Jake Paul nearly dealt a clean blow to Tyron Woodley’s face, Paul sneered at his opponent and then playfully pretended to lick his gloves. The orange mittens matched his orange underpants, which were equipped with an electronic screen projecting his name near his waist.
After all, it was his name that brought him here.
In the end, when two of the three judges scored the match in Paul’s favor, earning him a split-decision win, the two men continued the chirping that defined the prefight hype. Woodley demanded a rematch, and Paul said he would only consider it if Woodley got a tattoo that read, “I love Jake Paul,” fulfilling a bet the two agreed to in July. At a press conference after the fight, Woodley said he would probably put it on his thigh.
The boxing gimmicks, billboards and bets should not be considered normal for a traditional boxing competition. But Paul isn’t normal, and he doesn’t want to be traditional. After winning a fight against an enemy that analysts viewed as a legitimate threat, Paul said he would continue to lead the way in breaking the perceived norms of martial arts, and would do so with pride.
One of those standards, of course, is that fighters are fighters first and celebrities second.
“I think I’m one of the faces of boxing simply because I do it differently,” said Paul, 24. “However, there is room for everyone to eat. I don’t want to take everything. This is a sport with hundreds of great fighters. And all I want to do is bring more apples of the eye from a different audience.”
In his fourth professional fight, Paul Woodley, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion, survived in an eight-round matchup contested with a 190-pound catchweight. It was the first event in a multiple fight contract that Paul recently signed with Showtime.
The men came to the ring from opposite paths. Paul rose to fame as a YouTube prankster and Disney Channel actor. He started boxing in 2018 and knocked out his first three opponents, including Nate Robinson, a retired NBA player, and Ben Askren, a retired mixed martial artist.
Woodley, 39, made his professional boxing debut after leaving the UFC, the largest mixed martial arts organization, when his contract expired this spring. He was on a four-fight loss streak at the time.
Their fight sold 16,000 tickets, about 4,000 below capacity at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Paul’s hometown. It was the talk of social media. When Paul heard LeBron James, the Ohio-born Los Angeles Lakers star, posted about the fight on Twitter, he was so impressed that he fought back tears.
“Nobody is doing — and I say this as humbly as possible — nobody is entering these big fights four fights,” said Paul.
In June, Paul saw his older brother, Logan, fight Floyd Mayweather, a champion boxer of his day, in an exhibition match in Miami. No winner was declared because there were no judges, but Logan Paul defied most predictions by surviving eight rounds with 44-year-old Mayweather, who had a career record of 50-0. Like Jake Paul’s match, the match nurtured a new direction in martial arts that combines entertainment, celebrity and spectacle.
Jake Paul’s previous opponents were not credible as strikers, which made the match-up against Woodley attractive. Both fighters had their moments and landed clean shots. Both also showed their lack of skill and experience compared to elite, seasoned boxers. Sometimes Paul would wave wildly while Woodley seemed too timid to attack.
But Paul hopes he has earned respect and can be taken more seriously among purists for making it to the end of a fight against a former UFC champion. He has plenty of options for his next opponent. Conor McGregor, who is now as much of a curiosity as a legit UFC star, posted “Selivating” on Twitter shortly after Paul’s fight.
However, Woodley would be disappointed if he didn’t get a rematch. He said he believed he had won and would like to fight Paul one more time to clear all questions from the split decision. Plus, he loved the hype. He called the promotion of the event a “movie” and said the scale was the largest of his career.
“I’ve never been part of anything like this, and to even do another fight not of this magnitude would feel a little weird,” Woodley said.
Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, said in an interview that the network had embraced the new boxing genre and made no apologies for it. For critics, he pointed to other fights surrounding the main event, such as the unanimous decision of Amanda Serrano, the women’s featherweight champion, against Yamileth Mercado, as proof that high-level fights can coexist with fan favorite matchups.
“We just see this as an interesting evolution of the sport and something that can live alongside the core activities,” Espinoza said. “This is not a zero-sum game.”
Paul said he was unsure of his next move, saying his constant activity and training robbed him of dental appointments and vacations. Whatever he decides to do, he expects the same circus, if not a bigger one, to accompany him.
“The media and the fans or haters definitely hold me to a very high standard because I have a loud mouth,” he said. “I like that. That’s what makes me better. That makes these fights bigger.”