Tyron Woodley: Who is Jake Paul’s opponent and why is he fighting the YouTube star?

Tyron Woodley will take on Jake Paul this weekend

This weekend, much of the combat sports world will be willing Tyron Woodley to shut down the circus of Jake Paul’s ‘professional’ boxing career.

To do so, Woodley will have to take out the ringmaster himself: the 24-year-old YouTuber, who achieved fame and notoriety alongside his older brother Logan, a fellow vlogger.

Paul has fought three times as a ‘professional’, winning all three of his bouts via knockout. The first to suffer the embarrassment of being beaten by the polarising American was Ali Eson Gib, who also made his name on YouTube. Next up was an actual athlete, ex-NBA star Nate Robinson. Like Gib, Robinson – 36 at the time – was knocked out. Most recently, Paul KOed Ben Askren, a former mixed martial artist who was world champion in two promotions before entering the UFC with an unbeaten record.

The fight against Askren in April marked Paul’s first encounter with an opponent with an actual combat sports background – and elite-level pedigree, at that. But Askren has always been a wrestler through and through, and it was in that discipline that he became a US Olympian at the 2008 Beijing Games. His striking, for an MMA fighter as accomplished as he became, was startlingly sub-standard; he had certainly never boxed professionally before. Furthermore, Askren had retired from MMA in 2019 before undergoing much-needed hip surgery. When he fought Paul, he was 37 but had the mobility of an octogenarian, and he seemed to have barely prepared for the contest.

In any case, there is an evident arc among Paul’s opponents, with the 24-year-old taking on gradually more threatening foes in each bout. And that brings us to Woodley, another former mixed martial artist making his professional boxing debut.

First of all, the American is a close friend of Askren, so there is a narrative element to the organisation of this Sunday’s bout at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

Woodley was seen verbally sparring with Paul backstage as the YouTuber had his hands wrapped before he took to the ring to knock out Askren, and Woodley seemed keen to arrange his own bout with the budding boxer.

Then there are the ways in which Woodley fits into the afore-mentioned arc that connects each of Paul’s opponents to the next.

Tyron Woodley had four successful title defences as UFC welterweight champion

Woodley is a former UFC welterweight champion with four successful title defences. He has stepped in the Octagon with some of the best mixed martial artists in the world and defeated many of them. He easily eclipses his friend Askren as the most legitimate fighter to step in the ring with Paul.

However, there are mitigating factors in the danger that Woodley presents.

Firstly, he is 39, the oldest of Paul’s opponents so far. He is also about four years past his prime; a welterweight run that had some considering him the heir apparent to consensus GOAT Georges St-Pierre gave way to a four-fight losing streak, which led to Woodley’s release by the UFC this year.

‘The Chosen One’s last win was a successful title defence against Liverpool’s Darren Till in September 2018. Woodley submitted Till with a choke in the second round but lost his next fight – in March 2019 – to Kamaru Usman, who displayed unprecedented dominance for five rounds and remains champion to this day.

Woodley was on the wrong end of a similarly straightforward defeat by Brazil’s Gilbert Burns 14 months later, before a rib injury marked an almost merciful end to a grudge match against Colby Covington in September 2020. Covington had controlled his rival for four rounds before the doctor’s stoppage early in the fifth.

Arguably the most brutal defeat occurred this March, however, as Woodley’s UFC run was effectively ended by Vicente Luque. The Brazilian, most would suggest, is on a level below Woodley’s recent conquerors, but Luque was nevertheless able to submit the American in the first round after hurting him badly with strikes as the pair traded on the feet.

In the early moments of that short contest, Woodley was almost haphazard in his approach, seemingly trying to shake off the tepidness and tentativeness that had been debilitating in his losses to Usman, Burns and Covington. Woodley’s recklessness got him in danger almost immediately, however, leading to his fourth straight defeat in a record that now reads 19-7-1, as well as his UFC release and ongoing free agency.

The other significant aspect in Woodley’s match-up with Paul is the former mixed martial artist’s style during his MMA career.

Woodley’s background is in wrestling, not striking

Like Askren, Woodley’s greatest strength was his wrestling. A former NCAA Division I wrestler, Woodley would often grind down his opponents with his grappling, taking a safety-first approach that led many fans to deem him a boring fighter.

When needed, Woodley could call upon a devastating right overhand punch, on which he became increasingly dependent and on which he will surely rely when he faces Paul this Sunday.

Will it be enough to beat Paul? The MMA community in particular will hope the answer is yes, but they will not exactly be confident given their last representative, Askren, was knocked out in the first round.

Woodley may be somewhat aged in this particular line of business, yet he is still physically very fit and should be free of the hesitation that was so destabilising in his defeats by Usman, Burns and Covington. The man across the ring from him has, in all honesty, committed himself admirably to the sport of boxing, but he should not scare Woodley.

That said, the risk of embarrassment by the YouTuber – and the forfeit of inking himself with an “I love Jake” tattoo – might just play on the former UFC champion’s mind.

For a fighter whose greatest weakness was his mentality and whose greatest strength was not his striking, that could be a very real problem this weekend. That’s why ‘The Chosen One’ was the next one chosen on Paul’s boxing journey.

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