Jake Paul’s Big Night: 16,000 Fans, a Tweet From LeBron and a Win
30th August 2021

In the fifth round of their boxing match on Sunday, after Jake Paul nearly landed a clean blow to Tyron Woodley’s face, Paul sneered at his opponent and then playfully pretended to lick his gloves. The orange mitts were coordinated with his orange trunks, which were equipped with an electronic screen that projected his name near his waist.

It was his name, after all, that got him here.

In the end, when two of the three judges scored the bout in Paul’s favor, giving him a split-decision victory, the two men continued the chirping that defined the prefight hype. Woodley demanded a rematch, and Paul said he would consider it only if Woodley got a tattoo that said, “I love Jake Paul,” fulfilling a wager the two agreed upon in July. In a postfight news conference, Woodley said he would most likely place it on his thigh.

The gimmicks, boxing trunk billboards and bets may not be considered normal for a traditional boxing competition. But Paul is not normal, and he does not want to be traditional. After winning a fight against a foe that analysts considered a legitimate threat, Paul said he would continue to lead the way in shattering the perceived norms of combat sports, and do so proudly.

One of those norms, of course, is that fighters are fighters first and celebrities second.

“I think I’m one of the faces of boxing, just because I’m doing it differently,” Paul, 24, said. “There’s room for everyone to eat, though. I don’t want to take everything. This is a sport where there’s hundreds of amazing fighters. And all I want to do is bring more eyeballs from a different audience.”

In his fourth professional fight, Paul outlasted Woodley, a former welterweight champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, in an eight-round matchup contested at a 190-pound catchweight. It was the first event in a multiple-fight contract Paul recently signed with Showtime.

The men arrived at the ring from opposite paths. Paul rose to fame as a YouTube prankster and Disney Channel actor. He started boxing in 2018, dispatching his first three opponents, including Nate Robinson, a retired N.B.A. player, and Ben Askren, a retired mixed martial artist, by knockout.

Woodley, 39, made his professional boxing debut after leaving the U.F.C., the largest mixed martial arts organization, when his contract expired this spring. He was on a four-fight losing streak at the time.

Their fight sold 16,000 tickets, just about 4,000 under the capacity at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Paul’s hometown. It was the talk of social media. When Paul learned that LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers star who is an Ohio native, posted about the fight on Twitter, he was so star-struck he fought back tears.

“No one is doing — and I say this as humbly as possible — no one is doing this big of fights four fights in,” Paul said.

In June, Paul watched his older brother, Logan, fight Floyd Mayweather, a champion boxer in 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 the 44-year-old Mayweather, who had a 50-0 career record. Like Jake Paul’s match, the bout fed a new direction in combat sports that blends entertainment, celebrity and spectacle.

Jake Paul’s earlier opponents lacked credibility as strikers, which made the matchup against Woodley compelling. Both fighters had their moments and landed clean shots. Both also displayed their lack of skill and experience compared with elite, seasoned boxers. At times, Paul swung wildly while Woodley seemed too timid to attack.

But Paul hopes he earned respect and can be taken more seriously among purists because he made it to the end of a fight against a former U.F.C. champion. He’ll have plenty of options for his next opponent. Conor McGregor, who is now as much a curiosity as a legitimate U.F.C. star, posted on Twitter, “Salivating,” shortly after Paul’s fight.

Woodley, though, would be disappointed if he didn’t get a rematch. He said he believed he won, and would like to fight Paul again to remove any questions from the split decision. Plus, he liked the hype. He called the promotion of the event a “movie,” and said its scale was the largest of his career.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this, and to even do another fight that is not of this magnitude would kind of feel weird,” Woodley said.

Stephen Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports, said in an interview that the network had embraced the new genre of boxing and made no apologies for it. For critics, he pointed to other bouts surrounding the main event, such as the women’s featherweight champion Amanda Serrano’s unanimous decision 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 side-by-side with the core business,” Espinoza said. “This is not a zero-sum game.”

Paul said he was unsure of his next move, saying his constant activity and training deprived him of dentist appointments and vacations. No matter what he decides to do, he expects the same circus, if not a bigger one, to accompany him.

“The media and the fans or haters are definitely holding me to a very high standard because I have a loud mouth,” he said. “I like that. That’s what makes me better. That’s what makes these fights bigger.”

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