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As the Sunday night bout approaches, Jake Paul calls the moment “life changing."
He has a contract with Showtime that could be worth tens of millions of dollars.
The deal – the cable network’s first multi-fight pact of with a non-established boxer – will launch this weekend with Paul set to fight Tyron Woodley, a former UFC world champion.
The eight-round bout, available for $59.99 on pay-per-view, will headline Showtime’s event at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a short drive from Paul’s hometown of Westlake, Ohio.
It’s where Paul, 24, has said high school classmates made fun of him and teachers told him he wasn’t smart. That was before he became a YouTube celebrity and, now having won his first three pro fights, one of the fastest-growing draws in boxing.
“I think this fight will continue to change boxing forever," Paul told USA TODAY Sports and later referred to himself as “an innovative, creative disrupter, genius who is coming in and making the sport of boxing great again."
Boxing is in need of a savior, or at the very least a compelling figure or two, who can reinvigorate a sport whose popularity has been in decline for more than a decade. Now along comes Jake Paul and his older brother, Logan.
Less than a year ago, they were best known for their YouTube videos that sometimes pushed the limits of decency.
In 2017, Logan Paul notably filmed and broadcast a suicide victim. That same year, Jake Paul was fired by the Disney Channel after an 18-month stint on a show called Bizaardvark following reports of disruptive behavior.
But these days the brothers are gaining attention for their boxing – and their ability to drive pay-per-view sales as social media influencers. Each of the brothers has more than 20 million followers on YouTube and tens of millions more followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
In June, Logan Paul fought Floyd Mayweather in an exhibition that was carried by Showtime and, according to a person with knowledge of the pay-per-view production, had about 1 million buys at $49.99 apiece.
Now the cable network is featuring Jake Paul as the marquee draw in what will be his biggest challenge yet in the ring, an early test of Showtime’s deal with the so-called “Problem Child” and an intriguing night for boxing.
“I think he has the ability to turn Jake Paul fans into boxing fans," Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, told USA TODAY Sports.
But Espinoza knows the only way the business model works is if Jake Paul is good enough to beat the likes of Woodley – and continues to take on more talented opponents that create compelling, pay-per-view matchups.
“He’s going to go as far as his talent takes him, ultimately, and he’ll have to earn the approval of the hardcore boxing fan,’’ Espinoza said. “But I think he’s on his way. He continues progressing and challenging himself each fight. I think even the skeptics will eventually be won over.’’
Mike Tyson needs no convincing.
“Boxing was pretty much a dying sport," Tyson said. “The UFC was kicking our butt. Boxing is going back thanks to the YouTube boxers.”
Tyson offered that assessment in November after fighting Roy Jones Jr. in an much-anticipated exhibition match in Los Angeles. Fighting on the undercard that night, Jake Paul scored a devastating knockout of former NBA standout Nate Robinson.
Nine months later, Paul is facing a far more skilled opponent in Woodley and getting another endorsement from Tyson.
“Jake’s gonna beat him,” Tyson said on his podcast.
Added the former heavyweight champion, “Paul’s a real good striker, and I think people do him a disservice when they go in there and say, ‘He’s blonde-haired and blue-eyed, he’s a white boy.’ And I think that also builds their courage up and causes them to get knocked out.”
In his three pro fights, Paul has won by knockout and two technical knockouts. But skepticism about his boxing skills linger, largely because of the quality of his opponents.
They include a YouTube celebrity who goes by the name AnEsonGib, which spelled backward is big nose na, a nod to his prominent schnoz. The nose took a beating in January 2020 when Paul stopped AnEsonGib with a first-round TKO in his first pro fight.
Paul’s second opponent was Robinson, the retired NBA player who won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest three times but was a novice fighter. Paul scored a brutal, second-round knockout.
His last opponent was Ben Askren, a former MMA champion who arrived for their fight in April looking flabby and unprepared. Paul knocked him out in the first round.
In three pro bouts, Paul has fought less than nine minutes.
“I still have a lot of respect to gain from people,’’ he said. “That respect doesn’t necessarily come from first-round knockouts. When Muhammad beat Sonny Liston in their second fight in the first round, people were just like, ‘Oh, OK.’ The respect comes from tough moments.’’
Woodley presents Paul his toughest test yet. “He was winning championships by knocking people out with his fists while I was on Disney Channel,’’ Paul said.
At 39, Woodley is 15 years older than Paul. But in video of his workouts, he has looked fit, and his resume is impressive.
He won the UFC welterweight title in 2016 by knocking out Robbie Lawler and held onto the championship belt for his next four fights. Then his current, four-loss skid ensued, prompting him to leave the Octagon for the boxing ring.
During an MMA career that has spanned more than a decade, Woodley is 19-7-1, and he has used his fists to win four fights by knockout and three fights by TKO.
“I feel like Tyron Woodley’s going to be Jake’s first legitimate challenger,’’ said BJ Flores, Paul’s head trainer. “Obviously he’s very tough, he’s very strong, he’s very talented.
“I know he thinks he’s a good boxer and I know he thinks he’s got good hands, and everybody in the MMA is like, oh, Tyron’s got deadly hands and he can knock anybody out.’’
But Flores also said of Woodley, “He’s coming into a domain that he has no idea about.’’
Woodley has worked with Mayweather, the Hall of Fame boxer, in preparation for his professional boxing debut. Paul, by contrast, has been training for more than three years and, according to Flores, has faced an impressive list of sparring partners.
Flores said they include Jean Pascal, who won WBC and WBA light-heavyweight titles in 2019; Andrew Tabiti, a cruiserweight who was 17-0 before losing a title fight in 2019; and Daniele Scardina, who in 2019 won the IBF International super-middleweight title and is 19-0.
“Not only is he competing with professionals he has no business being in there with,’’ Flores said, “but he was getting the better of a lot of them.’’
Paul’s commitment to boxing helped convince Showtime to sign a deal, according to Espinoza. The terms remain undisclosed.
“He’s a boxing fan and he takes it seriously and he wants to make a career of this,’’ said Espinoza, the president of Showtime Sports. “If it was a cynical cash grab, it wouldn’t have been for us.
“The fact is, yes, it’s a little bit nontraditional, a little bit outside of what we have normally done. But there’s clearly an interest and a demand in the audience and he’s got a huge fan base. So we quickly satisfied ourselves this is something that could live side-by-side with the brand of boxing that we have become known for and both could continue to coexist and work.’’
The first test comes Sunday.
“It’s the crescendo to the whole Jake Paul story that everyone’s seen or heard of thus far,’’ said Jake Paul.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jake Paul starts Showtime deal with Sunday fight vs. Tyron Woodley