(This story first was published at USA TODAY.)
TAMPA, Fla. – Love him or hate him: Jake Paul is one of boxing’s biggest stars. His personal brand, elevated from YouTube and Instagram to pay-per-view bouts, has become a raging wildfire of money, influence and sports entertainment.
And it got a shot of respect Saturday night when his right hook viciously knocked out Tyron Woodley, a five-time UFC champion, and empathically marked the biggest highlight of Paul’s young career.
Paul markets himself with the best of the sport has ever seen. He’s already a cash cow for Showtime like Canelo Alvarez is and Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Mike Tyson were for the company.
And he wasted no time calling out some of the UFC’s biggest stars – Conor McGregor, fan favorites Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz, and welterweight champion Kamaru Usman – along with UFC president Dana White after his match just to keep the jig going.
“I just knocked out a five-time UFC champion and embarrassed your whole company,” Paul said when asked to address UFC president Dana White. “Please let me get Kamaru Usman. Please let me get Diaz. Please let me get Masvidal. Please let me get McGregor. Because I’m going to embarrass them too. I promise you, Dana.”
Paul’s knockout of Woodley came after a pristine punch from a developing young fighter who gave fans and viewers (either already devoted or simply disgusted to have fallen for his attention trap) another reason to tune into his next affair.
Most of Saturday’s fight was a chess match. After meeting each other Aug. 29, a split-decision Paul won, both fighters already knew each other’s game plans. But there was one wrinkle Paul, who remains undefeated after his fifth boxing match, became aware of during the fight.
Every time he tried to throw a straight right or jab toward Woodley, the opponent would prevent contact by protecting his face with his gloves or allowing Paul to graze his elbow in defense.
The two would clinch together and Paul would throw a sidearm punch into Woodley’s side to make the most of close contact.
So, with less than 60 seconds left in the sixth round, Paul lined up his shot.
This time, Paul dipped his body slightly lower like he was going to throw another punch to Woodley’s side, but instead unloaded with a right hook to the right side of Woodley’s head.
“I knew he was going to try and catch the right hand coming straight, so I had to loop it around like a hook,” Paul said. “I knew this punch was going to land, so I put everything into it. Everything.
“And you know what? I might be a lumberjack because he went [down like] timber.”
Jake Paul, left, knocks out Tyron Woodley during the sixth round of a cruiserweight fight Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
Woodley was face down on the mat. His body was motionless for several seconds before he slowly regained consciousness and was dejected in the ring, as any fighter would be after being humiliated on national television by a far-less-experienced opponent.
“At some point, we’re going to have to put some respect on Jake’s name,” said Woodley, who took the fight with Paul on two weeks’ notice after Tyson Fury bowed out.
During the third, fourth and fifth rounds, Woodley and Paul locked arms together after either one connected or misfired on a punch or combination. For two fighters with wrestling backgrounds, it was only natural for them.
During the sixth round, however, Woodley felt the need to drop his hands slightly to regain his composure. He took a step back to “breathe and loosen up” before engaging again with Paul. But when he did it another time, it cost him.
“I went back and I looked at it, and I’m like, ‘Why the [expletive] did I drop my hands?'” Woodley said. “I would’ve had both hands up. I was ready. I knew it was coming. I don’t know if he delayed. Even if he did delay, I don’t know why I dropped my hands.”
So, what’s next for the fighters?
Woodley shared plans of fighting four times in 2022. But before he sat down for his post-fight news conference, he received a FaceTime call to console his son, Dylan.
“Hey dude, I love you. I’m good. Don’t trip off me. Many, many people done got knocked out by me,” Woodley said. “You good? I’m good dude. I ain’t done. I’m good. I just want you to make sure I’m good. Dylan, I’m OK. I promise, I’m OK. If I wasn’t, I would tell you.”
As for Paul, who continues to fight for legitimacy, he said he’s going to take a much-needed vacation before planning his next fight.
There’s obviously money to be made, but at 24 years old, how much longer can and will Paul fight to maintain his newfound status?
“It’s scary to put a cap on where this could go. The potential really is unlimited here,” Paul said.
Last week on “In Depth With Graham Besinger,” Paul said he had trouble remembering something he “should be able to remember that happened a couple days ago.” He also said every “100th or 200th word, I’ll mess up or, like, slur, which I didn’t do that before.”
After the fight, Paul made sure it was a conversation for another day.
“I didn’t say that earlier this week. Next question,” Paul said. “That was taken out of context. I didn’t say anything like that.”
Instead, Paul imagined one day fighting for a title belt from one of the four major boxing organizations. He knows exactly what he would do if he were to win a world title.
“It’d be funny to just become a world champion and just be like, ‘yeah, I’m a YouTuber.’ And as soon as I win the world championship, I would take the belt and I would throw it on the [expletive] ground and stomp on it,” Paul said. “Because you’re a champion here (points to his head), and in your heart before anyone tells you that you’re a champion. I am a champion.”