Despite the fact that this weekend’s UFC card is... less than stellar, it was still a big week in the world of MMA, or perhaps better phrased, a big week in the world of combat sports. Tyron Woodley got his money fight against Jake Paul, and it was all anyone could talk about this week so let’s discuss the latest boxing/MMA crossover and, I guess, heavyweight MMA.
Tyron Woodley vs. Jake Paul
What’s your take on Jake Paul and Tyron Woodley fight? Does JP have a chance?— Christopher Howie (@HowieLikeMeNow) June 4, 2021
A lot of people are going to hate that this will take up so much air in the MMA room over the next few months and to those people I say, “Tough Cookies,” because this is honestly a fascinating spectacle (even if it’s not being put on by Triller, which by the way, is a travesty).
First, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: love him or hate him, you need to respect Jake Paul, the boxing upstart. There are many people who vehemently dislike Paul and that’s fine. I myself am among them, and if the accusations levied against him are true, then not a person on the planet should like him. However, even his most ardent haters have to admit he is managing this thing perfectly.
Two years ago, Paul was a YouTuber/Disney Channel star who had no real combat sports experience and now he is set to headline two of the biggest PPVs of the year. That doesn’t happen by accident. The Paul brothers are generating millions of dollars for themselves by playing the boxing and MMA worlds like fiddles, preying on the insular nature of the sports’ fan bases and turning trolling into a business model. It’s nothing new, but as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, if Paul was just an up-jumped YouTuber spouting off at the mouth randomly, this all would have died rather quickly; instead, Paul The Younger has employed that second-most hallowed of boxing traditions to great affect: targeted matchmaking.
If you removed the “how” of Jake Paul’s celebrity from the calculation and considered him purely as a popular amateur boxer, thus far he has managed his career perfectly. His first fight was against a similarly untrained opponent where he looked good. Then he took a marginal step up in competition, facing a better untrained opponent (Nate Robinson), and then he took another step up, facing someone with some experience that he could still probably defeat (Ben Askren). In each of those instances, Paul showed that despite the vitriol he engenders, the man has at least some penchant for boxing. Now, how much a penchant will be put to the test as he faces his biggest leap in competition by far, fighting the first opponent who can actually hurt him. This is textbook prospect building.
Moreover, not only is this a logical competitive leap for Paul, it’s also picture-perfect storytelling. The loudmouthed upstart proving his worth by facing the bigger, more intimidating comrade of the man he just felled in one round. The UFC spends years trying to build these exact types of scenarios and Paul has done it in a matter of months.
Now, let’s talk about the fight itself because unless you’re a total curmudgeon or an absolute boxing purist, it’s hard to deny that this bout is pretty fascinating. Woodley is 39 years old and hasn’t won in MMA in nearly three years; however, despite his wrestling accolades, Woodley has long been known as a devastating power puncher and, it should be noted, all of his losses have come against top-5 welterweights in the world. There’s an enormous gap between losing to the Vicente Luque and Colby Covington and losing to Jake Paul. Still though, Woodley has never boxed professionally before and is undeniably on the downslope of his career, if not washed outright. Against a young guy who has at least somewhat of a knack for this and clearly punches pretty hard, it’s entirely possible he can lose this! That’s compelling stuff!
It’s hard to say what the ultimate end point for Paul is. Whether he really thinks he can box professionally against other professionals given enough time or whether this is just a lucrative lark for him, only Paul himself knows. However, it’s pretty easy to see the big goal he is meticulously working towards in the immediate future: a boxing match with Conor McGregor. McGregor is arguably the biggest star in combat sports and a fight between the two would sell multiple millions of PPVs. It’s honestly probably the biggest fight either man could have at this point and the only real blockers to it are Conor’s UFC contract and some ethereal idea that Paul is entirely smoke and mirrors. If Paul is able to keep winning and even doing so over people with names that matter in the realm of combat sports, that only adds to the allure of McGregor-Paul, whenever we finally get it.
Which Heavyweight in the main or comain event has the most to gain from a win this weekend? I can’t see any of these guys getting a fight in the top 5 next with Ngannou vs Lewis and Volkov vs Gane coming up. None of them deserve a shot at Stipe or even Blaydes in my opinion— SemiCasualMMA (@semi_casual_mma) June 3, 2021
For those who don’t know (because why would you?) UFC Vegas 28 is a heavyweight showcase, featuring heavyweight bouts in both the main and co-main event. In the co-main event, Walt Harris takes on Marcin Tybura and in the main event Jairzinho Rozenstruik faces Augusto Sakai. In the grand scheme of things, neither of those fights is terribly “important” as all four men are a long way off from a title shot. However, of the four competitors I would say that Tybura has the most to gain.
For the rest of the heavyweights competing tonight, a win is important but it doesn’t set them up the same way it does for Tybura. Rozenstruik, Sakai, and Harris are all coming off losses that—despite coming against opponents all more highly ranked than Tybura—pretty much ensure that they won’t make a fast charge to a title shot. However, very quietly, Tybura had a phenomenal 2020, going 4-0. Four-fight win streaks don’t come along all that often in the UFC’s heavyweight division and even though it wasn’t over the best of the best, that’s still a great run for Tybura. In Harris, Tybura now will finally face a top-10 ranked heavyweight and, should he win, that would move him up to about 7 or 8 in the rankings and set him up for a fight with a top-5 guy. Should he win that fight, then that puts Tybura in the heavyweight title conversation. Not bad for a guy who had lost four of five just a couple of years ago.
More heavyweight MMA questions
why is the UFC heavyweight division among its weakest?— AD (@adubz123) June 4, 2021
It’s a combination of two key factors.
1) There are less huge people walking around the earth than 150-180 pound people. There is simply a smaller pool of human beings in play for the heavyweight division to draw from.
2) If you are big and athletic there are many more lucrative means of employment for you than getting punched in the head. This is why we have repeatedly seen NFL castoffs come to the UFC’s heavyweight division and do well. They are starting with a baseline of athleticism that is far superior than guys like Jarjis Danho.
U.S. sports media likes to play this game a lot with niche sports (especially soccer) where they envision what our team would look like if we took the best athletes in the country and focused them on it. “LeBron James would be a world class striker given time!” and while that game is largely dumb, it is honestly pretty true in the world of MMA. Sure, the unique nature of getting punched in the face means not everyone can be good at fighting so you can’t say with certainty that Aaron Donald would wreak havoc over the heavyweight division but I think it should be fairly uncontroversial to say that if you took every defensive lineman in the NFL and focused them on fighting instead of football, the UFC’s heavyweight division would be comprised almost entirely of people who played for the Bears.
Walking Off The Bus Champions
who is your top 5 "first team, all-star looking good walking to the cage" ?— Scot McCreight (@Scot_McCreight_) June 4, 2021
There are a lot of walking to the bus all-stars in MMA. Fortunately, many of them also end up actually being awesome at fighting. And since this is a fun game, I’m going to hit you with a few lists here.
170 and 155
145 and below
- Yoel Romero
- Francis Ngannou
- Alistair Overeem
- Tyron Woodley
- Marlon Moraes
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.