Tyron Woodley is not promising to knock out Jake Paul in 30 seconds in his first professional boxing match. Such a boast would create just the kind of pressure that’s been his Achilles’ heel for as long as he can remember.
The former UFC welterweight champion admits he’s always been a “gym fighter” who struggles to do under the lights what he does in training. He’s still managed to do some amazing things on the spot. He’s also lived through one of the most precipitous slides in recent octagon history, losing four in a row with his former promoter.
“I’ve had my time at the top,” Woodley told MMA Fighting. “I had a tremendous run in the UFC and had a big fall. Very visible. A lot of people saw it. It’s like you’re falling from the Empire State building, and everybody who wanted to see you fall finally got what they wanted and watched you fall from so far. It takes balls to get back up and start climbing to the top again, and I’m doing that right now again.”
In this next chapter, Woodley, 39, is feeling more free to pursue his combat sports passions – “I can fight wherever the f*ck I want,” he said – and believes he’s going to show Paul the difference between an entertainer and a fighter. His goal is to display every technique he’s learned in the square circle and embarrass the YouTuber.
“From now on, there’s no point of me going out there and just winning any more,” he said. “My whole goal is to go out there and f*cking provide violence and damage and win in a fashion where it looks like me and then everybody else.”
But Woodley is also not about to make the mistake of thinking his years of experience in a handful of martial arts will give him an unfair advantage over the singularly focused Paul, a former YouTube star whose youth, confidence, and viral knockouts have vaulted him to the top of the marquee.
When they meet on Aug. 29, Woodley is expecting a game opponent, not just gifted self-promoter who’s gotten lucky. They are meeting in a boxing ring, and it’s a completely different game.
“The things that built me, the hard work, the dedication, the stuff that put me in position to be a champion when I got the chance, I’m doing the same things now,” he said. “I’m not underestimating Jake. Jake’s a good fighter. It’s going to look like a fight, I promise you that. It will not look like a UFC fighter picking on a YouTuber. He can fight, and he can box, and it will look like a fight.”
To put himself in the best position to succeed, Woodley accepted the help of Floyd Mayweather’s team to make the pivot. Three years ago, he was slated to help the former champ transition to MMA during a brief flirtation with the UFC. The training camp never materialized, but the two stayed in touch. Fresh off a disappointing turn against Paul’s older brother, Logan, Mayweather returned the favor by offering his services.
Until Mayweather coach Gavin Tucker joined the camp, Woodley wasn’t sure whether the help was just an Instagram photo op, or a ploy to get under the younger Paul’s skin. “But [Mayweather] told me himself, from his own mouth, ‘I want you to look like a world-champion boxer on your first fight. I want everybody to go, oh my god, this kid is f*cking going to be a world champion in boxing,’” Woodley said.
It’s not a lot of time to realize that lofty goal, and the technical parts of the transition have been a challenge. All of the angles, footwork and positioning are different, and the Cuban style pushed by Tucker and coach Pedro Diaz has him literally on his toes more than ever before. In MMA, there’s a cage and the possibility of takedowns to break up the tension. He’s more sore than usual.
“It’s always punching but always being ready to counter and punch back with power,” Woodley said. “That position and that foot is very meticulous, very strict, and very so much perfectionist when it comes down to it.”
Then again, punches are the only weapons he has to worry about. Woodley started at six rounds and is building up to 10 rounds with a high punch count. “If I can do that for 10 rounds against a world-class striker, then eight rounds against Jake Paul is going to be a walk in the park,” he said. He also won’t have to cut 35 pounds to make the welterweight limit with the bout contested at 190 pounds.
Jake Paul quickly mocked the new partnership between Mayweather and Woodley, posting a meme of the two at a retirement home. The response to that will come at the press conference on Tuesday, Woodley said.
“If I had a dollar for every person that told me, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got to knock him out’ every single f*cking day, I would be Elon Musk, Jr.,” he said. “So for me, it’s a mental warfare game. I’ve always been prepared for these types of press conferences. I’ve always been prepared for these types of opponents. I never got to do it in MMA. I didn’t get to fight the Nick Diaz, the Bispings, the people that actually lift up a fight. This is going to be the MMA fans and combat people in general seeing me get a chance to do this.
“So I’m going to save the juice for the day. I’m not bothered by nothing he’s saying. There’s nothing he can do, and even if it was a whole year to get ready, to prepare for what I’ve done my entire life, before professional fighting, before amateur fighting, before even street fighting. Just fighting in the house for a slice of pizza. I’ve been fighting my whole life. I am a fighter. It’s in my DNA. He’s an entertainer and the fighting is an avenue to get money and to get eyeballs on him. But this is really who I am.”
The automatic rematch clause in Woodley’s contract tells him that Paul has already entertained the idea of losing.
“I’m not accepting that,” he said. “I’m not letting it enter my eyes, ears, mind, conversation, my circle – anybody bring that up, you’re f*cking cancelled. So for me, the fact that he did that already shows me he recognizes what I’m capable of and what I can do to him.”
Either way, Woodley said fans won’t see the last of him in a boxing ring.
“I’m going to make a run at these belts,” he said. “There’s so many f*cking belts I don’t even know which one to go after, WBC, IBF, NWA...I want to make a real run at a world championship in boxing. I’m actually training through this Jake Paul [fight].
“We’re probably going to fight twice, to be honest. This is going to be the biggest pay-per-view. You see the UFC even promoting [UFC 264 as], ‘Oh, this is the biggest pay-per-view of the year.’ It’s not. They’re only doing that because this is the biggest pay-per-view of the year. How many times has Conor McGregor been about to fight and me get more attention than them? First time we’ve ever seen that. So I’m excited for this, and I think because of that, I think you’ll see us fight a few times.”