Jake Paul is 4-0 as a professional boxer after a split decision win over Tyron Woodley, the former UFC welterweight champion, at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Sunday. It was a relatively convincing victory, despite one judge’s scorecard, but it was not a knockout like Paul’s previous three pro bouts. The fight went the distance — eight rounds — when Paul had not been past four minutes in any of his three previous fights.
Paul and his team had a plan coming into this fight, but the events of Sunday night make the next step a little less clear than it’s been to this point in Paul’s boxing adventure.
Figuring out what makes the most sense for Paul’s next fight will not be an easy decision. After knockouts of Nate Robinson and Ben Askren, it was pretty obvious that Paul needed a big step up in competition. After this one? That’s not nearly as clear.
If Woodley gets that “I love Jake Paul” tattoo, maybe the rematch is next up. Or if the pay-per-view buys come back big from the United Kingdom, Tommy Fury could be in the crosshairs.
The pressure remains on the polarizing YouTuber to fight legitimate opponents — real boxers. Paul and his team have to elevate the level of opponent in order to maintain the intrigue and the interest of the fans — and yet find a way to protect Paul from taking too much of a leap and risk mortgaging his drawing power.
And of course, whomever the next Paul foe ends up being, it has to be someone who can bring an audience.
“[The next opponent should be] someone who has the ability to make people believe that they can beat Jake Paul,” Paul’s top adviser, Nakisa Bidarian, told ESPN after the Woodley bout. “He’s at a level now where he can’t have easy fights. Every fight has to elevate given the type of attention he commands, given the pay-per-view box-office power he has and the relationship that he has with Showtime. We love, love, love fighting MMA opponents. Not because they’re easy, because they’re not. Tonight showed that. But it engages two different segments of the population.”
Afterward, Paul himself gave his performance a grade of C-minus, which could open the door for a rematch with Woodley. In the ring during the postfight interviews, Paul and Woodley seemed to make a deal that if Woodley got a tattoo that said “I love Jake Paul,” there would be a rematch. Oddly, the loser was supposed to get such a tattoo anyway. In the postfight news conference, Woodley said he believed a rematch would be a slam dunk. But Paul and Bidarian said that they would only consider a second fight if Woodley got the ink.
“Get the tattoo, then we’ll consider it,” Bidarian said. “The longer you wait to get the tattoo, the less likely that you’ll get the chance to fight me again, Jake said. Because you’re not taking this seriously.
“[Paul is] happy he won, but he’s not happy with the way that he won. He wanted to demonstrate that he has that knockout power against Tyron Woodley. So, I think he has an interest in doing it again. So, we’ll see.”
Then there’s Fury, who was brought onto this card specifically as a potential next opponent for Paul. But Fury was unimpressive in a four-round unanimous decision win over Anthony Taylor, an undersized MMA fighter who is a sparring partner for Paul. In the hallway after the fight, Fury and Paul got into a verbal altercation that nearly turned physical.
Fury, though, seems to have fallen out of favor with Team Paul due to his performance against Taylor. Bidarian said it will come down to Fury’s selling power in the U.K., where he is a star courtesy of his family — he is the half-brother of heavyweight champ Tyson — and his appearance on the reality show “Love Island.”
“He didn’t show himself to be as capable as people think he is,” Bidarian said of Fury. “If he’s the boxer that [Paul] has to face, that’s an easy conversation. But it only makes sense for Jake Paul, who is one of the highest-paid fighters in the world, if we think it can drive numbers.”
One thing Bidarian can guarantee, he said, is that Paul is fully committed to boxing. There was some skepticism about that immediately after the bout when Paul talked about taking some time off, getting a haircut and getting his “crooked nose” and “crooked teeth” fixed. Bidarian said Paul has told his team to be back and ready for training camp on Sept. 13 and that the “original goal” was to fight again before the end of the year.
Paul has built a gym in Puerto Rico and is “absolutely not going anywhere,” which is bad news for the many people who have been stunned by Paul making such a name for himself in boxing despite a lack of experience.
“He loves this sport,” Bidarian said. “We’ve already talked about potential opponents afterwards. I think as you can expect with a 24-year-old guy who has been going at it as long as he has, he just wants to take a few days off. It may end up being two weeks off. And then he’ll be right back at it.”