There was a golden period of time when Tyron Woodley was considered among the best welterweights to ever step inside the UFC’s famous octagon.
The American possessed incredible knockout power, formidable wrestling and a steely mentality that took him to the very top of the game.
If you’d have predicted as recently as 2018, when Woodley made his last title defence with a stunning performance over Britain’s Darren Till, that in just three years he’d be boxing a YouTuber, people would have laughed.
Former UFC champions Tyron Woodley will be the next man to take on Jake Paul
Paul has agreed to take on Woodley in his first fight of a deal with Showtime in the US
Woodley has pursued a number of different careers outside the cage including as a rap artist
But here we are. The Jake Paul circus rolls on and the entertainer-turned-fighter or whatever you want to label him as, has selected his next opponent.
When Paul fought Ben Askren, who looked immobile and frankly hopeless with boxing gloves on, the MMA community collectively put their head in their hands.
The retired wrestler had based his entire game around grappling in the cage and was badly exposed by a young and moderately talented amateur boxer in Paul who has clearly worked hard to develop his skills.
The YouTuber rocked up to major UFC events and was serenaded by chants of ‘f*** Jake Paul’, which all works out rather nicely for him and continues to generate a buzz around what purists consider a freak show.
Askren, while disappointed and embarrassed by his first round KO loss, could be comforted by the fact that he banked half-a-million dollars just for stepping in there.
Which brings us to Woodley. The 39-year-old has not missed a trick and knows this will be his last, and biggest pay-day. As Sportsmail reported this week, it will be an even bigger pay-day than any of the ones he received in the UFC.
He can play off the ‘exacting sweet revenge for MMA’ narrative, and has done, saying: ‘You would visualize Jake Paul getting his head knocked smooth off his neck. Sometimes you talk yourself into a situation that you can’t back yourself out of. My mom used to say, ‘Your mouth wrote a check that your ass can’t cash.’ That’s exactly what happened.
‘All the clout chasing, all the yelling, all the blah, blah blah, ‘I’m a fighter, all the MMA guys don’t never want to fight me.’
Woodley won the belt by defeating Robbie Lawler (right) back in 2016 at UFC 201
‘Now, you got a motherf*cker that’s going to fight you like you ain’t never been fought before. Ain’t no sparring you can do to motherf*****g get ready for it.
‘Ain’t no meditation. Ain’t no kum ba yah. Ain’t no mama se mama sa mama coosa. Ain’t sh*t you can do. You getting your ass beat. I’m pumped up about it.’
And maybe there’s an element of truth in it. Maybe Woodley really does want to play the part of savior to the MMA world. But mostly, this is a fighter who has suffered an alarming fall from grace, grabbing as much cash as he can before his 40th birthday and inevitable fade into retirement.
Like Askren, Woodley’s background is in wrestling. The 11th of 13 children, he was raised in Missouri and excelled in high school and college on the mats before making his professional MMA debut in 2009.
He won 10 of his first 11 fights and the UFC came calling but it wasn’t until 2014 that Woodley went on a career-defining run of form.
Britain’s Darren Till fell short in his shot at welterweight gold against Woodley in 2018
Wins over Dong Hyun Kim and Kelvin Gastelum earned him a title shot against Robbie Lawler. He seized the opportunity with a stunning first round knockout and for a while, looked sensational.
A draw, then win over Stephen Thompson followed by victories over Demain Maia and Darren Till had people talking about Woodley one day rivalling Georges St-Pierre’s legacy as the greatest welterweight of all time.
But those predictions seem ridiculous now given the American’s alarming slump.
He lost the belt to current champion Kamaru Usman. There’s no shame in that, but he was dominated for the entirety of the contest.
It would be the same story against Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington with the ex-champion tapping out after hurting his rib against the latter.
Then Vicente Luque sent Woodley scuttling from the UFC having fought the last bout on his contract, losing in the first round by submission.
Woodley ended his time in the UFC with an slump, including a loss to Colby Covington
Woodley has worked as a television analyst for the UFC and developed his broadcasting skills
Whether Woodley ever really found the fire to compete again having lost his title is a question that needs to be asked.
He was criticised for taking his eye off the ball with a number of distractions, working for the UFC as an analyst during broadcasts and even trying to launch a career in entertainment, featuring as an actor in ‘Straight Outta Compton’, Vengeance and an Indian film called ‘Sultan’.
In that Bollywood blockbuster, he features alongside Salman Khan, an acting megastar in the country who has 40m Instagram followers.
Woodley has fingers in many pies. He started a podcast named ‘Morning Wood with Deez Nutz’ and pursued a rap career in 2019.
There was one collaboration with former UFC star Randy Couture and they performed an adapted version of Old Town Road that has to be seen to be believed.
Woodley gave a revealing insight on Joe Rogan’s podcast that shed some light on why he’s pursuing so many strands in his career, he said: ‘I don’t even really like fighting, I’m just good at it.
‘I don’t like the politics behind it, I don’t like that the martial art element is being lost. There are ways that the sport has taken the love out of it.’
Given all these forays into the world of celebrity and entertainment, it should come as no surprise that Woodley aggressively pursued the fight with Paul.
He will be front and centre as the first fight of Paul’s deal with Showtime Sports and having clashed with Paul while cornering close friend Askren, he can consider it a job well done.
Woodley talked his way into it, saying: ‘Some people are really built for this and some people are not. It’s not even an MMA fighter fighting a YouTuber – it’s a man fighting a man.
‘You’re talking s*** so let’s handle it. And I really don’t think he got the balls, I don’t think he would do it. He didn’t pick out me, he didn’t pick out Conor [McGregor], he didn’t pick out [Jorge] Masvidal.
‘He picked out Ben Askren because he felt like he was not known for his striking.
‘Don’t get it twisted; I got my name from gang banging and fighting, I got paid to f*** people up. I was verified on the street before I got verified on Instagram. People know me and my family name from fighting.
Paul knocked out Ben Askren but Woodley believes he is the man to end the hype
‘I’m from the murder capital of the US, people don’t play games with me.’
Of course, Woodley knows full well that this is all a game. It is a money-making enterprise that will last as long as people are interested in seeing the Paul brothers knock people out or lose consciousness themselves.
In terms of his reputation, defeat by Paul would do irrevocable damage. His legacy in the octagon would be tainted and the cruel reality is that he’d be remembered as ‘the ex-UFC champ who lost a fight to a YouTuber’.
Woodley risks committing career suicide and given all that’s on offer you can hardly blame him.
He’s doing it for the cash, for the exposure and yes, for the chance to batter a wind-up merchant into oblivion.