When YouTube celebrity turned boxer Jake Paul called out Ben Askren for a fight, the former Bellator and ONE champion was admittedly at a loss.
It wasn’t because he hadn’t been called out before because that was just part of the job while Askren was in the middle of his mixed martial arts career. Instead, he explains outside of hearing the name, he had no idea why the 24-year-old “influencer” was getting so much attention.
“Honestly, when he first called me out, I had heard the name but I didn’t know anything about him whatsoever,” Askren said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I’m like why is this dude so famous? I can’t really figure it out for the life of me. I guess kids like him and sh*t.”
Paul has definitely built an audience thanks to viral videos made online alongside his brother Logan Paul, who has also crossed over into boxing as well.
The younger of the two brothers eventually made his professional debut in late 2019 against another YouTube celebrity named “AnEsonGib” and he won the fight by first-round knockout. Paul then followed that up by delivering a brutal knockout to former NBA player Nate Robinson on the undercard for the recent exhibition bout between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.
Following that win, Paul began facing criticism for not facing actual fighters during his boxing career. Rather than calling out actual boxers, however, Paul turned his attention towards numerous mixed martial artists as he attempted to draw somebody into a fight with him.
Eventually an offer went out to Askren, who was more than happy to accept even if he was never known as a prolific striker during his fight career.
Since the bout agreements were signed, Paul has gone on the offensive with his trash talk while also incorporating a training session with UFC welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal, who knocked out Askren with a flying knee in just five seconds when they clashed in 2019. While playing head games, Paul has also promised that he’s taking his boxing career very seriously, which was part of the reason he left his former home in Los Angeles and relocated to Miami to focus solely on training.
For his part, Askren can’t say how much dedication Paul might actually have for his boxing career but he hasn’t been impressed by what he’s seen so far.
“So I had seen the Nate Robinson [fight] and when I signed the deal I went back and watched the other one,” Askren explained. “The other one was really, really bad.
“I guess to his credit, he looks better against Nate Robinson but better against Nate Robinson? Nate Robinson looked like he didn’t spar one time for that fight. Better against Nate Robinson, I’m not sure that means better. Maybe Nate Robinson made him look that good.”
Maybe Paul is putting real effort into becoming a better boxer but Askren knows from personal experience that it takes a lot of time to truly develop those kinds of skills, especially without coming from an elite athletic background.
As an example, Askren helped ex-WWE superstar CM Punk prepare for his UFC debut and while he commends the former professional wrestler for putting in tireless hours in training to get ready, he was already behind when the race began.
“CM Punk, I was there, he did train seriously but there’s just something about starting a new career at age 37,” Askren said. “It wasn’t like he was elite at any of these sports. He wasn’t elite at boxing or wrestling or kickboxing or jiu-jitsu or he was really elite at professional wrestling but that wasn’t really interactive, you versus me. So you don’t know what that feels like. You haven’t been in those wars and it takes time.
“With Jake Paul, now he did start at 25 or something, he started two years ago. With the right environment and the right amount of time could he become elite? Yes. Do I think that’s what’s going to happen? No, I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.”
For the next 11 weeks, Askren promises he’s going to put everything into training for the boxing match with Paul to make sure he’s ready.
By the time April 17 comes and goes, Askren expects that the results will prove to Paul that perhaps he made an ill informed decision in calling out a real fighter and perhaps he’s better off sticking with opponents who don’t know how to throw a punch.
“I would venture to guess once this thing starts getting serious, I think that getting serious starts on April 17, he’s going to think twice about it,” Askren said. “He’s going to think ‘wow, there’s a lot easier ways for me to make money in life. I kind of thought this was a good idea, I thought this was cool and now maybe I’m thinking twice about this.
“Maybe it’s one where he says that’s too hard or there’s easier ways to make money but I mean with someone who’s got that large of a following, I would anticipate there’s always someone he can fight to make some money. Maybe it’s not as much, maybe there’s a dip or something but I’m sure there’s some other YouTuber he can fight. I don’t even know who all these YouTubers are, I have no idea. But I’m sure there’s someone else he could pick who has an equally large following and they could get other people motivated to watch it.”