Eddie Alvarez has a lot of respect for his fellow former Bellator champion.
Like most people on the MMA side of things, Alvarez knows how strange it is for Ben Askren, an accomplished professional fighter, to have agreed to a boxing match with Jake Paul, a hugely popular social media personality who has only recently stepped into the ring. But just because Askren is putting himself at risk of embarrassment, doesn’t mean he should be counted out, according to Alvarez.
Alvarez spoke to MMA Fighting about the April 17 boxing bout, what might be motivating Askren, and why he likes the retired MMA fighter’s chances.
“Ben’s a unique guy,” Alvarez said on What the Heck. “You don’t know what to expect with Ben Askren. That goes for him just as a person, that’s how he wrestled. You can’t run from yourself, that’s the type of person he is. I just seen him today on Twitter, he said, ‘In case you guys didn’t notice, I don’t give a sh*t about what any of you guys think of me here.’ And I’m just like, that’s the key to happiness, right? He’s figured it out already and I think everybody else needs to figure it out. But he’s doing his own thing. He’s ‘Groovy Ben.’”
“As far as the fight with Jake Paul, I mean, it will probably be the largest money fight of his career. So anybody like Ben who’s spent their life in combat sports and given their life to something really dangerous, I think they get a chance to reap the benefits of their name, of their brand and everything afterwards by doing what they would see as seemingly an easier competitive match than what the majority of their career was. I think that’s how Ben sees it.”
Alvarez and Askren both starred for Bellator in the early 2010s, capturing titles in the lightweight and welterweight divisions, respectively. Both saw great success following their Bellator runs, with Alvarez capturing the UFC lightweight championship and Askren continuing the unbeaten start to his career with a title run with ONE Championship.
When it was Askren’s turn to head to the UFC, he had one of the most memorable three-fight runs in the promotion’s history. First, he defeated former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler by technical submission in a bout rife with controversy, then he followed that up by being on the receiving end of the fastest knockout in UFC history courtesy of Jorge Masvidal. The win over Askren vaulted Masvidal into superstardom.
Askren then lost in a wildly entertaining—if sometimes sloppy—fight against Demian Maia before announcing his retirement in 2019. He’s now set to enter the boxing world, a move that seemingly have him at a disadvantage given that Askren was not known for his striking skills during his MMA career. Alvarez understands the skepticism, but thinks Askren’s competitive history can’t be ignored.
“In actuality, do I feel like Jake’s a better boxer?” Alvarez continued. “After seeing Jake over the past year or so, kind of how committed he is and what he’s doing, yeah, I do feel like he’s a better boxer than Ben. But there’s some intangibles that you really can’t measure that have nothing to do with boxing. That’s like, Ben Askren, he’s just a winner in general. The guy’s been winning longer and knows how to win more than Jake Paul does. So you can’t disregard them kind of intangibles. Hodge Trophy winner, the list goes on and on. NCAA champion. Some of them things, them intangibles, you can’t disregard them.
“Do I feel like Jake’s a better boxer? Yeah. Do I feel like Ben Askren’s just a frickin’ winner altogether, yeah. And I’m not gonna disregard that. I’m looking forward to the spectacle. I’ll be tuning in.”
As much faith as Alvarez has in Askren, he’s also aware of the public pressure that’s starting to pile up. After all, Askren is the one signing on the dotted line after Paul also called out UFC star Conor McGregor and Bellator fighter Dillon Danis, so in a twisted way he’s standing in as MMA’s representative.
At least that’s how some fans have framed it and Alvarez won’t deny that the narrative exists, fair or not.
“It is because they know the consequences of Ben getting beat,” Alvarez said. “It’s gonna be this guy, YouTuber, claiming that because he beat Ben Askren that he was right and he can beat any MMA guy. He’s out there saying I’ll beat these MMA guys up because they don’t train boxing and he gets a win over Ben, he’s the worst guy to lose to. He’s gonna be as loud as ever.
“He’s gonna say, ‘See? I told you guys so.’ Oh man, it’s gonna be a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of fighters in MMA and a lot of the fans in MMA if this guy figures out a way to win.”
Up next for Alvarez, he fights Iuri Lapicus on April 7 at ONE Championship’s debut on TNT.