Johnson returns to MMA competition for the first time since October 2019 when he challenges Adriano Moraes for the ONE flyweight title April 7 in the main event of ONE on TNT 1. The former UFC flyweight champion is 3-0 since he was traded to the promotion from the UFC for Askren in 2018.
Askren and Paul headline the Triller Fight Club event in Atlanta and when discussing the event with MMA Fighting, Johnson says if he was given free money that he had to throw down on the bout between former ONE and Bellator champion Askren and YouTube celebrity Paul, he’s leaning towards the latter.
“Let’s all be honest, and Ben Askren I think would talk about it, Ben Askren hasn’t been the best striker in mixed martial arts,” Johnson told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “Do I think he’ll be the best striker in boxing? I would say I don’t think it’s gonna happen. When I look at how well Jake Paul moves—and he does have some rhythm to his movement—I think Ben Askren, he’s been a world champion in mixed martial arts because he can grind out someone, he can wrestle, he can take people out of their element.
“But when it’s boxing, and you’re in that one element, it’s very hard to get someone out of their element. Yes, he’s gonna smother him and do his dirty boxing, but—yes, I know Jake Paul is a YouTube star—he’s training just as hard as a world champion is. He has unlimited access to the best trainers in the world. He has the funding, not saying Ben Askren doesn’t but anytime you fight somebody who has training, there’s always that chance. I’m not discounting Ben Askren out of this fight. But if somebody came to me and said, ‘Demetrious Johnson, here’s $1 million, who are you putting the money on? You have to f*ckin bet, if you don’t bet, I’m taking the $1 million with me,’ well, f*ck, I’m throwing it on Jake Paul. I think he’s gonna win the fight. If I don’t bet, I’m gonna lose it anyways so I’ll go ahead and bet on Jake Paul.”
While his head and his money would lean towards Paul, Johnson’s heart and allegiance is siding with Askren.
“I want Ben Askren to win,” Johnson said. “I hope he wins because he comes from my line of sport. He’s a wrestler taking on a YouTube star. But when I look at it, I’m like, dude, Jake Paul actually has knockout power. Ben Askren’s been knocked out before so it’s not like it can’t happen again.”
Prior to his knockout win over NBA veteran Nate Robinson in November on the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. undercard, Paul had expressed interest in matchups with well-known stars in the MMA space; naming Askren, Jorge Masvidal and Conor McGregor specifically. Askren spoke with MMA Fighting not long after the challenge was laid out and seemed all-in on the idea despite just coming off of a major hip surgery.
“Jake Paul wants to box me,” Askren stated. “I don’t know, I’m not a boxer but I could beat up a bum YouTube celebrity.
“It would be something to do because you could say I did it. I don’t gotta go box f*ckin Roy Jones and get my ass whooped or nothing. But I could box some YouTube bum and get paid for it? What a tremendous livelihood.”
Many in the mixed martial arts community feel like Askren has the weight of the entire sport on his shoulders heading into the grudge match with Paul next month. When it comes to how Askren has been handling himself throughout the build to the fight, Johnson says he would do the same thing if were in Askren’s shoes.
“[I would handle it exactly] the way that he is,” Johnson explained. “At the end of the day, people need to realize that we’re all human, we all have feelings, we all have goals, and we all want to put a show on for everybody. If Ben Askren goes out there, gets knocked out, and gets the bricks beaten off of him, I’m gonna treat him the same way as if he won that fight.
“I think Ben Askren is an amazing human being. He’s great. He’s very creative, he’s hilarious, I’m a big fan of his Twitter feed and how he just goes on there and talks so much stuff. But I think he’s gonna go out there and give it a hell of a time, and if he goes out there and wins, I wouldn’t be... I’ll actually be surprised if he goes out there and wins. But I’m happy he still has the ability to go out and do this. He’ll make some good money and everyone that would make fun of him, he’ll be going to cash that big check probably on that Monday morning.
“Danny Castillo, I’ll never forget this, everybody booed him somewhere. He goes, ‘You’re gonna boo me? You know what? That’s okay because when I’m driving to the bank Monday morning to cash my check, you f*ckers will all be at work working,’ and I thought he was such a gangster for saying that. That’s always a good way to look at it, right?”