Ben Askren will be the first to admit that striking wasn’t his best weapon when competing in mixed martial arts but that’s mostly because throwing hands with opponents was never a part of his game plan.
Instead, the two-time Hodge Trophy winner and NCAA wrestling champion always relied on his superior grappling to take fights down to the ground where he was the better fighter. For Askren, striking was always designed to set up his takedowns because he knew nobody was going to out wrestle him in the cage.
“When I was doing MMA, all my stand up was based around how do I execute the intro to the striking and then get to my wrestling,” Askren said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I was very, very successful at it.
“I calculated this the other day, I think I got a takedown in 48 out of 50 rounds that I ever fought in mixed martial arts. So my strategy worked really, really, really well. That’s like a 95-percent success rate or somewhere around there.”
So why exactly would a former Olympic wrestler, who focused so much on taking opponents down throughout his mixed martial arts career suddenly believe he could crossover to boxing to win a showdown against Jake Paul?
Askren is happy to explain.
“Boxing, obviously it’s different, but I told someone the other day that I’m really good at athletics,” Askren said. “I wanted to be a really great wrestler. I won NCAA titles and made the Olympics. I wanted to be a good mixed martial artist. I won multiple belts in multiple organizations.
“If I want to beat up an amateur boxer, it ain’t gonna take me more than three months of training to do so.”
Since signing to fight the YouTube superstar at the upcoming Triller pay-per-view on April 17, Askren has done nothing but focus on his boxing while also coming back from major hip surgery that played a part in the end of his fighting career.
The procedure Askren had done to his hips would definitely making wrestling or fighting more difficult but he knew the stress on his body would be far less if he was just boxing.
“I did say when I retired, I will never be a full-time fighter but if something interesting comes up, I’d be willing to accept that,” Askren said about accepting the fight with Paul. “This falls into that category I think. I’m not going to be a full-time boxer but I got an interesting opportunity and I’m going to take advantage of it.
“Way less [stress than wrestling]. In wrestling, you get put in all kinds of really, really strange positions. Boxing is way easier than anything. Jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, Muay Thai, there’s very little stress comparatively.”
The same could be said with Askren’s approach to training with only three months to get his boxing skills ready for a fight against Paul.
While he obviously respects boxers who have put their entire lives into the sport, Askren knows that learning how to throw an effective jab or a combination of punches to do damage to Paul will take him far less time to learn than when he was making his transition from wrestling to mixed martial arts.
If anything, Askren was just excited to see how good he could get in such a short amount of time.
“I love the aspect like training to try and be good at something,” Askren said. “When you think about it, boxing is so much easier than mixed martial arts. You just have to take your two hands and punch somebody in the face.
“Whereas in mixed martial arts you have to worry about the takedown, you can get takedowns, you can stuff the takedowns, you can clinch them, you can knee them, you can kick them, you can punch them, you can elbow them. Once you’re on the ground, then there’s a whole other boatload of stuff. MMA is almost an information overload. This one is just drilling repetitions, getting in shape, feeling time and distances, that type of stuff.”
As soon as he signed for the fight earlier this year, Askren revealed that he’s making quite a payday before ever stepping into the ring for a boxing match for the first time.
Money can always be a great motivating factor for any athlete and Askren is certainly no different.
That said, the 36-year-old retired UFC fighter is doing this for more than just money because a chance to punch Paul in the face was just the type of challenge to get him excited about competing again.
“I wouldn’t have done it for nothing because my time is valuable and I have a lot of things going on,” Askren said. “But at the same time, in my younger years say if I was in college and I was bored in the summer, I didn’t really have anything going on, yeah I would have done it for free. If I wasn’t busy. Right now, my life is really busy. I own five wrestling academies. I’m doing a whole bunch of things so my time is valuable.
“Let’s say we’re in college and I’m on summer break and I got no classes and you say ‘hey Ben, let’s go throw on some boxing gloves on and fight this dude over here and we’re going to videotape it,’ I would have said yes, let’s go. That sounds like fun. I’ve done that before.”