Stephen Thompson has been training in martial arts since he was a child, so you can understand if he’s a little put off by the recent trend of celebrities trying their hand at combat sports.
This weekend, YouTube star Jake Paul welcomes former UFC standout Ben Askren to the world of boxing when they headline a Triller Fight Club event this Saturday in Atlanta. The crossover clash has received plenty of mainstream attention with Paul coming off of a viral KO of NBA veteran Nate Robinson and Askren competing for the first time since he retired from MMA in 2019 following a decorated career that included winning welterweight titles in Bellator and ONE Championship.
Paul’s antics have polarized fans and fighters, with some welcoming the new generation of fans that Paul has attracted to his boxing bouts, while others have decried the amount of attention he’s received given his lack of athletic credentials.
Thompson is firmly against entertaining legitimate fighters getting tied up with Paul and his brother Logan, another YouTube star who has tried his hand at boxing, and he couldn’t help but express his desire to smack the brothers during an interview on What the Heck.
“I refuse,” Thompson said when asked if he’d be watching Paul-Askren on Saturday. “I refuse. I refuse to watch that. It is kind of cringe. I think it’s kind of cringe. The YouTube people, the people who are just in it for the entertainment—which, everybody’s watching for the entertainment—but as an athlete, that shouldn’t even make sense. That shouldn’t even make sense to me.
“I think it would just hurt Ben Askren’s legacy. I know some other guy, [Paul’s] brother [Logan] tried to get the fight with Mayweather. I think it would just hurt their legacy. As an athlete, I don’t think it makes sense, but as entertainment, as a fan of the game, and me being a YouTuber as well, those guys are making moves. The Paul brothers are making moves. So hats off to those guys, but I just want to slap ‘em. I want to slap ‘em. I do. I hope that Ben Askren goes out there—I know it’s boxing—but picks him up and slams him, gets disqualified, and looks at him and says, ‘That’s real fighting.’”
While Askren driving Paul through the canvas is not one of the many prop bets currently lined up for Saturday, one can offer a more traditional wager on who they think will win the fight and Paul is currently a slight favorite. Since the fight was announced, Paul has been a popular pick to win the boxing duel given that Askren was more well-known for his wrestling and grappling skills in MMA than his striking.
However, Thompson likes Askren’s chances, especially if he can use his experience and durability to make it an ugly fight against the less combat-tested Paul.
“I think Ben Askren could have a chance to win though,” Thompson said. “If he goes out there—Jake Paul, he’s gonna go out there guns blazing and we all know Ben can take a punch and he’s tough. I think he can weather the storm and just lay on him and mean mug him and dirty box him and tire him out and win the fight.
“That would be nuts. Ben Askren winning a boxing match. Have you seen the guy hit a bag?”
Thompson made it clear that he will be watching Saturday’s UFC show headlined by middleweight contenders Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum, which airs around the same time as the Paul-Askren Triller event. Even though he’s highly critical of the matchup, he confessed that he’s found at least some amusement in the lead-up to the fight.
“What’s funny was the press conference was hilarious, where he just leaned back and touched Jake’s face and Jake gave him a little pitty-pat to the body,” Thompson said. “I’m like, what is that? What was that? Were you trying to hit him? What was that? Oh my gosh, it’s funny.”