Hate it or love it, one of the year’s most talked-about combat sports events is going down this weekend and no matter how much you want to ignore it, there’s a good chance that you’ll at least take 30 seconds on Sunday to find out who emerged victorious when an inexperienced 24-year-old YouTube star put on the gloves to box a retired 36-year-old wrestling and MMA champion. That’s right, it’s time for us to have a serious discussion about this fight.
Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren.
The good news for you readers—whether you be hardcore or casual or someone who wandered here by accident after some cursed algorithm send you down a Paul wormhole—is that you don’t have to wait until tonight to find out the winner because MMA Fighting’s Alexander K. Lee and Jed Meshew are here to break down what will happen.
Will Askren send a pretending Paul packing, or will Paul back up his bluster and hand Askren an asskicking that many predicted when this matchup was first announced?
The case for Ben Askren
Lee: I confess, I went along with the most obvious narrative when it was first announced that Askren—a non-striker during his illustrious 10-year MMA career who is coming off of major hip surgery—had agreed to box Paul. It appeared that Paul had enough career savvy pick the perfect opponent for his third-ever pro fight in Askren, an older and smaller opponent with a reputable name from his accomplishments in the NCAA, Bellator, ONE Championship and, yes, even the UFC (there is that officially recognized win over Robbie Lawler on his record, after all).
Paul has said all the right things about dedicating himself to boxing over the past two and a half years. Askren was on the losing end of a wildly entertaining and sloppy standup fight against fellow grappling specialist Demian Maia. The possibility of Paul turning Askren into a viral clip like he did to Nate Robinson felt as distinct as any other outcome.
But I’ve thought about it now and I’ve removed the wool from my eyes. I won’t be bamboozled by this new age huckster any longer. I’m appealing to logic. Paul is a professional fighter by the strictest definition of the term and has never actually fought a professional fighter. Askren has been involved in combat sports for the majority of his life and trained with people 100 times more talented than Paul.
Askren is going to win.
I don’t know exactly how he’s going to do this, but I’m warming to the idea that Askren gets inside, clinches up, makes this ugly, frustrates Paul, and wears him down with his veteran tricks. Paul has fought to the fifth round once as an amateur before turning pro, but again that was against some other YouTube jockey. Going eight rounds with an actual fighter, one who is proven to have a good gas tank? That’s going to be a nightmare for this wannabe.
The questions surrounding Askren’s chin are puzzling to me, even given that Askren is technically retired and a few months shy of 37. This guy survived haymakers from Robbie frigging Lawler and he’s supposed to be worried about Paul? I understand there’s a big difference between striking defense in MMA and striking defense in boxing, but how hard could Paul possibly hit? More importantly, how many clean shots is he going to land against someone who actually has a basic grasp of martial arts techniques?
All of the pressure is on Paul to deliver. I do think Askren is feeling some of the weight of the MMA community on his shoulders even as he’s repeatedly denied that being a factor ahead of this fight. But he’s been dealing with these high pressure situations his entire life. When he competed at the Olympics. When he fought in MMA for the first time. When he made the jump to the UFC as part of a trade for Demetrious Johnson, one of the greatest fighters in history. Compared to all of that, boxing Paul is a blip on the radar (except for the sizeable mark it will make on Askren’s bank account).
Look, I get it. We’ve all seen what it looks like when Askren has to strike for any prolonged period of time. It’s not pretty. But this is still a fight and even without having the option of shooting for a double leg or picking up Paul and slamming him to the mat, Askren knows how to fight and compete at a level that Paul simply has no concept of at this stage of his career. What happens when he clips Askren and Askren doesn’t go down? What happens when Askren pops him with a jab, grabs him, and runs that Brillo pad hair right in Paul’s eyes? All the social media followers in the world can’t help Paul then.
For a guy who was a two-time national champion in wrestling and a titleholder in two major MMA promotions, Askren is an odd choice for an underdog. He’s definitely not the popular pick right now and nobody will be surprised if Paul actually does put “Funky” down for the count. But I don’t think anyone should be surprised if Askren absolutely tunes him up either. After all, only one of these guys is an actual fighter.
The case for Jake Paul
Meshew: Ben Askren is a two-time national champion wrestler. Ben Askren is a former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champion. Ben Askren is an Olympian. And he’s also 107 years old.
Has everyone just suddenly forgotten why Askren decided to retire from MMA, the sport he is best at and made a considerable amount of money in? It’s because he needed to have his hip replaced! That’s not like Paige VanZant’s permanently messed up arm or Kamaru Usman’s knees not being great, Askren’s torso didn’t work! Now, he ended up not getting a full-on hip replacement, but in late November Askren himself admitted that he was still several months removed from being able to really train again and that it would be about a year before he could fully go again. I’m no rocket doctor but I don’t think April is a year away from November.
So what does that mean? It means that by his own admission, the Askren we see on Saturday will not be at 100 percent of his athletic capability. Fortunately for Askren, he does have a deep reserve of striking techniques to fall back on against a relative novice.
Oh wait, no he doesn’t.
For all the sporting accolades that Askren carries with him—and there are many—none of them are in the world of pugilism and, as many have pointed out, that is in fact where Askren has fared the worst in his career. Askren has never been nor will he ever be a great boxer. He just doesn’t have the talent for it. Even against Demian Maia, another hopeless striker, Askren found himself getting better than he gave. When K-1 Maia is landing regularly on you, that’s a pretty serious problem.
It’s not just that Askren is a bad boxer though, it’s the way he is a bad boxer. Askren can take a shot, no doubt, but beyond that his striking instincts are all wrong, in large part because what little striking he has is supposed to set up his wrestling. Askren leans forward when he boxes and reaches his arms out constantly, leaving his chin exposed while he’s trying to grab a clinch. In MMA, that means he takes a shot but then gets a dominant position. In boxing, that means he takes a shot and then gets a short rest before they separate.
On top of all that, Askren doesn’t appear to have any power. The little striking we’ve ever seen from him was pitter-patter punches that won’t equate to much more than a tickle when he’s wearing 10 ounce gloves. Even if Jake Paul has a jaw made of cotton candy, it seems incredibly unlikely that Askren can actually hurt him.
Which brings us to Paul himself. Look, you hate him and I understand that. In fact, it’s a reasonable position to have. But hate him or not, you cannot deny that he has taken the actual sport of boxing and training very seriously. He is committed and has shown a certain aptitude for the sport. Will he ever be a good boxer? No. But he probably already is a good celebrity boxer and he’s only getting better.
For as often as the MMA world screams that boxing and MMA are different every time a boxer wants to try his hand against a world champion, that same crowd is oddly not singing that tune here as Askren does the same thing. “Askren has combat sports experience so he’s going to win, duh!” is the “Conor’s gonna use MMA angles” on Floyd of 2021. Aside from Askren being able to get punched in the head without folding like a lawn chair, none of his MMA experience translates in any way here.
Look, I understand the desire to pick Askren, I really do. Hell, just a few short months ago I was vehemently against Paul when he faced Nate Robinson and I made all the same arguments. “Paul is a joke. Robinson is at least a real former professional athlete. This is ridiculous.” But Paul proved us all wrong because he took it seriously and his opponent didn’t. The same thing is happening now. Paul is younger, faster, and probably technically proficient, not to mention he does hit harder and isn’t suffering from a body that’s been systematically ground down over the past 30 years. Jake Paul is going to win this fight and then it’s on to MacPaul-Mania.
How does tonight’s fight go down?
This poll is closed
Ben Askren by decision
Ben Askren by knockout
Jake Paul by decision
Jake Paul by knockout