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Is Ben Askren the fighter to stop the Jake Paul hype train?

·Combat columnist
·6 min read
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Ben Askren sat at a podium for about a half-hour on Thursday, discussing his fight with Jake Paul in the main event of a Triller Fight Club pay-per-view card Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

He spoke of his desire to urinate in his own backyard, his body odor, how Dana White finally came to like him and how he watched Mike Tyson’s “bite fight” with Evander Holyfield in preparation for his professional boxing debut.

The former UFC star and Bellator and ONE MMA world champion had his tongue planted firmly in cheek at times, but he was dead on the money when he began to discuss the need for fighters to understand how to promote fights.

Baseball players, he noted, will get paid big money for putting up statistics. That’s not how fighters are paid. You won’t get paid for stats in fighting.

“It’s very important for fighters to understand that the trash talk and social media and personality are very important to progressing your career,” Askren said. “I was talking to someone about a baseball player yesterday. The guy doesn’t have a big social media following, but it doesn’t matter. If his batting average is good and he hits some home runs, he’s going to get paid a whole bunch of money. That’s true in other sports.

“In MMA and boxing and in whatever the [expletive] we’re doing this weekend, celebrity fighting, it’s just not true. If you can bring a bunch of eyeballs, they’re going to pay you a bunch of money. If you don’t understand that, you’re a moron.”

Nothing he said in his final media session summed up this event better than “whatever the [expletive] we’re doing this weekend.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 26:  Jake Paul (L) and Ben Askren face off during a news conference for Triller Fight Club's inaugural 2021 boxing event at The Venetian Las Vegas on March 26, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Paul and Askren will face each other in the main event that will take place on April 17, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Jake Paul (L) and Ben Askren face off during a news conference for Triller Fight Club's inaugural 2021 boxing event on March 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Askren is a decorated combat sports athlete who, after hip replacement surgery and a retirement from MMA, finds himself about a 2-1 underdog to Paul.

And Askren, who was derided during his MMA career for his poor striking, laughed about the notion of what he’s about to do.

“I’m getting into a boxing ring, as funny as that sounds,” he said.

He’s going to make a million dollars to fight Paul, who has gotten notoriety because of his social media following. Paul is routinely referred to as a “YouTube sensation,” but he told Yahoo Sports he doesn’t consider himself a YouTuber any more.

He will fight with the pressure of knowing that a TikTok star, Justine Paradise, has alleged that he forced her to perform a sex act without her consent. Paul, via a statement from his attorney, has denied the allegation.

Whether that will impact interest in his fight is anyone’s guess, but he has an enormous audience and his fans are devoted.

He has 20.3 million subscribers on YouTube, 14.8 million followers on Instagram and 3.8 million followers on Twitter. He helped sell a large percentage of the nearly 1.9 million pay-per-views that were sold for the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones card in November, according to Triller co-owner Ryan Kavanaugh.

Paul is able to garner the attention of a lot of people at the same time and, as Askren said, that’s what sells in combat sports. So Paul is making something of a career as a fighter, even though he has yet to face a professional fighter.

He will in Askren, who is +150 at BetMGM.

Askren insists he’s not heavily invested in the fight, though his striking at an open workout on Wednesday in Atlanta was markedly better than what he’d been releasing on social media during his camp.

“My whole premise is, I understand I suck at this, but I understand I’m a world-class athlete despite the fact I don’t look like it,” Askren said. “Sometimes you can’t judge a book by the cover. And, I’m a world-class learner. I understand how to learn things really well. And I understand that if you give me 11 weeks and I’m going to be way better, and that’s what you saw [Wednesday at the open workout].”

Askren spent a week in Los Angeles working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, who admitted he had low expectations for Askren. But Roach said he was impressed by Askren.

Roach was impressed enough that he’s been trash talking and predicting an Askren win. In addition to calling Paul “a YouTube boob,” Roach said, “Ben knocking Jake Paul on his ass will be YouTube's new most-popular video.”

Askren isn’t sure he’ll knock out Paul, or even if he’ll win. “I think betting on this fight is very risky,” he said.

What he’s certain of is that because of Paul’s notoriety, his own fame will grow and that’s something he took great pains to stress he did not want.

Askren said he believes he’s borderline autistic and said while he realizes it makes him sound bad, he doesn’t really like to talk to people he doesn’t know.

The last thing he wants, he said, is more fame.

“It’s just not a place I want to be in my life,” Askren said. “I feel a little differently when I go out on the street, I get stopped 10 times. I’m a little antisocial so I actually don’t love it. I’ve got my 11 acres at my house and I have no neighbors and I can go outside and I can [urinate] in my yard if I want to, and no one talks to me. Everyone leaves me alone and then I go coach at my wrestling academy. That’s what I love to do."

One side benefit of facing Paul, who loves to play the heel, is that Askren has earned the support of White, his former boss at the UFC. White reportedly bet $1 million on Askren to win.

Askren and White have battled viciously throughout the years, and White once said Askren was more boring than watching gnats have sex.

But because Paul’s so disliked, Askren said, he’s turned White into a fan.

“Jake Paul is tremendous in the fact that he even made Dana White like me and, man, that’s years,” Askren said. “It took years to make it happen and he made it happen, so good job, Jake Paul.”

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