My YouTube recommendations have been flooded with Ben “Funky” Askren vs Jake Paul promo videos. Ben Askren I was very familiar with because I was heavily invested in MMA when he broke into the sport in Bellator FC. He eventually made the jump to the UFC and had his serious MMA career ended with a then world record knockout in about 5 seconds to Jorge Masvidal. Jake Paul, I don’t know who the hell he is. He’s not a fighter. I can say that with certainty after watching about 30 seconds of any of the hype videos for this fight.
But this is just the most recent in a string of stunt booking boxing matches. Which is fine. Stunt bookings have been a part of boxing since boxing. But, until recently, outlandish money grabs like this had always been banished to “exhibition” or “amateur” events and never, until now, were booked with the blessing of the adjudicating athletic commission.
To take a second to explain why this is important I need to explain what the commission’s role in combat sports is.
Each state and US tribal territory has the authority to oversee combat sports (boxing, kickboxing, MMA and pro wrestling) in their jurisdiction. The 50 states have all agreed to the Unified Rules of Boxing, MMA & Muay Thai Kickboxing. The Unified Rules establish the weight classes, round lengths, strike legality (ie: outlawing elbows in boxing, but regulating elbows in MMA and legalizing them in Muay Thai), as well as establish the requirements for running an event. The commissions also retain the right and authority to review, approve or disallow any match-up. They don’t even need to give a promoter or matchmaker a reason for kicking back a bad match-up. But reasons I’ve gotten have included age disparity, experience disparity and skill disparity. Remember these reasons.
Now, since the UFC pushed into the mainstream sports scene, boxing has been almost non-existent. I’ve been here in southern New England since mid-2017, and I can’t think of any quality boxing events that have come through. I’ve been to two boxing events, and one involved a guy with a colostomy bag winning a fight, and the other was headlined by a fight between the promoter’s ace and a fighter that could have been replaced by a literal can of tomato soup and that would have been less insulting to me as a fan.
So that’s the state of boxing right now. It’s an unmitigated gong show.
Now, since 2017, what have been the big boxing fights? MacGregor/Mayweather. I can’t think of anything else. You go down to the barbershop, you hang out with the boys, and what heavyweights are we talking about?
With the lack of big time events comes a sport-wide drought. That drought takes its toll on commissions. Why? Because commissions only make money through licenses and fight night taxes. They have a fee schedule that must be met by every promoter and ever person inside the ropes doing a function must have a license, paid for either out of pocket or by the promoter, in every state they fight in. I’ve been licensed in four different states, with four different fees going to four different commissions. And I was never truly a fulltimer in the sport.
Now, this brings us back to Ben Askren vs Jake Paul. Ben Askren is a world class level freestyle wrestler, an MMA veteran with top of the card experience in both Bellator FC and the UFC. He’s 19-1 (1NC) in MMA, 30-10 in professional freestyle wrestling (and 17-2 as an NCAA wrestler), 12-2 as a professional submission artist. Ben Askren is a lifelong combat sport practitioner. Jake Paul is 2-0 as a professional boxer with wins over a British YouTuber and a retired NBA player.
In the roll of a commissioner, if this fight comes in, as a main event draw, I’m throwing it out. Ben Askren is a professional murderer. Jake Paul is a publicity stunt. As a serious athletic commission, I’m not in the business of promoting publicity stunts. I’m in the business of protecting the integrity of combat sports and the fighters’ health. The experience or skill disparity alone is enough to throw this fight out.
Let’s step out of the commissioner role and look at it from a styles clash match-up.
Ben Askren is a grappler with MMA striking defense skills. Askren uses his striking in MMA for very specific tasks. He throws distance-keepers and scramble shots. His most effective strikes are straights and crosses that he uses to walk in on an opponent to trigger a takedown or tie-up attempt. Askren has never shown explosive hand speed or power, which takes the knockout probability off the table.
Jake Paul is 2-0 as a “professional” boxer. He’s never gotten out of the second round. He’s also never fought a fighter. His first bout against AneGib was not a challenge. Gib’s defense was vertical. He dodged with his knees. He did an okay job keeping his right guard up to protect the chin (which is something Askren is excellent at). But Gib had zero stability on his feet, that means he had no targeting and no strength behind his strikes. So anything he was landing on Paul was soft. Now, if you look at his frenetic, almost spastic movement, Gib blew his load early. He was gassed out, and the 3rd knockdown could have easily been ruled a slip. So in my eyes, that’s not an adequate look at Paul’s boxing ability.
Watching the Robinson fight is a little better estimator, because at least Nate Robinson is an athlete that’s accustomed to performing in front of a live crowd (and being a former NY Knick, he’s accustomed to not being the favorite). Looking at Jake Paul’s stance, he leaves his middle wide open, and gets lazy with his right guard very early. He also closes distance and gets into clinches without landing anything damaging on the way in.
Seeing some training clips, Paul is crisp and quick on the focus mitts, and he does have a pretty good snap on his land. My problem with Jake Paul starts with the eye test. Everything about him looks like he’s playing the role of a professional boxer. He trains in a ring in the middle of a mansion, he’s got diamond studded trunks, and a Louis V. themed mask, a dope walk-in song, and he has the entourage doing all the right things.
Here’s what I haven’t seen out of Jake Paul. I haven’t seen him do a shark tank. I haven’t seen him go 10 x 3 minute rounds with a fresh opponent coming in every three minutes. I haven’t seen him fight an undercard about that went a full 6 rounds. I haven’t seen him do the cardio, the stretching, or the speed exercises. I haven’t seen him build the foundation of a boxer.
Here’s where we see the styles clash. Ben Askren matches up incredibly favorably to Jake Paul. And in that match-up we have the recipe for a very boring fight. Jake Paul is going to look to push pace, move forward and swing for the fences. Askren’s entire career is built on being able to weather that storm, and drag strikers into his world, which is a long, grindy, slog of a fight.
Now, I need to dissuade you of the notion that main event fights are ever in doubt to the promoter. Every promoter knows who will win the main event, and almost every other bout on their card. You know this by who comes to the ring second in a fight, and who gets the bigger reaction from the crowd. Now, I’m not saying fights are fixed – at least not in the traditional sense – but I will say that when a promoter submits a fight to the commission for approval, the blue corner (the ‘visitor’) is always meant to be the easiest opponent for the red corner that the promoter can possibly find that the commission will approve.
Askren is the ‘blue corner’ guy in this fight, because Jake Paul is promoted by this event’s promoter. That means that the promoter, and Jake Paul, and everybody in the business of promoting Jake Paul the boxer, believe that Paul will stop Ben Askren with the same ease that Jorge Masvidal did in 2019.
Here’s the problem with that. Jake Paul ain’t Jorge Masvidal. And Jake Paul’s right hand ain’t Masvidal’s knee. I do not believe that Jake Paul has the skill, speed or strength to stop Ben Askren. So, Ben Askren is going to take Jake Paul somewhere he’s never been, all the way to the end of a fight.
I’m predicting Paul scores one or two knockdowns, and Askren either gets a quick flash-KO by catching Paul clean through his weak guard, or Askren just wears Paul down and takes the decision, and the money, and Paul’s will to fight again.
The bottom line being; this is a stupid fight. This is a promoter train wreck. This is everything that’s wrong with boxing right now. This is glamorizing the drama and chaos of unprofessionalism in professional boxing. This is stunt booking at it’s worst.
Stop supporting this trash, and support professional boxers, mixed martial artists and kick boxers near you.