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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Explained: How Jake Paul vs Ben Askren could change professional boxing

The fight — which headlines Triller Fight Club's second pay-per-view event at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia — is the latest in the trend of crossovers and celebrity-boxers.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
April 18, 2021 12:09:59 am
How Jake Paul vs Ben Askren could change professional boxingYouTuber Jake Paul and former MMA champion Ben Askren will compete in a cruiserweight boxing match Sunday morning, April 18 (India time). (YouTube Screengrab/MMA Fightings on SBN)

Gone are the days when professional boxers earned victories and padded their records in search of a marquee fight. The latest high-profile bout is between a YouTuber and a retired MMA fighter.

YouTuber Jake Paul and former MMA champion Ben Askren will compete in a cruiserweight boxing match Sunday morning, April 18 (India time). The fight — which headlines Triller Fight Club’s second pay-per-view event at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia — is the latest in the trend of crossovers and celebrity-boxers.

 

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While it has the support of many for bringing eyeballs to pro-boxing, Paul vs Askren is also being dismissed by purists as a sideshow.

Referring to Paul, Mike Tyson has said that “boxing owes YouTubers”. Claressa Shields meanwhile proclaimed, “He can come in the ring weighing 180 pounds and I will come weighing 168 and I will beat the s**t out of him!”

Here’s why the fight is dividing the boxing community.

Who is Jake Paul?

A 24-year-old with a mass following: precisely 20 million subscribers on YouTube and 18.5 on Instagram and Twitter combined.

The internet personality’s boxing career began alongside elder brother Logan’s, when the two fought another YouTuber brothers pair, England’s KSI and Deji Olatunji. While Logan and KSI boxed to a majority draw, Jake won the white-collar boxing match against Deji with a technical knockout.

Since then, Paul has amassed a 2-0 record. Last January, he defeated another YouTuber AnEsonGib. He then competed on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s comeback fight against Roy Jones Jr in November, knocking out former NBA point guard and Slam Dunk champion Nate Robinson. In the two professional fights, he has produced two knockouts and six knockdowns over three rounds.

“I’ve always played sports and been competitive my whole entire life – I’m super competitive,” Paul told Rolling Stone. “When I moved to Los Angeles to act and make content, it was a great opportunity, but I sort of left sports behind. When I got the opportunity to box when I was 21, it brought back the old Jake Paul. It brought back the competitive, athletic Jake Paul. I just fell in love with it. When I won my first boxing match, it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

More than boxing, it’s Paul’s “boxing lifestyle” that frequently goes viral. The brash, often crass trash-talking and shenanigans has galvanised his fanbase and angered his “haters”. Paul mouthed off at MMA megastar Conor McGregor, the Irishman’s rival Nate Diaz and his training partner Dillon Danis. All those names are on his list, but first up is Ben Askren.

Who is Ben Askren?

A retired world-class MMA fighter and wrestler. Askren was a champion in Bellator and ONE Championship MMA promotions and fought three times in the UFC, amassing an MMA record of 19-2-1. More impressive are his exploits on the mat. Askren is a two-time NCAA Division I national champion (four-time finalist) and was part of the 2008 Olympic contingent.

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The fight against Paul, however, is the 36-year-old’s boxing debut. And while his wrestling credentials speak for themselves, Askren famously lacks in the striking department.

Why is the fight being criticised?

That the bout between a YouTuber-boxer and a retired MMA fighter is getting more traction than several seasoned pros has rubbed off purists the wrong way. And while Paul’s persona and roguishness have generated interest, it has also irked the boxing fraternity.

“They’re making a mockery of boxing, OK?” Claressa Shields — two-time Olympic gold medalist and multiple-time world champion who herself is preparing for an MMA debut in June — told TMZ. “I just say that because there are so many fighters who deserve to be on that platform under Mike Tyson and Roy Jones that did not get that opportunity… Jake Paul is making his money, he’s doing his thing. But stay away from us real fighters.”

Dave Coldwell, a UK-based trainer and manager, believes the criticism comes from “the way that they carry themselves, talking like they can be world champions.”

“Just because you have brought through the media attention, and you’ve got the spotlight doesn’t actually mean that you’re the best in the world,” Coldwell told The Indian Express.

“It’s not a great spectacle for me when I watch these guys… like Jake Paul’s not even fighting real boxers. They are people that are just coming from another sport and it’s almost a disaster waiting to happen. Boxing is dangerous. There have been cases where people get injured, get killed in boxing. And I don’t feel that they understand the seriousness of the sport.

“When you go into something, you have to treat something with respect. And if they did that a little bit more by living the life properly, taking up competitive fights for their level, that’s fine. But when they come in, fight a basketball guy, chins him, and they’re talking about beating top name fighters. That’s ridiculous.”

Who are the supporters?

The biggest supporter is one of the heavyweights of professional boxing — Mike Tyson, who has said that “boxing owes YouTubers”.
Tyson — who admitted — “I didn’t know (Jake) existed until my sons wanted to fight him one day,” and was in attendance to watch the Paul brothers fight for the first time in 2018.

“Listen, my ego says so many things, but my reality is they help boxing so much,” Tyson told reporters after his comeback fight against Roy Jones Jr. “Boxing owes these guys, they owe these YouTube boxers some kind of respect. They should give them some belts because these guys make boxing alive. Boxing was pretty much a dying sport. UFC was kicking our butts, and now we got these YouTube boxers boxing with 25 million views. Boxing’s going back. Thanks to the YouTube boxers.”

Nakisa Bidarian, Paul’s manager and former UFC chief strategy officer and chief financial officer, stuck up for his client.

“It kind of confuses me when people talk about disrespecting the sport or not paying his dues,” Bidarian told the Rolling Stone. “You definitely have more negative voices in boxing than positive, but you also have very powerful voices like Mike Tyson, like Roy Jones Jr., like Evander Holyfield — legends of the sport who have clearly said, ‘This is a good thing, you should embrace this.’

There is an audience for this. It’s not necessarily about it being good for the sport because it’ll bring new viewers in, it’s just expanding the sport as a whole. It’s expanding the audience, it’s expanding the reach.”

“Anything that promotes boxing, anything that brings new eyeballs to the sport — new interest, new enthusiasm — has to be supported,” Mauricio Sulaiman, president of the World Boxing Council (WBC) sanctioning body, told ESPN.

How could the fight influence professional boxing?

The seeds of the current ‘crossover’ revolution were sown back in August 2017, when Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather. The bout was far from competitive — Mayweather won his 50th and last fight with a TKO in the 10th round — but earned both competitors upwards of $50 million.

Foundations are already being laid for a superfight between the current UFC heavyweight champ Francis Ngannou and lineal heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury. Ngannou believes he can outbox Fury, Fury believes Ngannou is “easy work”.

While commerce, prizefighting and popularity have always been prominent elements of professional boxing, Paul vs Askren could further escalate the involvement of celebrity-boxers and crossovers.

If Askren wins, Paul’s stock will go down. How considerably depends on the nature of the defeat. But if Paul wins — which is a strong possibility with Askren being a lacklustre striker despite decades of wrestling experience — expect the young one to angle himself into bigger fights.

In any case, both Jake and Paul will find themselves substantially richer come Sunday night. According to MMAFighting, Paul will net himself $690,000 for the fight, while Askren gets $500,000. This is without any pay-per-view revenue shares or fight bonuses.
For Askren, that’s reason enough.

“The first time (I was asked about the fight) they didn’t offer me money. It was just ‘Hey would you be interested?’ and I said yeah, I’ll think about it,” Askren said on the Food Truck Diaries show. “They made me a nice offer, and it was something I wanted to do anyway, so I said sure… It’s probably going to be the biggest payday of my career.”

Jake Paul vs Ben Askren: Official PPV live-stream on the FITE TV app. Main card kicks off 6:30am IST.

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