Jake Paul is gearing up for his third professional boxing match Saturday night, but it's the first time he's taking on a trained fighter.
After knocking out a fellow YouTuber in AnEsonGib and for turning the lights out on former NBA star Nate Robinson, Paul will look to solidify his reputation as a boxer by taking on former mixed martial artist Ben Askren in a pay-per-view cruiserweight bout at Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Paul's celebrity-studded fight nights have a carnival air to them—look for Snoop Dogg on commentary and a musical performance by Justin Bieber on Saturday—but by all accounts, the 24-year-old takes his training seriously. He's young enough to continue down his newfound career path for a few years, so long as he keeps converting non-believers. That means he has to continue ratcheting up the quality of his opponents.
Askren, 36, is a former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion with a 19-2 overall record in mixed martial arts. He already knows the sting of being on the wrong end of a highlight-reel knockout, courtesy of a flying knee to the face from Jorge Masvidal in July 2019.
There's no shame in losing to a guy like Masvidal, but Askren might feel differently about losing to Paul, so you can bet he will do all he can to end the latter's undefeated run at two.
Paul is facing questions outside of the ring in the buildup to this fight. On Friday, TikTok star Justine Paradise said that he sexually assaulted her in July 2019, per ESPN.com's Marc Raimondi. Paul said the allegation is "100 percent false."
Paul vs. Askren Fight Info
When: Saturday, April 17th at 9 p.m. ET (main card)
Where: Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
TV: PPV (check with provider)
Live stream: FITE.TV or Triller.com
Odds (via DraftKings): Paul -200 (wager $200 to win $100), Askren +150 (wager $100 to win $150)
Despite having years of experience as a professional fighter, Askren is the underdog against Paul. Age and name recognition might explain part of that, but it's not the only thing bettors are looking at. This is, after all, Askren's first boxing match. Sure, he's spent years on the art of throwing a punch, but striking was never his calling card, per MMA Fighting's Damon Martin:
"Instead, the two-time Hodge Trophy winner and NCAA wrestling champion always relied on his superior grappling to take fights down to the ground where he was the better fighter. For Askren, striking was always designed to set up his takedowns because he knew nobody was going to outwrestle him in the cage."
Askren doesn't seem all that worried about the transition to boxing, saying its simpler than other combat sports.
"Way less [stress than wrestling]," Askren said, per Martin. "In wrestling, you get put in all kinds of really, really strange positions. Boxing is way easier than anything. Jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, muay thai—there's very little stress comparatively."
Meanwhile, Paul has focused on the sweet science in his relatively short career. In that sense, Askren is the perfect opponent for him. Paul gets to utilize everything he's learned over the past couple of years while Askren is shedding the best parts of his game. Paul plans to punish him for stepping out of his comfort zone.
"Yeah, he's a real fighter," Paul said, per USA Today's Josh Peter. "And that's why I wanted to do this fight, is to show the world like this real fighter is getting with Jake Paul and he's going to get KO'd in two rounds."
Trying to overwhelm Askren early might be a good strategy for Paul. The longer he stays in the ring, the more dangerous things will get. Askren can try to rough up Paul in the clinch, and stamina shouldn't be an issue for him with an MMA and wrestling background. He knows striking is a weakness for Askren, so if he's confident in his own chin, Paul can try to force him to trade blows to end the night with the right opening.
If Paul becomes a real fighter by beating Askren, the question of whether he's a real boxer remains up in the air. It's a question he appears be willing to leave unanswered after he told Peter that his main goal is to "become the biggest prizefighter in the world" and make money like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor.
In order to do that, however, Paul may have to take on a trained pugilist. You can only knock out non-boxers for so long before people get bored. Askren appears to be a gateway opponent for Paul's goal of untold riches and combat sports glory. If he gets the win Saturday night, lacing up the gloves will no longer look like just another stunt from a social-media celebrity.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-3537) (IL).
21+. NJ/PA/WV/IN/IA/CO/IL/TN only. In partnership with Meadows Racetrack & Casino. Eligibility restrictions apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.