One sentence summary
Phil: The heroic Ben Askren desperately fights to save the honour of MMA from evil youtubers who just want to make a quick buck
David: Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren
Record: Jake Paul 2-0 Ben Askren 0-0
Odds: Jake Paul -190 Ben Askren +160
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: I’ll be perfectly honest. I can’t tell you much, if anything, about Paul’s history. On the surface, he has the look of an Entourage character rejected by the writers for being too hollow, and the sound of a generic nu-metal band trying to cover a classic rap song. Like Paul himself, it’s hard to believe this is a thing that is real. But maybe I’m being too harsh on an obscure industrial metal band; an obscure industrial metal band nobody would remember unless they were huge Fast and Furious fans (of the original no less — easily the worst) and distinctly remember the milquetoast rock song played during one of the least convincing sex scenes you’ll ever see. I know about Paul through an episode of That’s Cringe, in which the tiny meat gang laugh at the absurdity of a grown man literally trying to relive his high school years just so he can make fun of...teachers (?). No word on if Paul ever came up with a diss track about nurses, the ASPCA, or those government dicks trying to protect beavers. Speaking of which, have you ever heard the sound of a baby beaver? It’s cuteness overload. Which this fighter, this fight, and this miserable experience resemble in no way, shape, or form.
Phil: Is Jake Paul the one with the dead body in the forest? Or is that the other one? As a creaky greybeard, my experiences with this ghastly family are limited to the things which bust out of the wider internet or those which are combat sports related. Thus I can tell you that a Paul (one of ‘em) has beaten a couple of people, a youtuber and a basketball player. Is it this Paul? I am assuming that it is. The main question is, is he the superior brother? Because there’s always a pretty big sibling divergence in fightin’ talent. Shogun and Ninja, Alistair and Valentjin, Patricky and Patricio, Chinzo and Lyoto. There’s always a good brother and a not so good one. If this one goes down does the other one storm into play like one of the Billy Goats Gruff?
David: If this were any other former mixed martial artist, this fight might resemble the cliched ‘fall from grace.’ Why is a former fighter sullying their name just to make one of the Peaked in High School brothers richer? Anyone familiar with Askren knows this is kind of his wheelhouse. Sure this is said wheelhouse’s nadir. But he’s never taken himself seriously, or MMA for that matter. And why should he? As the object of Dana’s anti-affection, he knows how willingly MMA rises below vulgarity. That’s always been Askren’s charm. He’s a contradiction of elements: like a four-star general playing Mario Kart drinking games with his troops, he doesn’t care how this fight will be viewed, and that’s a spirit I can get on board with. Even if Askren is still basically an edgelord himself.
Phil: Askren has been another fighter, like Covington, who has shown that the Chael playbook is a little harder to stick to than people give it credit for. Covington made the “error” of being fundamentally charmless, but Askren shared his other mistake: making Dana mad. He would have made a perfect rival to sell Hendricks after GSP left the division, but Dana couldn’t get past their public shit-talking. As such, he had a lucrative (and relatively easy) career in ONE, before cashing in later on with one of the funniest UFC runs it’s ever been my privilege to watch. Like him or loathe him, Askren has always carved his own mercenary path, and this seems like a logical end point.
What’s at stake?
David: I mean. If Paul magically wins, I guess we could all revert back to discussions about boxing versus MMA. Except instead of boxing vs. MMA, it’s about MMA vs. Influencers. And we could have an irate, head-vein popping Rogan screaming at the top of his lungs arguing with whatever influencer is the forever twenty-one version of Lou DiBella.
Phil: THE PRIDE OF MMA IS AT STAKE. Man it is an absolute shocker how many people are genuinely invested in this one and desperately want Askren to win it...? Like, he’s fighting for MMA’s wider legitimacy or something. This is super goddamn weird. MMA doesn’t have wider legitimacy! It is a silly sport, for silly people!
Where do they want it?
David: Let’s get serious. Just this once. Or maybe not. I’ll try. My dad was an amateur boxer. He used to tell me that the most important part of fighting — all those skills, mechanics, and prowess — meant nothing if you had no cardio. But not just cardio. It’s also about deprivation. Not every fighter is fueled by a destructive upbringing, or memories. But many tend to be fueled by something destructive. How else to survive in the middle of such a destructive experience? My dad didn’t have a destructive upbringing. He came from humble beginnings. But he liked his muscle cars, his women, and his illicit drugs (nothing serious: ‘grass’ as the old folks like to say). He was something of a thrill seeker. The reason I mention my dad is because when you watch Jake Paul spar or hit the mitts, and contrast that with how he fights — it’s night and day, like the difference between an elephant, and an elephant seal. This is not a guy being fueled by something destructive. He once used the line “make like a banana and split” in a rap bar about “lambocats”. This is not a serious human being. So sure, he appears to have good movement, even good footwork. He jabs. He has an excellent overhand right if we’re grading overhand rights on a protractor. But in the ring, there’s something lacking. Even though the Robinson fight ended in a brutal KO, with several knockdowns prior, it was one of the most boring fights you’ll ever see. It was Robinson trying to spearhead tackle Paul, and Paul catching him coming in like both fighters were on some sort of 30-second spiritual loop of Zandig’s flaming rooftop slam — just complete chaos minus any semblance of soul or entertainment.
Phil: *settles in to watch Logan Paul vs KSI*. OK I’m getting these things straight now. This is the wrong one. It’s the other Paul brother that we’re breaking down. “settles down to watch Jake Paul vs Nate Robinson”. Right. Yeah, like you said, Paul isn’t without talent: he understands to move back out of range and to jab, he has good handspeed and he’s tough and game enough to swing in close. The main problem is just that he’s an amateur, and anyone who has ever boxed at all can tell you that one of the hardest things to do is to avoid falling into the clinch all the time. It even affects the pros: when Frazier and Ali got into a scuffle on ABC in 1974 they ended up rolling around on the floor in an undignified mess. It is HARD not to just grab hold and wrestle in unfamiliar situations. Paul is going to be sparring with people who are almost all better than him, and thus it’s unlikely that he’s going to be losing that lack of comfort any time soon. Were he an amateur, you could look at him and say that in a few years, he could be a half-decent boxer, but he’s not. He’s some kind of youtube person, and he’ll probably go on to playing the latest and hottest amiga games, or owning feminists, or ben shapiro, or whatever youtubers do.
David: A lot of jokes will be made at Askren’s expense. “Askren learned how to box in just a few weeks to fight Jake Paul? What a warrior!” As an MMA fighter, striking was obviously never his strong suit. Hell he couldn’t even fit a striking suit on. It was bad, but it wasn’t CM Punk bad. I realize this is boxing, but people get too caught up in skills as Good or Bad, with variations of each. Skills are about functionality, with variations of each. This is true of sports as a whole. Athletes can be strong in some areas, and weak in others. The trick is to leverage your signature skills, expand your comfort zone, and compete within your own peculiarities. Askren has always succeeded in precisely this way. I’m just now realizing how difficult it is to write this section because Askren is an MMA fighter who “never” boxed fighting a non-MMA fighter who has. Goddamn this circus. Anyway — Askren intimately knows what fighting is, what he’s capable, and what Paul isn’t. That’s why he exudes a bit more physical confidence than normal. And why not? Robbie Lawler’s onslaught is as close to certain death as it gets in the ring/cage. Askren survived. He will survive a 20-year old who gives self-help advice like Patrick Bateman doing a Tony Robbins impression.
Phil: I think it genuinely adds appeal to this fight that Askren might be one of the worst pure strikers to be a ranked fighter in recent memory. Demian Maia has always had underrated stand-up, but Askren made him look like Giorgio Petrosyan on the feet. Askren is that guy who has simply never given a solitary crap what anyone else thought: look at this gif from the UFC’s sizzle reel. He’s the unpopular kid that relishes in committing to the things that make everyone else mad. Even when he’s striking “seriously” there’s an ironic detachment to the way that he throws, like he’s making fun of anyone dumb enough to take this kind of stuff seriously. He was even happy to take that charity wrestling match against Jordan Burroughs where he got predictably obliterated. The man is immune to humiliation.
Insight from past fights
David: I’ve already talked about Paul’s fight. So let’s talk about Askren’s fight with Maia. For those that remember, what should have been a potential borefest turned into a scrappy battle of wills between two non-strikers forced to strike. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Some of the things that are clear with Askren is that despite his inability (padwork notwithstanding), he’s not afraid to pressure. Granted, he makes some classic mistakes, like ducking his head to move off the centerline, and not planting his feet, but this is a man who is comfortable fighting. That’ll be more important in this fight than whether or not he’s comfortable striking.
Phil: Askren’s flaws on the feet first became really apparent in his fight with Jay Hieron, but it’s notable that he still kept trying things even when the wrestling wasn’t as crushing an advantage as it was in his prior bouts. He would throw huge right hands (he practically fell over on his first strike) and kicks. He’s genuinely a pretty decent clinch fighter, and will dirty box and knee from tie-ups. Hopefully he does that here and it’s funny.
David: I mean. Paul is talking about CTE. Granted, we know CTE can only be diagnosed during an autopsy. Which begs the question: did Paul get early access to preliminary technology that could help diagnose CTE before death, or do all dogs go to heaven?
Phil: It does seem a weird way of trying to shortcut your path to boxing plaudits. “I’m willing to die in there bro! I’ve already given so much for this sport” etc etc. The two main things are: is Askren just physically shot at this point in his career, and how much does the ref break clinches?
David: I mean. This is just another diversion. Like Mayweather vs. McGregor, only dumber. Oh yea. I remember that coat. Maybe not “dumber” but certainly less skilled. Askren will win not because he’s more technical, or stronger, or faster. But because he’s more peculiar. He knows deprivation. And so when Paul has had to clinch for the fifth time in one minute. When he’s not able to squirm out of Askren’s embrace as easily. When the walls start to feel like they’re closing in. That’s when the muscles grow a little tighter, and the margins for error grow a little wider. When Paul’s lactic acidosis is...ashes...then he has Askren’s permission to die. Ben Askren by Decision.
Phil: Askren’s road to victory is both funny and plausible: clinch Paul a bunch until he is too tired and then pitter pat him to a decision. The classic Boxcar Homer in its purest form. That being said, he’s smaller, older, and genuinely naturally dreadful at striking. If the people around Paul are doing anything it should be getting him on the treadmill and teaching him to conserve. Jake Paul by unanimous decision.
David: You’re picking Paul?!?!