Why would a professional boxing match between two novices generate million dollar paydays and garner mainstream media attention?
The answer is simple. When you turn it into a spectacle, a fight circus of sorts, you generate publicity. And in this digital world where the ephemeral is embraced —instant publicity means money.
The protagonists were as follows: Jake Paul, a YouTube personality, actor and rapper with three professional bouts under his belt against Ben Askren—an Olympic championship wrestler, former Bellator MMA welterweight champion and retired UFC contender with a record of 19-2.
EXHIBITION. Prior to this, Paul had already defeated former NBA player Nate Robinson in his second pro bout, knocking the latter out violently in the second round.
Predictably, this led to more challenges hurled the upstart’s way.
Enter Askren, who himself had been violently knocked out by Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239 courtesy of a flying knee strike which resulted in the fastest knockout in UFC history.
Obviously the narrative was that this time around Paul was up against a real fighter, albeit a retired one and should be facing the biggest challenge of his pseudo-career.
Problem was, Askren wasn’t much of a striker. Second, he retired back in 2019 and showed up for the fight like he had been on a strict regimen of honey glazed donuts and ice cream.
THE FIGHT. The younger Paul was clearly the bigger and stronger fighter. Askren’s last fighting weight was at 170 lbs, but for this boxing fight, he showed up bloated at 190 lbs, the excess poundage clearly evident around his ample mid-section.
Paul, who has been taking his boxing training seriously and diligently and even worked with ring legend Evander Holyfield for this fight, looked poised and confident.
He moved and projected himself more like a professional boxer as compared to Askren who had his hands up while trying to negotiate some space, not unlike a throwback mid-19th century fighter.
It was clearly just a matter of time. And sure enough, all it took was a basic jab-right hand combo that knocked down Askren with 1:15 left in the first round. Askren got up glass-eyed and when the referee asked him to come forward, moved like he had had four martinis for lunch.
That was enough for the ref to call for the denouement of the fight.
LESSON. The moral of the story is quite simple. Never take anything for granted. Askren didn’t respect Paul enough to train hard for him. Though there were rumors that Askren had hired the legendary Freddie Roach, the latter revealed that Askren was there for only a week.
That’s not enough even if you’re a retired world-class MMA fighter. This cannot be over-stated enough. Professional boxing requires a special skill set, being one of the sub-disciplines that comprises Mixed-martial Arts. Conor McGregor learned this the hard way when he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Paul has also been training seriously for a couple of years already. Plus, he is younger, taller and stronger. Askren took him lightly and paid dearly for it.
There were suggestions that the match was fixed. I don’t see it. Askren was in there trying to win. Sure he didn’t look comfortable, but he never was much of a striker. That booming right landed with enough torque to knock him down. It was an honest punch that landed fair and square.
The world wanted a spectacle and it certainly got it. As for Askren, he certainly has his reputation besmirched on account of this.
But all he can blame is himself. You know what they say—play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
LAST ROUND. It’s on my late mother, Elena M. Quijano, who would have turned 81 today. Miss you, mom...