Well…that was something. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really expect things to go the way they did on Saturday night. It’s not the fact that Jake Paul won that has left me scratching my head, but rather the manner in which he won. In a moment that will surely lead to a bevy of memes and GIFs in the near future, Jake Paul took down Ben Askren less than two minutes into the first round of the night’s main event, setting off a cacophony of tweets and posts across the social media landscape. In case you missed it, here’s a video of that hit:
— WWE on FOX (@WWEonFOX) April 18, 2021
Oops, my bad. Must’ve grabbed the wrong video. Here’s the actual footage:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 18, 2021
As we sit here, recovering from the fallout of the fight and trying to piece together what we actually learned from the event (if anything), it’s time we consider the implications of Saturday’s results both for Ben Askren’s legacy as a professional fighter as well as for the burgeoning boxing career of Jake Paul?
What Did the Fight Mean For Ben Askren?
Going into the fight, I think everyone was well aware of what Ben Askren was as a striker. I’d say an appropriate approximation of Askren’s boxing form is that of a grade-schooler trying to fight a classmate off for a seat on the swing set at recess. It’s not good. Ben made his hay on the back of being a world-class wrestler. It’s undeniable; when ranking wrestling’s greatest competitors, Ben Askren going to be somewhere on that list. Taking away Ben Askren’s ability to take the fight to the mat negates what makes him effective as a fighter.
Let me put it this way: throwing Ben Askren out into a boxing ring is akin to tossing a professional baseball player onto a cricket pitch. Are there similarities between the two sports? Sure, there’s a ball and you try to hit it. But the two sports are light years apart in the skill sets and instincts required. Ditto with boxing and MMA. Yeah, you’re trying to hit someone, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that.
So, what was I expecting? All of that talk about Ben Askren showing out so he could represent the UFC was just noise (his prickly relationship with Dana White is well established). Still, I was expecting that a two-time NCAA champion wrestler (and two-time runner-up) would approach the fight with the same competitive spirit and nature that guided him to a career record of 153-8 at the University of Missouri. I expected that an Olympic and World Champion-class athlete would have the pride to put in the work required to not make an ass of himself on a primetime event. Surely he wasn’t there just to collect a paycheck…
— Austin (@AustinPlanet) April 18, 2021
I guess I was wrong.
A Broken Legacy
Where does this leave us on Ben Askren’s legacy? I hate to say it, but I do think that this debacle of a “fight” will tarnish what was a remarkable career. For those who aren’t followers of MMA and the UFC (of which the majority of viewers of Saturday’s broadcast probably weren’t), what’s the lasting image of Ben Askren? A doughy bodied, middle-aged, curly-headed clown hitting the mat like a sack of potatoes. For those who did follow Askren’s career, this is an embarrassment, nothing more than a cash grab, an affront to the competitive spirit. Overnight, Ben Askren’s legacy changed from Olympian and World Champion wrestler to paycheck collecting hack.
Aksren is going to be seen the same way we view Jose Canseco, Brett Favre, and Zinedine Zidane. Do we remember Jose Canseco as one of baseball’s most prolific power hitters in the late 80s and early 90s? No, we remember him for letting a damn baseball bounce off his head, his post-career word vomit on essentially any topic, and his macking on J. Lo post Alex Rodriguez breakup. How about Brett Favre, one of the NFL’s all-time greats at quarterback? Nah, more like the guy who sent some NSFW pics to a reporter during his time with the New York Jets and who’s generated a litany of foot-in-mouth comments over the past few years. Zinedine Zidane is rarely remembered as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. Instead, he’s the guy who head-butted the shit out of an Italian in the World Cup.
That’s the company Ben Askren will keep now. He’s not going to be remembered for his athletic exploits. No, those will be a footnote to his legacy: some guy who got merc’ed by Dirk Mann from Bizaardvark.
What Do Saturday’s Results Mean for Jake Paul?
Lost in the madness of Ben Askren eating mat in the first round of Saturday’s fight is this: what should we make of Jake Paul? Not as a human being (the results are in on that front), but as a boxer? I think at this point, it’s fair to retire referring to Paul as “Youtuber Jake Paul” and instead go with “aspiring boxer Jake Paul”. He’s clearly dedicated himself to his boxing career. In theory, beating Askren should grant Paul a modicum of legitimacy, something he’s been striving for since his debut vs. AnEsonGib. Therein lies the problem, however. In beating Ben Askren, the Jake Paul hype-train has catapulted the young fighter into a stratosphere of potential showdowns that, at this point in his career, he has no business in garnering.
If you were to take the Jake Paul persona out of the equation (hard as that may be to do), what does the young fighter’s resume look like? A 3-0 record with 3 knockouts, albeit the three fights have been against a Youtuber, a 5’9″, 36-year-old former basketball player, and a former UFC champion who was coming off of…hip replacement surgery? At age 36? Yikes. Not exactly Murderer’s Row. At this point, Paul should be dipping his toes into the realm of professional boxing, lining up matches against other similarly experienced fighters. Instead, with the knockout of Ben Askren, Paul essentially eliminated himself from future gimmick fights vs. the likes of Nate Robinson and AnEsonGib (what celebrity would want to step into the ring against Paul at this point) whilst drawing the attention and ire of essentially all of the boxing world and MMA community.
Jake Paul vs Everyone! pic.twitter.com/F5SAQ69MKr
— KEEM 🍿 (@KEEMSTAR) April 19, 2021
“I don’t want to fight anymore unless it’s massive…I want every time Jake Paul fights to have an electricity in the air that everyone can feel and people have to tune in. I’m gonna challenge myself, I’m gonna find the right opponent, and I’m gonna stay active.”
Where does Jake Paul go from here? He wants to set up fights with the “right opponent”, but, at this point, I’m not sure just how much power he’ll have in picking and choosing his battles. He’s going be forced to fight a real boxer at some point and when that happens, who knows what the result will be. Each Jake Paul fight has been pageantry at its finest (or its worst depending on your perspective) and he’s definitely drawing in a population of viewers that probably don’t normally watch boxing. Still, I have to feel like things are going to get a whole lot tougher for Jake Paul in his boxing career moving forward. Then again, maybe he goes out and shocks everyone and keeps on winning. Wouldn’t be the first time.