On April 17 Wisconsin native and professional mixed martial artist Ben “Funky” Askren will step into the boxing ring with YouTube star-turned boxer Jake Paul.
Askren will face Paul in an eight-round boxing match at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The match, which is one of four on the card, is scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT. The event can be streamed via FITE.TV or you can order it on pay-per-view.
WHAT TO KNOW: Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren live stream, preview, fight card, music performances, start time
Earlier Saturday, Askren tweeted “People love fist fights. People love circuses. Hope you enjoy tonight.”
Askren, a Hartland native, has an extensive background in wrestling as a two-time NCAA Division 1 champion, a competitor on the 2008 Olympic freestyle wrestling team and he is a former champion in Bellator and ONE Championship, among other accolades.
Askren said he’s not watched more than four minutes of Paul’s YouTube content.
“I actually don’t really find him particularly talented whether it’s being funny or anything else,” Askren said. “It could be a generational gap, but I don’t really see what people see in him or why they find him to be entertaining or fascinating or whatever people find in him that they keep clicking on. I do not understand it at all.”
Paul, who has over 20 million YouTube subscribers, recently traded in his camera for boxing gloves. He has a 2-0 record after knocking out former NBA star Nate Robinson and defeating AnEsonGib, a fellow YouTuber.
RELATED: 5 key questions (and answers) heading into the Askren-Paul boxing showdown
One thing Paul found entertaining at a recent press conference was a GIF of arguably Askren’s most famous moment: a round-one knockout — five seconds into the match — thanks to a flying knee from Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239. Askren retired from mixed martial arts in 2019 after back-to-back losses.
Does Askren have any thoughts on Paul’s previous fights?
“No, not really,” Askren said. “The level of his competition was so low that it’s hard to really take all that much from it.”
Askren can still review more boxing content from Paul than vise versa as Askren has never boxed before. He said the training has been a lot different, fun and interesting. He also confirmed what some critics have said — striking is not his strong suit.
“They are 100% correct, it is definitely not my strong suit it’s not something I focused on a lot when I was in mixed martial arts,” he said. “In mixed martial arts, I catered my strategy to go along with the other things I did really well which is getting takedowns, staying on top and then just wearing on people.”
How’d this happen?
How did a mixed martial artist end up in a boxing match? Askren said Paul had been “putting my name out there during the last fight he had.”
“That was kind of how it came about,” he said. “I tweeted about it a few times because I thought it was kind of funny.”
The bottom line for Askren was literally the bottom line as he said he was approached with an offer for “a lot of money” and it “seemed like fun.”
“People want there to be more to this, they want me to make a lot of it, but it was really that simple,” he said.
Dana White, president of the UFC, put up a $1 million bet that Askren would win. Snoop Dogg, who is scheduled to commentate the event, offered to bump the bet up to $2 million.
“Good for Snoop Dogg,” Askren said. “Those guys have enough money that they can just kind of do whatever they want and it’s a little bit of a status symbol.”
As far as Askren knows they are still betting on the fight.
Turning the spotlight on again
Despite returning to the spotlight, Askren said he isn’t interested in staying there. He opened a wrestling academy in Franklin in 2020 and has other schools across the state in Hartland, Mequon, Madison and Green Bay where he spends most of his time.
“I enjoy what I do, I enjoy it a lot and so not being there . . . I don’t love it,” he said, adding that he’s missed being in Wisconsin while out of town promoting the fight. “I’ve been trying to get over with this so I can just get back to the life that I was leading.”
Askren is somewhat at a loss why people are so interested in him — though he did have a theory.
“I think the reason I’m interesting to people is I’m just, like, a normal dude,” he said. “Other people are trying to put on acts and I’m just me, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I coach kids wrestling. It’s just what I do and I’m not ashamed of what I do or who I am and a lot of people even as famous and wealthy as Jake Paul, there’s a lot of things about his life that he’s ashamed about. I’m kind of excited to get back out of the spotlight.”
Paul has been at times a lightning rod for controversy. Just last year, he falsely claimed in an interview with the Daily Beast that the COVID-19 pandemic was a “hoax,” and is facing charges linked to the looting of an Arizona shopping mall.
Askren said his students are very interested in the fight because “it’s their generation.”
“None of them like Jake Paul,” Askren said, laughing. “It literally feels like nobody likes this guy, so either he’s doing a really good job playing the bad guy or he is a bad guy. I probably lean toward number two over number one, but you never know.”
Does this desire to get back out of the spotlight mean he wouldn’t consider a career as a boxer?
“I’m not going to say never, but, like I said I’m kind of missing my regular life, I’m really excited to get back to it and I think it’s probably unlikely that I’d do more boxing.”
What about getting back into MMA?
“That’s probably even more unlikely,” Askren said. He felt there would be an “obligation to live up to what I was” and because he likes the new direction of his life, he’s not sure if he has the desire to do that anymore.
“I could not imagine being more famous,” he said. “I don’t really want it.”