The latest sideshow attraction in boxing is ready for its closeup. While the days of seeing reality TV and former child stars in the ring has seemingly gone by the wayside, YouTube and TikTok stars have taken the mantle with high levels of success. The next iteration comes on Saturday night in Atlanta when Jake Paul faces off with former UFC fighter and two-promotion welterweight champion Ben Askren on Triller Fight Club (9 p.m. ET, pay-per-view).
The bout headlines a card loaded with oddities, including a former boxer-turned nightclub mogul vs. a musician and another boxer vs. UFC showdown at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Fight week has taken some ugly turns, with Paul accused of sexual assault by a TikTok influencer, as well as his own claims that he is now showing early signs of brain trauma.
"It's a dangerous sport," Paul said during media day for the event. "That's why, when people question my dedication to it, it's like, I'm showing up every single day. I'm putting my mental health on the line, my brain is on the line. Like you said, I've gone and gotten brain scans and have early signs of CTE."
He later walked back his claim on CTE.
Despite all the bluster and trolling, Paul has actually shown decent skill in his first two appearances. Even though it was against extremely low levels of competition and not pro fighters, Paul scored a pair of knockouts that went viral. First he stopped AnEsonGib, a fellow YouTube star, before brutalizing former NBA player Nate Robinson last November.
Paul and his brother, Logan, have taken the training seriously, at the very least, and enlisted some top names to assist in preparation for fights.
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Askren, meanwhile, will represent the first opponent with a combat background. Askren made his name as an impressive wrestler and grappler. He won world titles in both Bellator MMA and ONE Championship before making a move over to UFC. While he won his first bout, a pair of thudding defeats forced him into retirement while battling a chronic hip injury.
When a full hip replacement ended up not being needed, Askren took the fight with Paul, getting back into the fight game in the one area of his talents where he has always been weakest. If the boxing experiment goes well, Askren believes he may return to the circus a few more times.
"I'm not going to do three boxing matches a year or anything," Askren told BJPenn.com. "But, if I call out some other dope YouTuber and will fight him next year, yeah. I'm not going to do 20 of them but I might do two or three more."
Elsewhere on the card, former junior welterweight champion Regis Prograis is back in the co-main event slot when he takes on Ivan Redkach. Prograis is trying to work his way back into title contention at 140 pounds after losing the World Boxing Super Series final to Josh Taylor in 2019. He bounced back with a thunderous knockout in 2020 and will look to build off of that here. Redkach, on the other hand, is coming off a loss to Danny Garcia in January 2020. Before that, he ripped off three straight wins.
Below you can have a look at the full fight card set for Saturday, with odds provided via William Hill Sportsbook.
Paul vs. Askren cards, odds
Jake Paul -165
Ben Askren +140
Regis Prograis -4500
Ivan Redkach +1600
Steve Cunningham -1600
Frank Mir +900
Brookhouse: Paul is an obnoxious personality, but he's also young, strong and seems to be taking boxing seriously in the gym. That has paid off against non-boxers. Askren is not young, but isn't going to be overwhelmed mentally by the idea of being in a fight on a big stage, and he has taken hard punches to the face through his career. That's not true of someone like Nate Robinson, so Paul will have to experience a willing opponent who understands what fighting really is. The problem for Askren is that he simply has never been a striker and has struggled in the stand-up game even against other non-strikers through his MMA career. Did a few months of strict boxing training elevate Askren's game to where he can box with a taller, stronger, younger opponent who has dedicated a few years to the sport? That's a mighty big ask. Pick: Jake Paul via TKO2
Brandon Wise (editor): This matchup has jumped all over the place at books in Las Vegas since it was posted. It opened at William Hill this week at -135, got all the way up to -190 and has settled at -165. For all of his flaws, Paul has taken his training and preparation for boxing very seriously. While he has not been truly tested by an opponent yet, he's not going to against Askren. The former MMA fighter is much more known for his grappling and wrestling, and it felt almost sad watching him try to strike in his last bout before retiring. Now, he's undergone hip replacement surgery and his quotes would have you think this feels like a money grab. Give me the younger man ready to make another viral statement over the guy looking for a quick payday. Pick: Paul via TKO -- under 5.5 rounds