Former UFC star and retired MMA fighter Ben Askren made his professional boxing debut in a cruiserweight bout against YouTube megastar Jake Paul. Askren faced Paul in the headlining bout of the Triller Fight Club event on April 17th, 2021. Paul dominated the fight and defeated Askren via first-round TKO.
In an edition of ESPN First Take, alongside his co-hosts Molly Qerim Rose and Max Kellerman, Stephen A. Smith weighed in with his thoughts on the Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren fight.
Upon being questioned by Molly Qerim Rose about whether he was impressed by Jake Paul’s KO win over Ben Askren, Stephen A. Smith stated:
“No, I was not. But it has nothing to do with Jake Paul. I wanna emphasize that. The guy, I think, is fundamentally sound thus far, Max. I have not seen him against a real boxer. But I think we’ve seen enough from him to know he takes it seriously. He’s got about 14.8 million followers on Instagram, and he’s got a few million on Twitter. So, he’s a social media sensation, you know, YouTube, that kind of stuff. We get all of that. His popularity is his popularity. Give him credit for that, okay?”
“But Nate Robinson was a basketball player. This guy, Ben Askren, 19 and 2 as a UFC fighter, if I remember correctly. We know what (Jorge) Masvidal did to him. But Masvidal with that kick to the head, that knee to the head would’ve knocked anybody out, catching them by surprise like that. Where I’m not impressed, Max, is that Ben Askren should be ashamed of himself. He walked in there looking like a fat slob.”
“I’m serious. He looked like somebody’s grandparent. I mean, it was pathetic. It really, really was. To know that he is a professional fighter; see, I don’t hold that against heavyweights. Like, if you’re a heavyweight in boxing or a heavyweight in the UFC and stuff like that, I get all of that. Okay? But there is no excuse, there was no excuse for Ben Askren to walk into the ring looking like that."
"And, Max, you’ll laugh at this. And put me on the split-screen ‘cause I wanna see Max when I’m saying this. If you watched it, and I know you did, Max, and you saw Ben Askren, did you see how he was holding up his hands? It was like a fighter from the 1940s. I didn’t know whether I was watching him or Jake LaMotta or Joe Louis or something. I’m like, what the hell is this? This is unbelievable. I couldn’t have believed how he looked. And clearly, as a UFC fighter, he was a grappler. He was never known as a striker, okay? That’s not his thing.”
In a nutshell, Stephen A. Smith was highly critical of Ben Askren, as Smith believed that Askren showed up completely out of shape for the fight against Jake Paul.
Stephen A. Smith believes Paul ought to face an actual boxer rather than non-boxers like Ben Askren
Stephen A. Smith had words of high praise for Jake Paul and noted that Paul has indeed been training for the past few years. Smith said:
“And so, I’m looking at Jake Paul, and I’m saying, ‘Listen, respect the cat’s skills’. This guy apparently wants to be a boxer. They say he’s been training for two or three years. He’s been taking it very seriously. Okay, that’s fine. And I’ve got nothing but respect for him, and I wish him nothing but the best. I can’t wait to talk to him one day. But here’s the reality of the situation – You’re going into the ring against non-boxers. At some point in time, you’ve gotta go in there against somebody who at least has an amateur record. I mean, somebody that is trying to be a pro. Because guess what, if you’re out there trying to be a boxer, and your hands are licensed, guess what, Max, you can actually get yourself arrested for doing the kind of stuff that he’s done to Ben Askren and Nate Robinson.” (*H/T Sportskeeda for the transcription)
Stephen A. Smith also noted that while Nate Robinson was a basketball player, Ben Askren was a professional fighter, alluding to Ben Askren being a tougher opponent for Jake Paul than Robinson.
Smith reiterated, however, that it’s time for Jake Paul to face another amateur or professional boxer, and not someone who’s never competed in the sport.