Ben Askren: Can this once great wrestler & MMA champion succeed in boxing?

An entirely new challenge lies ahead for Ben Askren. On 17 April, the 36-year-old will make his first-ever appearance in professional boxing, stepping into the ring to face YouTube celebrity Jake Paul. Both fighters appear to be taking this bout seriously, although some doubts have been raised about the former MMA star.

Interestingly, as the fight draws closer, the latest Jake Paul vs Ben Askren odds would suggest this could be a tight contest. Having won the first two fights of his fledgeling professional boxing career, Jake Paul was regarded as the clear favorite when the bout against Ben Askren was originally announced.

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However, while Jake Paul remains the slight favorite at 4/5 odds, online bookies are now giving Ben Askren an evens chance of claiming a debut boxing victory. Beyond all the hype and smack-talk leading up to this event, due to take place in the spectacular Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, this cruiserweight contest could prove to be an intriguing clash of styles.

Despite having risen to fame as an online celebrity, earning millions from a growing media empire that includes music and acting, Jake Paul has actually become quite the accomplished boxer. Nevertheless, various critics believe the 24-year-old has yet to be genuinely tested, having thus far faced opponents with no prior boxing experience of note.

The first encounter for Jake Paul was against fellow YouTube celebrity AnEsonGib, real name Ali Eson Gib, who is more widely known for streaming online FIFA gaming contests. Held in Miami, the outcome was a comfortable first-round TKO win for Jake Paul, with the fight lasting just two minutes and eighteen seconds, before the referee intervened.

Next up was a bout against former basketball player Nate Robinson, making his professional boxing debut against Jake Paul. As part of the undercard for the Mike Tyson versus Roy Jones Jr. exhibition duel, another comfortable win was the final outcome for Jake Paul, who ended the challenge of Nate Robinson via a second-round knockout.

By comparison, Ben Askren built a largely successful career around professional combat sports. After rising to prominence as a champion amateur freestyle wrestler, winning NCAA collegiate titles and forming part of the US Olympic team, Ben Askren went on to establish himself as a fearsome competitor in the professional MMA scene.

Ben Askren thrived in mixed martial arts, initially with Headhunter Productions and Max Fights, before becoming a welterweight champion with Bellator and the One Championship. Having established an impressive unbeaten record of 18 wins without defeat, Ben Askren successfully debuted at UFC 235 with a bulldog choke win over Robbie Lawler.

The unblemished MMA run eventually came to a stunning end in July 2019, when Ben Askren was demolished five seconds at UFC 239, floored by a flying knee from Jorge Masvidal. After being defeated in his next UFC contest against Demian Maia in October 2019, Ben Askren decided to call time on his professional MMA career.

Whether for prestige or the sizeable payday he can expect, Ben Askren has been lured back to professional combat. Whether this will spark a new career in boxing or not, much will depend on the outcome of this debut bout against Jake Paul. Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see how he fares, adapting to an entirely different kind of fight game.

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