Exhibition bouts are not a new thing in boxing. Muhammad Ali fought Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki. Oscar De La Hoya boxed basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. Even the iconic Joe Louis participated in several exhibitions duringWWII for troop’s morale.
However, the landscape changed when Floyd Mayweather Jr famously boxed UFC icon, Conor McGregor, in 2017, seemingly forever.
Since that fateful bout, the market for such contests has exploded. As well as crossover contests between boxers and MMA fighters, there are now all-Youtuber fights, with video bloggers taking part in both white-collar and ‘professional’contests. Even weathered legends of yesteryear like Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr and Julio César Chávez have returned to the ring to take part in unlicensed exhibitions.
There are split opinions in boxing on the impact such contests have on the sport. Some think such fights are a disgrace that undermines boxing’s integrity. Others argue that such high-profile events bring extra attention to the sport, and with it a new wave of fans, immersing themselves in the world of boxing.
I agree that everyone should be free to do as they like, providing it is legal and morally correct. If you can make a few quid out of taking part in such a contest, who am I to say you shouldn’t take it?
It massively frustrates me that events like this Saturday’s, give a bigger platform to arseholes like Jake Paul, who represents everything that is wrong with modern-day society.
Paul screams for attention. The Youtuber lives his whole life showing off on social media, has made all manner of offensive and enraging statements and has now been accused of sexual assault. He masquerades behind the veil of being a ‘professional boxer’ and brings untold negative press on the sport that I adore.
Paul made his maiden appearance in a boxing ring as a white-collar fighter on the undercard of his brother, Logan Paul, versus KSI in the first of these all-Youtuber fights. Jake successfully beat KSI’s brother, Deji.
Like his brother and KSI, Jake Paul somehow got a professional license. He took part on the undercard of the Logan KSI rematch in 2020 in Miami. Billy-Joe Saunders also featured on the bill, defending his WBO super-middleweight title in the process.
On that particular occasion, Jake Paul stopped another Youtuber, AnEsonGib, in the first round. Many remarked that Paul looked decent in his appearance against Gib. In reality, he fought a person with no boxing experience whatsoever and won easily.
After this victory, Jake Paul decided that he was now a ‘professional boxer', and that his future lay in the realm of fighting. In his second 'pro' appearance, Paul boxed American Footballer Nate Robinson on the undercard of Mike Tyson versus Jones Jr.
It’s safe to say in that contest Robinson posted the worst boxing professional debut since that of infamous Jim 'The Birdman' Smith. Robinson danced around like Bambi on ice, before being rendered unconscious in the second round.
Robinson looked so bad, it's hard to imagine that he ever looked at a pair of boxing gloves, let alone put them on. It’sfrankly criminal he was even granted a license. Robinson thankfully recovered from being knocked out cold, and sadly the second successive stoppage of Paul’s career as a‘professional’ served only to further inflate his swollen ego.
Paul then decided he could now mix it genuine combatantsand called out the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr (who is due to fight brother Logan), Conor McGregor and Dillon Danis.
After much speculation, former UFC fighter and ONE championship champion Ben Askren was named as Paul's next opponent.
Many were shocked that Paul would ever really challenge a real fighter like Askren. However, those familiar with MMA know that while Askren is a world-class wrestler, he is a pub quality striker.
Askren has famously poor hands, and as his brief stint in the UFC proved, is not a puncher by any stretch of the imagination. Askren's boxing ability is so lowly regarded, he is a betting underdog in what will be his first-ever boxing contest, even despite his long fighting experience.
I feel the bookies have underestimated Askren. He is an athlete and trained martial artist that has competed in thehighest levels of combat, whereas Paul has spent the majority of his life speaking into a camera.
All being well, ‘Funky’ Askren will have enough experience as fighting to be able to navigate his way past the ‘Problem Child’ Paul. Everybody with a sincere interest in combat sports, whether it be boxing, MMA or wrestling, should hope that Askren will beat Paul from pillar to post, and with any luck, into retirement.
Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I do think Askren will do it. Though he cannot strike, he has decades of practise sparring and training with fighters from a range of codes like boxing, jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai and karate. Paul is a novice boxer and novice athlete to boot. His previous opponents have not competed at any level, and between them could not fight sleep. And yet, Paul swaggers about like he is a worldchampion, when in reality he would be bested by the majority of journeymen.
As much disdain as I have for Paul, I know full well the contest is only happening because it makes money and generates interest, which is why new venture Triller has put on the show. While I will not be watching, I must admit that when I do wake, I shall tentatively google the result and hope to all that is mighty I will see it was an Askren victory.
To their credit, Triller, who will be promoting undisputed lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez’s mandatory world title defence against George Kambosos, have put on a well-balanced hybrid card of real fights and novelty contests.
Former 140lbs world champion and WBSS finalist Regis Prograis fights Ukraine’s Ivan Redkach, while unbeaten US prospects Lorenzo Simpson, Junior Younan and Quinton Randall also appear.
Former cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham, who famously dropped Tyson Fury, will also fight former UFC champion Frank Mir on the card. David Haye’s millionairemate Joe Fournier, who once brazenly called out Tony Bellewand Callum Smith, also appears.
By Aaron Ludford.