ATLANTA – Ben Askren says his boxing match with Jake Paul isn’t for anybody but himself.
In the lead-up to the Triller Fight Club headliner on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Askren has been placed with the largely unwanted responsibility of representing the sport of MMA. The former Bellator and ONE Championship titleholder is making his professional boxing debut, and he’s getting a lot of support against the polarizing YouTuber, actor and rapper.
Although he sees it all, Askren said he’s not letting the expectations turn into pressure. His motivation for the fight is purely selfish.
“Most people would roll their eyes if they said, ‘Ben Askren is MMA striking,’” Askren told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “They would be like, ‘Oh f*ck.’ So no, I don’t feel that (pressure to represent MMA) at all. I’m here for me.’”
Askren said he’s prepared for the transition between sports accordingly. He worked with famed coach Freddie Roach for a portion of his camp and put many hours into getting himself ready. One of the elements Askren has focused on, he said, is to move away from his natural instincts of changing levels in attempt to grapple. He’s not allowed to do any of that in this fight and thinks he’s worked it out of his system.
“It’s more natural for me to grab,” Askren said. “So I’ve been trying not to do a lot of grabbing at all in my training.”
Askren came out of MMA retirement to take the fight with Paul. The 36-year-old expects this to be a one-and-done in terms of a return to combat sports, but just like how he thought that would be the case when he walked away from the UFC in 2019, he’ll never say never.
“In my mind (I’m done),” Askren said. “I will say the caveat, because I always hate when people say, ‘There’s no chance.’ Then they come back and you’re like, ‘You told us there’s no chance.’ There’s a small chance. Who thought I was going to box Jake Paul? If someone offers me a whole bunch of money and it’s a good opportunity (then I might fight again). … I just think that chance is small.”
Askren said he expects to go out on top. The day the fight was announced he predicted he’d win by seventh-round TKO, and he said he’s not changing course as the final days before the fight wind down.
“I said seventh-round TKO, and I’m standing by it,” Askren said.