I contacted 14 of the sharpest combat-sports minds I know and asked them for their thoughts on Saturday’s Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren professional boxing event.
Some were reluctant, others unabashedly excited. But in the end, 13 of the 14 said they planned to watch or stream the pay-per-view one way or another.
Of course, Paul and Askren aren’t pro boxers in the traditional sense. But this isn’t exactly Screech vs. Horshack either.
It’s a YouTube star (and loudmouth) vs. a former MMA champ (and loudmouth). And in the anything-goes-world of celebrity-ish combat sports, the matchup makes as much sense as any others. Especially for Virginia sports betting enthusiasts.
Why Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren?
“The reality is there is a market for ‘I wonder what would happen if … ‘ fights,” Laura Sanko, a UFC on ESPN reporter and analyst, told PlayVirginia. “I’m not thinking of this the same way I think of UFC fights. This is pure curiosity.”
These aren’t total newbies, though. Askren, an Olympic wrestler, won MMA titles with Bellator and ONE Championship before a late-career run with the UFC. And Paul, who has about a third of his Wikipedia page devoted to “Controversies,” is 2-0 as a pro boxer. He has knockout wins over NBA vet Nate Robinson and something called an “AnEsonGib.”
“This fight makes so little sense,” veteran MMA journalist Chuck Mindenhall, co-host of The Man and the MITH podcast, said of Paul-Askren. “It’s ridiculous, unnecessary, impossible to truly justify, and yet my curiosity is piqued beyond belief.”
Paul and Askren both also talk a good game, and that created buzz. In turn, it’s produced the can’t-miss (but-don’t-admit-it) event of the weekend.
“And don’t forget all the bettors looking to cash in,” noted combat-sports oddsmaker Joey Oddessa added.
Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren betting promo
There’s no denying there’s some legitimate interest in this bout. And it won’t necessarily be traditional boxing and MMA fans who attend the fight at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. They also won’t be the only ones handing over $50 for PPV through Triller.
“Everyone is talking about this fight, and that just shows people love a freak show,” said Lance Fischel, host of The MMA Analysis podcast.
“It’s a joke, but it is drawing buzz and we, as hardcore combat sports fans, have to accept that,” concurred Manpreet Jhass of MMA Lock of the Night.
It’s one reason DraftKings VA has rolled out a special promo just for this fight. First-time depositors can bet $1 on either fighter, and if he lands a punch, you get $100 in free bets. (Look, even these two guys can land at least one punch over the course of eight rounds.)
Simply deposit at least $5 in your account and bet $1 on either fighter before their main event starts. Once the bet settles, you’ll get four $25 free bets as long as your guy lands a punch. (Check out the link for details.)
But what if you want to make a more traditional wager?
Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren odds
By Friday, five of the six Virginia online sportsbooks had posted odds for the “celebrity fight.”
At the time of this writing, Paul was a -177 favorite (at DraftKings) over +160 underdog Askren (at Caesars VA). At those odds, you would need to bet $17.70 on Paul to clear $10 in profit. A $10 winning bet on Askren, meanwhile, would net you $16 in profit.
But is that line accurate?
We asked our group of combat-sports notables to give us what chance Paul has of winning. Those percentages ranged from just 20% (“MMA Junkie Radio” host Brian “Goze” Garcia) all the way to 90% (Andreas Hale, senior editor of combat sports for Sporting News).
Overall, though, the average was 58%, which translates to a line of -138 for Paul and +138 for Askren (with no juice/vigorish, of course).
If you’re going by the consensus odds that the group created, the value is clearly on Askren.
Paul vs. Askren method of victory
However, if you’re looking for a straight pick regardless of odds, Paul is your guy. Of the 13 analysts who submitted predictions, eight chose Paul, and five picked Askren.
Here’s the breakdown of our expert picks:
- Jake Paul via KO/TKO: 7 (54%)
- Jake Paul via decision: 1 (8%)
- Ben Askren via KO/TKO: 1 (8%)
- Ben Askren via decision: 4 (31%)
You can also bet on that method of victory at the sportsbooks.
The best odds for these various wagers include:
- Jake Paul via KO/TKO/DQ: -112 (53%) at DraftKings
- Jake Paul via decision: +600 (14%) at BetMGM VA or DraftKings
- Ben Askren via KO/TKO/DQ: +375 (21%) at DraftKings
- Ben Askren via decision: +400 (20%) at BetMGM
- Draw: +2000 (4.8%) at FanDuel
Other Askren-Paul prop bets
Of course, with a “fight” of this magnitude, the sportsbooks have rolled out a suite of other prop bets.
These novelty wagers come in all forms.
Here’s a sampling:
- DraftKings: Over 5.5 rounds (+100) or under 5.5 rounds (-134)
- William Hill: Will the fight go the distance? Yes (+175) or no (-250)
- BetMGM: Alternate round totals, including under/over 2 rounds (+600/-1200), under/over 7 rounds (-175/+125) and more
- BetRivers: Winning fighter and round, including Jake Paul in Round 1 (+700), Ben Askren in Round 2 (+2500) and more
Is there some value with these propositions?
The general consensus is that the bout favors Askren the longer it goes on. After all, you don’t become a two-time NCAA Division I national champion in wrestling and an Olympian with suspect cardio.
“Askren will likely look to clinch often, which is brilliant because it can tire Paul out if Paul’s cardio is insufficient,” said AJ Schullo, an accomplished bettor and a content creator for DFS, betting and sports. “Still, Askren leads with his head-on entries, leaving him vulnerable to an uppercut or a counter right hand that Paul can capitalize on.”
But here’s some food for thought: If you think Askren can pull away late and get a stoppage, some big payouts await. BetRivers VA has substantial payouts if Askren wins in Round 6 (+3300), Round 7 (+4000) or Round 8 (+5000).
A history of spectacle over sport
Is this whole thing bad for MMA, boxing and combat sports as a whole? You wouldn’t be alone in that sentiment, after all.
But as we learned with our informal survey, there’s no reason to be a prude. Combat sports have never been pure sport, at least not lately. The spectacle is just as important.
“I don’t think of combat sports as this pure, untouchable art form,” said Fernanda Prates, podcaster and MMA writer for Fanbyte. “There’s also room for entertainment.”
Milo Taibi, content developer here at Catena Media, pointed out that the mega-event is also a great platform for undercard fighters. That includes “phenomenal talent” Regis Prograis (25-1), who meets Ivan Redkach (23-5-1) in the co-main event.
Sporting News’ Hale also mentioned it’s a great bridge to a “much-needed younger audience” for combat sports.
And who knows: 24-year-old Paul could draw those younger fans, but he could also be a legit talent down the line.
“Contrary to the old-school consensus, Jake Paul is great for boxing,” said Manouk Akopyan, combat sports reporter for the Los Angeles Times and BoxingScene.com. “He has some skills and is taking it seriously. Ben Askren is a perfect test.”
Heidi Fang, a sports multimedia journalist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, concurred that Askren is game.
“Nate Robinson was not half the fighter Askren is,” she said. “I think Askren is definitely a live dog and trained hard for this.”
All that uncertainty is one reason that fans are engaged. Throw some promotional muscle behind that novelty, and you’ve got yourself a money-maker.