Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach impressed with Ben Askren: 'He hits hard; very hard'

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Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·3-min read
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Jake Paul, whom Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach refers to not-so-lovingly as “The YouTube Boob,” is a significant favorite over Ben Askren when they meet Saturday (9 p.m. ET, Triller/PPV) in the main event of a Triller Fight Club card at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Paul is 2-0, with wins against another YouTube star and a former NBA slam dunk champion. His trainer, former cruiserweight B.J. Flores, insists that Paul is not just a celebrity who has turned to boxing to make a few quick paydays.

“Believe me, Jake can fight,” Flores said.

It’s a point that other fighters who have seen Paul train, including former undisputed welterweight champion Zab Judah, have endorsed. Those two fights are the extent of Paul’s boxing career, yet it’s almost as if Askren is being written off. 

Paul is a -175 favorite at BetMGM. Askren is +145.

Askren, who will reportedly earn $1 million, is making his boxing debut, but he has a long and successful track record in combat sports.

He was the former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion who retired from MMA at 19-2 after hip replacement surgery.

He also won two NCAA Division I wrestling national championships, had two runners-up and won a U.S. national championship.

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - OCTOBER 26: (R-L) Ben Askren punches Demian Maia of Brazil in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on October 26, 2019 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
(R-L) Ben Askren punches Demian Maia in their welterweight bout during UFC Fight Night at Singapore Indoor Stadium on Oct. 26, 2019 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

He was never known for his striking in MMA, but Roach was pleasantly surprised after working with Askren for six days. He said Askren hit hard and was in remarkable physical condition.

“He got off the plane and came over to work and he did 12 rounds straight on the mitts no problem,” Roach said.

Footwork is the biggest issue that Askren will face Saturday night, Roach said. MMA fighters use different stances than boxers because of the variety of attacks — punches, elbows, knees, kicks, takedowns — they face. Boxers train specifically to defend against and throw punches.

This concerns Roach, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame who is regarded as one of a handful of the greatest trainers in the sport’s history.

Paul violently knocked out ex-NBA slam dunk champion Nate Robinson, a superb all-around athlete whose boxing technique was all but non-existent. Paul never took a shot in that fight. He was hit a bit in his debut against Ali Eson Gib, who like Paul earned his fame via YouTube, but still won a first-round TKO while scoring three knockdowns.

Askren seemed to assimilate his teachings quickly, Roach said, and surprised him with his punching power.

“He hits hard; very hard,” Roach said. “He hit me on the chin one day and I can tell you, I felt that.”

Roach said Askren boxes out of a lower stance than many fighters, and believes that will help him in the game plan they formulated. Roach isn’t dismissive of Paul but said he felt Askren would win.

“Honestly, I think he has everything he needs to beat this guy,” Roach said. “But he has to fight the right fight. He knows that. We’ve come up with a good game plan and as long as he sticks to it, I think he will win, yes.”

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