Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Frank Mir’s boxing debut is going to have a lot of eyeballs on it thanks to him sharing the card with Jake Paul, but there’s another reason that he’s welcoming the polarizing YouTube star to the world of combat sports with open arms.
The former UFC heavyweight champion steps into the ring against two-division boxing champion Antonio Tarver on the undercard of the April 17 Triller event headlined by Paul and MMA star Ben Askren. While Paul and Askren—a welterweight champion in both Bellator and ONE Championship—have received their fair share of scrutiny for arranging the matchup, Mir has no issue with any of it.
If anything, Mir sees this as a unique opportunity for an entirely different audience to embrace combat sports and maybe even try it out for themselves.
“The crazy part is, Jake Paul, I don’t have anything against him,” Mir said on MMA Fighting’s What the Heck show. “I know a lot of people don’t like him as far as he’s a YouTube star coming into boxing, but look, he garners the attention, so that’s what validates that he’s in that ring. And he takes it serious. It isn’t like this guy’s not training. If he was out partying and drinking and treated this like a joke and he was basically making a masquerade of what I love, combat sports, then absolutely I would be pitchfork and flames and shoulder-to-shoulder with everybody else. But the kid trains, he’s focused, and he’s trying to be a boxer.
“So I have nothing but love for that. That’s what I want everybody to do. I want everybody to be able to enjoy martial arts and train at different levels, whether it’s competing or not. I think it makes everybody a better human being. The kid’s in shape, he’s trying to improve his skill level, there’s a reason why some people are worried for Askren because this kid is actually putting in the work. The fact that his avenue in was that he was a YouTube star, well hey man, all the more power to him that he found a way to be popular and make money. I think a lot of people just hate him because they wish they could have done that.”
Paul has already found success as a pro boxer, debuting in January 2020 with a first-round TKO of fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib. He then went viral after recording a brutal knockout of longtime NBA veteran Nate Robinson on the undercard of the Mike Tyson vs. Roy Jones Jr. card in November. That event reportedly drew over one million pay-per-view buys.
The brash social media star—who has tens of millions of followers across his various platforms—has raised the ire of traditional combat sports fans as he’s gone as far as to lobby for crossover boxing bouts with UFC star Conor McGregor and Bellator’s Dillon Danis.
Mir speculated that there are a lot of young people out there whose health and fitness routines have been negatively affected by COVID-19 restrictions and if watching Paul motivates them to become active as the country begins to open up again, then more power to him and his many fans.
“If they’re fans of Jake Paul and they’re watching him go out there—who doesn’t need the money, he’s already set for life—go out there and put it on the line and dedicate himself to something that is hard like combat sports are, I think he’s gonna inspire a lot of the younger generation,” Mir said. “How is that a bad thing? So what, you’re gonna have a bunch of kids signing up for boxing gyms and wrestling and MMA? Hey man, that’s a win.”
As for sharing a card with Askren, his fellow MMA champion, Mir is amused at the fact that they’re in opposite positions. Askren is being asked to prove that an inexperienced boxer can’t beat an MMA and wrestling star, while Mir is looking to upset a highly-accomplished boxer.
He offered some advice for Askren—though not too much, just in case Tarver is listening.
“If you think too much about that it could be a distraction,” Mir said of the challenge facing Askren. “I do have certain tips for it, but I don’t want to give too much advice because that’s the same advice I’d give Tarver and I don’t want to help him out too much.
“Tarver’s in the same position where the weight of the world’s on his shoulders because even if he has a bad showing and wins the fight, it’s kind of a loss on Monday morning when he shows up at the gym. ‘Hey man, that guy made his debut and you struggled with him.’ That could be a very bad day for him, let alone me actually cleaning his clock. Ben does have a lot of pressure on his shoulders.”