With choirboy good looks and a frame carved by pinning people to the mat, he’s become a fast fan favorite despite being outspoken and frank--perhaps his vocal nature, some surmise, was the reason it didn’t work out between him and the UFC since he was released from his Bellator contract.
The UFC’s loss is One FC’s gain, and though the superfight that critics have hankered for between Askren and former welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre is absent on the horizon, big things are in store for Askren’s futre inside the Asian MMA circuit.
Askren is set to fight Azerbaijan’s Bakhtiyar Abbasov at ONE FC’s “Honor and Glory” on May 30, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Askren’s opponent is no slouch but a formidable talent at middleweight. He’s been flying high on a remarkable nine-fight win streak, with a good mix of wins via submission and TKO by strikes. He hopes to improve his 11-2 record by dropping down to welterweight and giving Askren a bloody time with his One FC debut.
Askren was recently in Manila to promote his upcoming fight, putting on a superb display of striking and the formidable wrestling that forms the base of his MMA skill set. For fans in Asia who like the finer, technical points of MMA, we broke down the ways in which this former Olympian has remained undefeated thus far.
Ben Askren is an icon in U.S. collegiate wrestling with four All-American awards. He also wrestled in the US Olympics team in 2008 before transitioning to mixed martial arts, debuting in 2009. He finished his wrestling career at the University of Missouri with a record of 153-8. 91 of those victories came by way of pins, which are the third most in NCAA Division I history.
Askren entered Bellator FC's season two welterweight tournament with not much more than a world class wrestling pedigree and a 3-0 MMA record. That was all he needed to dominate in the season, but his ever evolving stand-up game has since been honed sharp under the tutelage of top-shelf MMA coaches, first at Florida’s American Top Team (ATT), and then at Roufusport with Duke Roufus and his stable of fighters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin--including UFC’s Alan Belcher, Danny Downs, Eric Koch, and current lightweight champ Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
With most of his fights from now on to be held in Asia, Askren has since moved camps to Singapore’s EVOLVE Fight Team. Under Chatri Sityodtong’s watchful eye and a creme de la crème of muay thai and striking coaches, the sustained barrage of new weapons makes Askren even more dangerous.
“I trained [at EVOLVE] for a bit in 2012 and made some connections,” said Askren. “I feel comfortable there and it makes sense for me to have a [training] home in Asia.”
Though Askren uses his brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu in mostly a defensive manner (with only three of his bouts won via submission), the fighters and coaches at ATT, Roufusport, and EVOLVE are thoroughly world-class.
Consider the caliber of jiu-jitsu-based fighters in the Singapore camp: Leandro Ataides, leandro Da Silva, Bruno Pucci, and the master of flying submissions himself, the sometimes lukewarm, sometimes horridly sadistic Shinya “Tobikaj Judan” Aoki.
Dragging opponents into deep waters and then breaking their will has been an Askren fighting hallmark since his MMA debut. He’s gotten better at it and he’s been doing it faster, too. Just ask Ryan Tomas, Douglas Lima, or Dan Hornbuckle.
“I’m going to do what I have to do,” said Askren at the Manila open workout. “I am Ben Askren, and that’s how I fight and will always going to fight. It’s a level of perspective. I’m going to do what I need to do."
With his brother, Max, Ben is also the co-founder of the Askren Wrestling Academy (AWA). They founded the camp after Askren finished a stint of four years as a starter at 174 pounds for Missouri (2004-07). Currently, there are two locations in Hartland, Wisocnisn and in Somers, New York.
“I love training the kids in wrestling!” said Askren “You can really make a change in their lives. I’ve seen a lot of kids who were headed down the wrong path and then they find wrestling and then they start heading down the right path. They’re kids so, you know, you totally have the ability to change their life. I like training fighters as well but it’s just more of an impact with teens and kids.”
Married and a father of one, Askren has a soft spot for how sports and the Greco-Roman skills can change the course of lives, especially troubled children and teens. When asked about teaching wrestling in the Philippines, Askren replied enthusiastically: "I will love to get that opportunity. The Philippines have produced so many great fighters and if I get that chance, I will definitely do it!"
This is how he took away the welterweight tourney title from Dan Hornbuckle in 2010. Spit, grit, and embracing the grind.
There’s a lot of speculation whether Askren will adjust well to the new, non-unified rules of Asian MMA that includes soccer kicks to the head and body to a prone opponent, as well as knees to the head. We’d love to see him dominate with his wrestling to get superior positions for these fight-turners to happen.
Still, Askren speaks: "I love [the pressure]! You’ve got to embrace the pressure. I have the pressure for a reason. I'm undefeated and I know there's a target on my back and I want everybody to give me their best fight. I don't want easy fights."
Also, he thinks that “Asian MMA is set for another boom, just like it did in the 1990s and early 2000s [with Pride FC].” So at least he’s well-positioned should that come to pass.
There’s a reason “Funky” Askren is undefeated at 12 and 0 inside the cage and why he’s one of the biggest fighter acquisitions that One FC has garnered.
Along with other recent high-profile signings such as Dae Hwan Kim, Harris Sarmiento, and Aung La Nsang, One FC’s heavier weight classes are shaping up to get the depth and exciting aplomb they deserve--remember the Arlovski vs Sylvia fight?
Askren is ranked by “Fight Magazine” as the eighth best welterweight in the world behind fighters such as former UFC champ Georges St-Pierre, Carlos Condit, and current UFC champ Johnny Hendricks (what a fight that would be!) but way ahead of big names like Brazilian strangler Demian Maia and American wrestler Jake Ellenberger.
Askren’s already won the Bellator welterweight championship in 2010, defending it four times, and while many questions remain, we’d love to see how he’ll do in the Asian promotion with a different set of rules and fighters who have exotic, sometimes obscure fighting systems as their base.
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