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Askren vs. Masvidal at UFC 239: The Main Event before The Main Event

UFC 239 is loaded with great fights including 2 title fights with Nunes vs Holm and Jones vs Santos. However, it’s the fight just before the title fights that’s garnering the most attention.

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Apr 11, 2019 at 3:48pm PDT

Askren agitated the welterweight division with his submission win over Robbie Lawler, as well did Masvidal with his knockout victory over Darren Till. Many don’t see Ben’s win over Lawler as legitimate, saying Lawler never went unconscious from the bulldog choke and Herb Dean is guilty of an early stoppage. Some think the fight should have been stopped during Robbie’s ground & pound. The positive is this continued debate adds even more interest to this upcoming fight. Masvidal gave Leon Edwards his infamous “3 piece with a soda” backstage after he knocked out Till and has followed it up by constantly expressing his heavy disdain for Askren. Why all the hate?

A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Apr 22, 2019 at 7:25pm PDT

Recently, on the Joe Rogan podcast, Jorge spoke of a training story that Ben has shared from late 2008. Ben was just getting started in his MMA career. Ben and Jorge worked out, just grappling, which to no surprise Ben got the best of. In a recent interview, Ben said what he remembered most from that training session was Jorge felt weak, which gave him the confidence to seriously pursue MMA and become a world champion. Jorge, as he explained to Rogan, said people willing to share gym stories like that violate a “man code”. I agree with Masvidal in some regards and several reasons why. Primarily, it’s not good etiquette to share training stories like that if you plan on continuing to train with that person or in their gym. Also, in my experience, this type of etiquette is different in wrestling rooms than BJJ gyms.

A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Apr 16, 2019 at 3:38pm PDT

One of Masvidal’s closest friends and training partners is Colby Covington, a wrestler first. Most MMA fans recall Covington constantly talking about “breaking Woodley” when they trained once, using it as a main focal point to get under skin and build steam for a potential title fight. If I was Rogan during that portion of the podcast, it would have been hard for me to not bring that up. But, like Rogan, I’d probably leave questions like that in my head and not go out of my way to antagonize a guest like Jorge Masvidal (Rogan is a health nut, I doubt he wants a 3 piece with a soda).

It’s been very interesting to see people’s take on this matchup, especially other UFC fighters. Aljamain Sterling, a wrestler who shares the Funk moniker, favors Masvidal. Many other fighters seem to favor him as well. Jorge is a very old school for the fight community, especially people who’ve watched his backyard fights (RIP Kimbo). Over the years Masvidal has grown tremendously as a fighter. He’s one of the savviest strikers in the game, has an underrated grappling game and rarely takes damage in fights. Most of his losses, especially in the last decade, are split decisions. As far as wins go he’s proven he can produce exciting finishes. How will he handle Askren’s skill set? The closest recent fight on Jorge’s resume we can view to compare is the Maia fight. Maia was able to control him long enough to have 2 of 3 judges give Maia the win. Askren is a different animal than Maia, he will surely have a much better arsenal of takedowns to get the fight to the ground. If Jorge is unable to hurt Ben enough on the feet and stop these types of grappling exchanges, it could be a long 15 minutes.

A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Apr 10, 2019 at 8:27pm PDT

Jorge has great counter striking but Askren hardly throws any strikes, there likely won’t be much to counter. Ben’s punches/kicks are mainly set-ups for takedowns. He won’t sit on the outside and give the same kind of opportunities most other fighters give for counter striking. Throwing kicks/knees against Ben is tricky as well, you don’t want to feed him any easy takedowns. Ben has proven over the years that he can take a shot, march through it and get his way. Robbie Lawler heavily tested Ben’s chin. The slam alone may have knocked out most people, but not Ben.

If Jorge can figure out a way to keep Ben from taking him down early in rounds and land strikes, he can win this fight. The more he can do that, the more opportunity he’ll have to land something meaningful. He likely needs to outstrike Ben more in each round than Ben out wrestles him. How long can he keep it standing will be a huge factor in how the fight goes. Having a training partner like Colby is likely somewhat helpful, though Colby’s wrestling style is very different than Ben’s. I wouldn’t be confident Colby (or anybody) can emulate a lot of what Ben does, especially in scrambles. I’ll be very curious to see how Jorge uses footwork and movement around the cage to try and avoid the pressure Ben brings. Lawler admitted before he fought Askren, one of the toughest things he noticed about Bens style is how he closes the distance. Before the slam, it only took Ben a little longer than 10 seconds to get to Robbie’s back with an arm drag. If Ben is able to get a similar position on Masvidal early like that, I’m not confident Jorge has the same kind of athleticism and strength as Robbie to pull off a similar slam. If Jorge allows any ego to get in the way and tries to engage in grappling affairs thinking he can win them, it would likely be a poor decision. It’s not a mystery what he’s better than Askren at, in my opinion, he needs to do everything possible to keep the fight in the arena he’s got the advantage.

A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Jul 3, 2019 at 5:39pm PDT

The weigh-in with these two should be interesting. I’m sure Dana is on high alert, especially after the backstage event with Masvidal and Edwards. Jorge has made it very clear he wants to stay away from Ben until fight night. Masvidal nonetheless has created interest for this fight in his own way, mainly through his constant bashing of Ben. He’s been quoted saying “I’m going to make sure his bloodline doesn’t reproduce or nothing after July 6. Extinction of the Askren blood by the Masvidal blood.” Askren responded with “I already have 3 kids. Unless you plan on murdering the rest of my family, which is pretty sick and disturbing, you’re not gonna end my bloodline, Jorge.”

The banter has been fun to listen to from both sides and has surely helped hype this fight. I’ve been a fan of both men, for different reasons, for a long time. Hopefully, Askren and Masvidal put on a great, entertaining fight for the fans and regardless who wins set their differences aside at the end and show their sportsmanship side. As much as fans love some controversy and good build-ups to fights, we could probably do without the Khabib/Conor type of drama. The beauty of MMA is people get paid to settle their differences in a cage, in a legally sanctioned fight. There shouldn’t be a need to take it elsewhere. ■

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