One of the most unique competitors in MMA will finally be making his UFC debut at UFC 235. MMA fans generally have one of two opinions on Ben Askren. He’s either viewed as a nightmare grappler who’s “funky” style is fun to watch or a boring “lay & pray” wrestler whose striking is terrible. Despite your opinion, nobody can ignore one main fact; the man is a winner. Not only is Askren one of the best wrestlers on the planet, he’s also a world-class disc golf player. It seems whatever Ben puts his mind to, he has the ability to rise above most of the competition if not all of it. Nothing supports this more than his well-storied wrestling career and accomplishments at the Division 1 level.
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Feb 28, 2019 at 10:37pm PST
As a child, Ben was attracted to wrestling over more popular team sports because he preferred a sport where results were more dependent on personal effort. By the time Ben was a young teen, he was wrestling nearly every day year-round for multiple hours. He was a 2-time state champion at Arrowhead High School (2000 & 2001) which garnered attention from a Missouri wrestling program looking to drastically improve their program in a short period of time. This is when Ben met Tyron Woodley, who at the time was Mizzou’s team captain and wrestled just 1 weight class below Ben.
Ben always realized he wasn’t as naturally athletic as most people so he worked heavily on having great scrambling skills, aka “chain wrestling”. Though he started this trend in high school, the University of Missouri is where Ben would truly hone his “Funky” style. In Ben’s first 2 years at Missouri, only 2 people were able to defeat Ben, despite having 8 losses in that time. One of those people was Chris Pendleton of Oklahoma State, who was able to give Ben 7 of his 8 total losses in college. Other than Pendleton only 1 other person was able to beat Ben, Ryan Lang of Purdue.
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on May 8, 2016 at 4:48pm PDT
After his freshman & sophomore year, nobody else was able to figure out Ben Askren. His junior and senior years were two of the most dominant back to back years the NCAA wrestling world has ever seen including a victory over Jake Herbert in his junior year in the NCAA finals. Askren and Herbert both went undefeated the entire season and their match was billed as the match of the year at the time. Ben didn’t just win, he surprised many and dominated Herbert in a lopsided 14-2 victory that truly highlighted Askren’s “Funky” style. If you’re even remotely a fan of collegiate wrestling and have never seen this match, I would entice you to do so.
Ben went 87-0 his last 2 years at Mizzou, making him a 4x NCAA finalist and 2x Champion. To put in perspective those accomplishments, Ben was just the 12th person in NCAA history to make the finals 4 times. Before Askren (2006 & 2007) only Cael Sanderson won more than 1 Hodge trophy. Cael won 3 Hodge Trophies (2000, 2001 & 2002) & 4 NCAA championships with a 159-0 record. Sanderson also won the ESPY in 2002 for the best male college athlete. Ben was nominated in 2007 for the same award, which Kevin Durant ended up winning.
As much as being known for his funky style of wrestling Ben was known for being one of the best pinning artists in NCAA history. To put in perspective how great Askren is at holding people on their back, consider Cael Sanderson finished his college career with 62 pins vs Bens 91 pins. Ben holds the NCAA single-season pin record & won back to back Schalles Awards (top collegiate pinner of the year) along with his Hodge Trophies in 2006-2007. At one point Ben pinned 18 opponents in a row in the 1st period, something no other NCAA wrestler has ever done. This skill set may be the most important aspect of fighting that he brought from wrestling into his MMA career.
After college wrestling, Ben transitioned to freestyle with his goal to win Olympic Gold. Unfortunately, he finished 1-1 in his one Olympic outing, finishing an overall 6th place which for Ben was a severe letdown. Similar to 2008 Olympic teammate & team captain Daniel Cormier, this Olympic “failure” was likely a huge driving force in his desire to compete in MMA. After winning a world No-Gi grappling championship in 2009 Ben would enter the Bellator Season 2 welterweight tournament, which he won despite minimal experience in MMA. Ben was able to amass a 9-0 record in the promotion with more than half his fights being 5 round title fights. By 2013 Ben had beaten most of the top welterweights in Bellator and needed a new challenge.
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on May 29, 2017 at 3:56am PDT
In 2013 Ben was able to convince Bellator to release him from his contract with the plan to sign with the UFC. Unfortunately Dana White had a strong hatred for Askren. The combination of Ben’s perceived arrogance, brutal honesty, and style of fighting was a huge obstacle in getting signed to the UFC. Dana was once quoted saying “When Ambien can’t sleep it takes Ben Askren”. This statement by Dana was made around the same time Ben started calling for stringent Olympic level drug testing in MMA, which at the time Dana said would be impossible. Ben scoffed at and roasted Dana for it, which only grew Dana’s evident dislike of him. If you are unfamiliar with Ben’s attempt to sign with the UFC back in 2013 I encourage you to listen to the Joe Rogan podcast he was on.
Since things didn’t work out with the UFC Ben signed with One FC, probably the promotion with the best talent available to complete in outside of Bellator and the UFC. Unfortunately, One FC isn’t very highly regarded among most fans of the western hemisphere. Because most MMA fans were ignorant of why Ben was in One FC, to begin with, they pinned him as a person wanting to get paid to beat up “tomato cans” instead of wanting to compete vs the best. Meanwhile, the old school wrestling fanatics, the die-hard Askren fans, were left wondering why he didn’t get signed by the UFC because those fans know the last thing Askren would ever do is purposely aim to compete vs lesser competition.
Askren dominated One FC before deciding to retire, again stating it was because he ran out of challenges. He stated the only way he would compete again is if he could fight in the UFC or compete against a guy like George St Pierre in whatever organization that could make the fight happen. The general consensus was still that Dana hated Ben & signing him was never going to happen. Fortunately for Ben, this didn’t sit over well with a large amount of hardcore MMA fans, including Joe Rogan. Having Ben on his podcast helped millions of MMA fans get to hear Bens side of the story when it came to the past issues with Dana & the UFC. Quickly after that podcast, there seemed to be a huge turn in the overall opinion of Ben, even people who still didn’t like him were at least now interested in seeing what he could do in the UFC. Despite the thousands of cries it still seemed like a stretch that we’d ever see Askren ever fight again as he was evidently comfortable with being retired from MMA. He’d just been hired by the University of Wisconsin as the head wrestling coach, with that and AWA (Askren Wrestling Academy) it appeared his plate was plenty full & there was no need to go back to MMA.
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Dec 12, 2018 at 7:52pm PST
Then suddenly, the trade happens. Demetrious Johnson leaves the UFC for One FC while the UFC receives Ben Askren. Being the first trade of this nature between major promotions in MMA it was a groundbreaking event, one that still has very interesting implications for the future of MMA. While many fans were sad to see one of the UFC’s GOATs leave, many were excited to finally see what Askren can do in the UFC. Unlike One FC, the UFC embraces people who speak confidently in the media & stir things up. Immediately upon being signed Askren began doing such, calling out nearly every welterweight in the top 15 of the UFC. After many rumors of potential opponents flew around Robbie Lawler was the chosen one for his debut fight.
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Jun 11, 2018 at 4:23pm PDT
By no means is the UFC going easy on Ben with his first matchup. Lawler started fighting in MMA when Ben was still wrestling in high school. Lawler has always been known for his brutal “brawling” style and great takedown defense which is generally a good recipe for dealing with high-level wrestlers who have a minimal striking offense. Despite many thoughts that Lawler may be one of the tougher matchups for Ben (including Ben himself), Ben is still a near -300 favorite. So how good is Ben Askren? Wrestling fanatics had that answered years ago, however it appears MMA fans need more convincing and March 2nd Ben finally has his chance to do so.