One of the most popular mixed martial artists currently competing under the Bellator FC banner, welterweight Ben Askren has risen from Olympic Games-tested rookie to Bellator FC champion in less than eighteen months.
One of the most accomplished grapplers to ever enter the sport, Askren is a two-time NCAA National Champion as a wrestler at the University of Missouri, competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China and holds a purple-belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Although Askren has only been competing in the world of mixed martial arts since early 2009, he has quickly become one of the most promising up-and-comers in the sport.
Undefeated in his first six bouts, Askren is yet to take on elite competition, but has made light-work of everyone that has stepped into the ring with the 26 year-old mixed martial arts phenom.
Recently Bellator FC’s current welterweight king sat down for an exclusive interview.
A lot of former high-school wrestlers-turned-mixed martial artists say that going from the mat to the cage was just a part of their natural progression as an athlete, do you believe this, or were you more hesitant towards stepping into the world of mixed martial arts?
Yes, I feel the same way. I was really looking forward to starting my mixed martial arts career.
You competed in the 2008 Olympics for the United States of America as a wrestler. Are you focused solely on excelling as a mixed martial artist now, or do you intend on making a run at future Olympic Games?
For the time being I’m just going to compete in mixed martial arts, but I still love wrestling, so you never know.
You’ve competed as an amateur wrestler for a very long time and have achieved great deals of success at the high-school, collegiate, and Olympic level. Aside from pure wrestling, you’re also a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and have held your own against some of the grappling world’s toughest competition in some of the world’s most competitive tournaments. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a grappler?
I don’t feel like I have had any great accomplishments in grappling yet, I won some tourneys, but the competition wasn’t that strong. Winning the FILA Grappling World Championships was great, but I am looking towards the future. I think that I’m going to compete in the No-Gi Worlds in L.A. this November, and I am looking forward to that.
It seems that almost completely across the board, mixed martial artists that have extensive backgrounds in amateur wrestling are typically the most dominant. Given your experience as a grappler, do you believe that this is the case? If so, why?
Well I agree with this statement and I don’t really feel like there is just one reason, but more likely many. I think a couple of the top reasons are the amount of live competition we get as wrestlers and the work ethic we leave the sport with helps us succeed in mixed martial arts.
Unfortunately when a mixed martial artist utilizes his grappling skills to dominate their opponents by executing strong take-downs and maintaining dominant positions on the mat for extended periods of time, mixed martial arts “fans” often vocalize their disapproval. As a wrestling-based mixed martial artist, how do you feel about this?
Well I don’t like it when the wrestlers stall, but besides that I couldn’t care less what the fans think. Hopefully once more fans get educated they will learn to appreciate grappling. Also, if the opponents didn’t take the time to learn how to stop a takedown or get back to their feet then I think they’re just as much to blame.
With the introduction of Bellator FC’s tournament-styled format, it seems that the “politics” behind potential title-shots and main-event slots have been removed and theoretically the best mixed martial artists are eventually crowned champion after defeating their weight-classes top opponents. What other advantages do you see in competing for Bellator?
It let me get on TV fast and will allow me to get a bunch of wins under my belt before I have to face the best guys in the world.
With wins over Akihiro Gono and Nick Thompson, Dan Hornbuckle has proven to be a tough fight for nearly everyone he has competed against. Given how you performed against Hornbuckle at Bellator 22, do you feel that you are ready to take on the elite of the sport?
If I had to be ready, then yes, because I was born ready. That being said, I realize I have a lot of growth left, and I’m not even near my potential as a mixed martial artist. So the longer those guys have to wait to face me, the worse it will be for them.
In your first three bouts under the Bellator FC banner you’re undefeated and yet to face a legitimate threat to your perfect record. Do you feel that there are enough tough competitors to keep things “interesting” for you in Bellator FC?
Well mixed martial arts is a crazy sport, so everyone always has a puncher’s chance, but I feel like I’m a big favourite on everyone Bellator has now. They are signing good guys like (Yoshiyuki Yoshida) and (Brad Blackburn) so that will give me a chance to get more good practice before I move on.
In most world-wide mixed martial arts rankings, you are typically viewed as one of the top twenty welterweights on the planet. Do you feel that this is an accurate ranking? If not, where would you rank yourself?
Most definitely in the top-twenty. Like I said, I would be ready to fight any of these guys now, but I will just get better with time.
On the other hand, current Ultimate Fighting Championships champion Georges St. Pierre is nearly unanimously viewed as the most efficient welterweight in the sport. How do you feel you would fare against the UFC’s reigning one-hundred and seventy pound king?
Well right now I think I would struggle, but give me the time and I will get him. I think my wrestling is far superior than his and in time so will my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Plus, I don’t get tired, so I think I can give him a lot of trouble.
You’re an instructor at Lion’s Den in Scottsdale, Arizona and an up-and-coming professional mixed martial artist. As you become more established as a mixed martial artist and collect bigger purses for your bouts as your reputation grows, are you going to begin training full-time, or do you plan on continuing your career as a grappling instructor, as well?
I don’t instruct at the Lion’s Den, but I do help coach at Arizona State University. I really like Chael Sonnen’s quote about “a full-time fighter is full-time lazy”, because you can only train three-to-four hours a day, so you have time to do other things.
You’re still a very young man and are less than two years removed from your debut as a professional mixed martial artist, but have you thought about how long you would like to continue competing?
Probably until I don’t enjoy it anymore, or my body tells me to stop.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your fans while you have this opportunity?
Don’t blink. I might be at the top in no time.