Ben Askren entered Bellator's season two welterweight tournament with little more than a world class wrestling pedigree, a 3-0 MMA record and a talent that many fight promotions may have, in hindsight, undervalued.
The brass at Bellator Fighting Championships instantly recognized what Askren could bring to the table for their organization. The investment they made in an inexperienced fighter has paid off ten fold.
This Saturday night, over a year later, “Funky” Ben Askren will enter the Bellator cage with a record that stands at 8-0. With him he will bring that absolutely devastating grappling game a BJJ purple belt and an ever evolving striking game.
Most importantly, Askren will bring into the cage with him the Bellator welterweight strap, which he now looks to defend against a crafty and dangerous MMA veteran Jay Hieron. Askren has been on quite a roll inside the Bellator cage, and this will mark his first title defense.
To defeat Jay Hieron, he will have to be the best Ben Askren he has ever been. And, after having transitioned to the world renowned Roufusport camp, where some of the game's greatest talents call home, Askren feels confident that he has indeed become the best he can be.
While the title will be his greatest motivation when he takes his corner on fight night, this upcoming bout between Hieron and Askren has seen its share of bad blood boil over between the two welterweight combatants.
Askren sat down and spoke with Todd Jackson of Hurtsbad MMA to discuss his opponent, his progress as a fighter and where he sees himself among all welterweights in the sport of MMA. As for his opponent, Askren pulled no punches and has lost no love when it comes to Xtreme Couture's Jay Hieron.
The champ told Hurtsbad MMA, “He just kind of rubs me the wrong way. I guess people could say this about me too, but he just comes off with the 'my [expletive] doesn't stink' kind of thing, like he is better than other people. I just really don't like that type of mentality.”
And while bad blood is what it is, Askren does see potential threats posed by Hieron, but overall did not sound impressed with his opponent. “He has a strong wrestling background. He has some pretty good stand up. But from what I see, he doesn't really excel in any certain area except his wrestling, which becomes null and void due to my level of wrestling.”
Askren has finished half of his opponents while defeating the other half by decision. When it comes to Hieron, he shared his thoughts on the possibility of ending his night early.
Askren said, “I think I will finish him. But, at the same time, I'm going to let the fight run its course. I'm not going to try to force something that isn't there and go out there and make a stupid mistake and maybe lose to someone like him when it's not necessary.”
The champ added, “I think I have the ability to finish Jay and I think I will, but I'm not going to go out there swinging for the fences like some kind of clown.”
Askren is known for his wrestling, which he feels is a clear cut advantage over Hieron. Hieron is known to be a grinding type of fighter who will drag fighters into the deep waters, so surely Askren expects his wrestling to play a big part in this fight.
With his wrestling prowess being a given, Askren realizes that to excel in this game it takes an entire MMA package. Training under Duke Roufus, he feels he is well on his way to becoming that package.
Askren talked about his transition back to Wisconsin to train at Roufusport. “The main reason I moved back to this area is because I knew how good of a coach Duke Roufus was. He just does a great job with all of his fighters. On top of that, they're progressive.”
Askren went on to explain, “They know it's mixed martial arts, they know it's not kickboxing, they know it's not boxing, not wrestling, not jiu jitsu, it's mixed martial arts. They know it's everything combined and they are on the cutting edge of that.”
The pedigree of the stable of fighters competing out of that camp speaks for itself. Askren is proud to represent that. “They have a bunch of young hungry fighters who want to be the best. We are a very tight team, we practice every single day together and we all help each other out.”
Working out under Roufus holds many benefits for a champion looking to sharpen every weapon he carries, especially the striking game. “Duke's camp is a perfect camp for me, because where I struggled was in my stand up. The have great coaching here for stand up, and then every single day we spar I have to go up against some of the best stand up fighters in MMA, some of the most cutting edge stand up fighters in MMA.”
Askren offered the obvious examples of warriors he bangs it out with daily. “Whether it's Alan Belcher, Anthony Pettis, Danny Downs or Eric Koch. They all have good kicks, punches, knees and good elbows. They're not one dimensional stand up fighters, they have everything. That really helps get me prepared for anything I have to face inside the cage.”
Even with the understanding of his need to constantly move forward and improve in every aspect of MMA, Askren feels confident in his place among the best welterweight fighters in the world. Competing in a division with names like Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz, Askren feels he is right up there with the best in the game.
The champ explained, “I really think I can compete with anyone in the world. Obviously I haven't been given a chance to prove that yet, but in time I will be given that chance. I will show everyone that I am one of the best fighters in the world at my weight.”
“I know that I'm a very tough and threatening matchup for anybody.”
Anyone who has seen this guy put it down, knows that he indeed can smother and control anyone he fights at will. He can manipulate and dictate where a fight takes place, which is a key element of any MMA bout. His chin has been tested and passed so far, and his hands are being honed with some of the best in the business.
So go ahead and argue with the man if you like, but it is extremely hard to say with a straight face that his formula inside the cage is not working. To say that he is indeed one of the best in the world, and could compete as such given the opportunity, is no stretch whatsoever.
Standing ready to face the toughest test of his career, Askren sounds confident and ready to prove that he is one of the best, and he can and will put his money where his mouth is.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.