The MMA community reacted last month when Ben Askren joined the UFC following a "trade" involving flyweight great Demetrious Johnson, the UFC and Askren's former promotion, the Singapore-based ONE Championship. Though Askren enjoyed lengthy title reigns in Bellator as well as ONE, he has yet to set foot in the UFC Octagon.
A 2008 Olympic wrestler, the 34-year-old Askren sports a pro MMA record of 18-0-1. He'll have a chance to affirm or reject plenty of perceptions Jan. 26 at UFC 233, when he makes his UFC debut against former welterweight champ Robbie Lawler.
For years, many observers have considered Askren one of the world's best welterweights and MMA wrestlers. Others ding him for a relatively low level of competition and a conservative, even plodding style.
This week, Scott Harris of Bleacher Report MMA called in for a Q&A with Askren on a variety of topics, including a few outside of the normal Askren talking points. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Bleacher Report: We'll have hardcore MMA fans, casual MMA fans and maybe casual sports fans reading this. So, how would you introduce yourself to someone who's never heard of you? My name is Ben Askren, and I am...
Ben Askren: Well, I'm a wrestler. I've been a wrestler all my life. I was an Olympian. I made the transition to MMA, but I'm still involved in wrestling. And I love my life.
B/R: You just came over from ONE, a show based in Singapore. What is it like competing in Asia? How is it different from fighting in America?
Askren: Asia was awesome. I really enjoyed my time there. In the mid-to-late '90s, there was the Pride promotion, and there were all these stories about competing there. Everyone said the audience would be really quiet while the fight was happening. But in ONE, it really wasn't that different. So, no complaints. I went to Singapore many times, which is a fascinating place. It's fascinating to see the world through other people's eyes.
B/R: What did you think when you heard you were matched up with Lawler? Why do you think the UFC made that fight?
Askren: I don't know. He wasn't really on my radar. I have nothing bad to say about him, but like I said, he wasn't on the radar. He lost his last fight [a 2017 loss to Rafael dos Anjos]. I didn't come here to say no. I know he has sprawl and brawl, an OK wrestling background and he hits hard.
B/R: What do you think's going to happen in that fight?
Askren: I'm gonna impose my will. It's what I've done all my life.
B/R: You've had plenty to say to the other welterweights since you came to the UFC, that you want to kick everyone's ass and so forth. But you've been especially aggressive toward former interim champ Colby Covington. Why is that?
Askren: He's just so unlikable. Does anybody really like him? The answer is no. He's just irritating. His shtick is old and pathetic. It's stupid. And he's not even smart enough to come up with any of it himself. You can tell his material is prepared for him. I'm not gonna out anyone. But yes, someone writes his material.
B/R: You're pretty outspoken on Twitter, and that goes beyond MMA. I've seen you comment on current events and social issues. Do you follow the news or politics?
Askren: Yeah, I love it. It's not my main focus, but I follow what's going on in the world and try to be aware. Politics in the U.S. is fascinating today. Life is fascinating with the advent of social media. We're seeing the curtain pulled back so that it's not only a handful of people giving us a narrative. I follow a lot of people, and I read a lot, a lot of business or history.
B/R: What other MMA fighter, active or retired, would you say you look up to most? I know you and Chael Sonnen are close.
Askren: I never really got this concept of looking up to people. It puts them on a pedestal. It's like what we were talking about with politics. Each individual, I take things. Yeah, Chael, we're friends. He and Daniel Cormier are slick on the mic, but Daniel's his own kind of Daniel. I don't want to look up to one person.