ONE Championship welterweight kingpin and former Bellator MMA champion Ben Askren is set to retire following his next bout. Askren, who defended his title this past weekend at ONE Championship: Shanghai, had been non-committal in the cage afterward about how many fights he might have left. However, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced on Facebook that Askren’s next fight would be his last. Sityodtong also announced Askren’s final opponent: Japanese legend Shinya Aoki.
“In what will be a ferocious contest between two great white sharks, Shinya Aoki and Ben Askren have decided to lay it all on the line” Sityodtong said in a statement. “Win or lose, this fight will be Ben’s last. Ben has made the decision to retire after this fight to become an executive at ONE. You do not want to miss this mega event in Singapore!”
The fight will take place at ONE Championship: Immortal Pursuit in Singapore on November 24. Askren vs. Aoki will be one of two title fights on the card, as “Unstoppable” Angela Lee will face Mei Yamaguchi in a rematch of their 2016 battle for the inaugural ONE atomweight title. Lee won that fight via unanimous decision.
For Askren, his appearance at Immortal Pursuit will be the swan song in an undefeated career dating back to 2009. Askren (17-0 (1)) has dominated nearly every opponent he has shared a cage with, in both Bellator and ONE Championship. While flirting with signing with the UFC after his Bellator contract ended, a feud between the storied wrestler and UFC President Dana White erupted. While Askren would ultimately sign with ONE instead, the publicity from that feud actually seemed to help his star status, and Askren has been known as the best welterweight fighter to never compete in the UFC ever since.
The only blemish on his record (if you could call it that) was a No Contest against Luis Santos in ONE in April 2015. That was the result of an Askren eye poke in a fight where Santos was holding his own. However, a rematch was called off in November 2015 when Santos missed weight, then refused to weigh in for a 190lb catchweight.
Askren’s most recent challenger, Zebaztian Kadestam, finished Santos in May to earn his chance at the title.
Among notable career victories for Askren are current Bellator MMA welterweight champ Douglas Lima, former Bellator welterweight champ Andrey Koreshkov, and former ONE welterweight champ Nobutatsu Suzuki, who Askren defeated to win the promotion’s welterweight title.
Shinya Aoki (39–7 (1)), a former Dream, and ONE lightweight champion who also challenged for Strikeforce’s lightweight title, is an interesting choice for Askren’s final opponent. A legendary name in Japanese MMA, Aoki has fought just a handful of times at welterweight in recent years, despite being a Shooto “welterweight” champion (their 170lb class actually being called middleweight). Aoki holds wins over Caol Uno, Eddie Alvarez, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and a host of others, but has not fought in MMA since losing his ONE Championship lightweight title to Eduard Folayang in November of last year. Since then he was submitted by Gary Tonon in a grappling match at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Heroes in May.
You can read ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong’s post announcing the bouts here.