The ‘Funky’ wrestler will get a chance to show just how good he is one last time at ONE Championship: Immortal Pursuit in Singapore this Friday.
Ben Askren will make his way to the cage for the final time at ONE Championship: Immortal Pursuit. It will be the end of a storied career, albeit one riddled with “what ifs” and “could have beens” from those watching from the outside. For years, Askren’s career path has frustrated the supposed “experts” of the sport. The NCAA champ was nearly unanimously acknowledged as the best welterweight in the world… outside the UFC. After flirting with the promotion, an eventual feud with Dana White saw Askren head to Asia. He signed with ONE Championship after his Bellator days were done, ending the UFC question for good.
There, the wrestler continued to show the dominance he displayed under Bjorn Rebney’s old promotion.
For Askren, however, there’s no regrets. Instead, the decorated wrestler has focused on putting on great performances every time out. Great is exactly what he has been, having not a single loss on his resume.
His final opponent will be top Japanese fighter Shinya Aoki. Aoki has fought just about everywhere in Asia since his pro debut in 2003. That includes appearances in DEEP, Dream, PRIDE, RIZIN, and of course ONE Championship. He even made a stop in Bellator along the way, facing top lightweight and future UFC champion Eddie Alvarez. Aoki lost the ONE lightweight title a year ago, but even without the belt, Askren vs. Aoki has the feelings of a super-fight.
Of the final pairing, Askren has said that “Shinya is a really good final opponent. Obviously, he is a legend of the sport, and he is a really big challenge on the ground, which is where I like to compete, personally.”
“I am excited for this bout. He is a grappler and has a great skill set that I respect, so I think it will be a great battle.”
We fired off a few questions to the ONE Championship Welterweight King ahead of Friday’s Immortal Pursuit. The event takes place in Kallang, Singapore at the Singapore Indoor Arena. Check out Askren’s Q&A below, with thanks to ONE Championship for making it happen!
What do you say to critics who contend fighting outside North America keeps you from being considered one of the greats?
“They have their own opinion about it, and they have the right to express how they feel about it. My trips to Asia have been a pleasure for me. I always enjoy seeing new cultures and learning new things. I’ve stepped in the cage 17 times, and I’ve never taken a loss. I think I am one of the best in the world, and I think it also says a lot about the consistency I bring. I bring a great performance every single time I step in the cage.”
Looking back at your career, what moment or moments stand out the most? Is there any one you hold as your greatest achievement?
“I guess my two title wins. I’ve held two belts. I’ve never lost them, and I’ve held them for a combined six years, which is a very, very long championship reign by anyone’s account.”
For a while it looked like you might take on Vitaly Bigdash, do you have any regret in not moving up a weight class for a bigger challenge as it were?
“I was more than willing to face him. I was ready to conquer him. But he had other plans. That says a lot.”
Who do you wish, from any promotion, you could have faced?
“No one at the moment. I do not have regrets. Like what I said before, if ever I am going to leave this sport, it’s going to be on my terms. Not only that, but also as a fulfilled individual.”
What advice would you give to a young Ben Askren (or any young kid) making the jump from wrestling to MMA today?
“Always believe in hard work. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have work ethic behind it there will never be long-term success.”
Is there any situation or opponent that would get you back into the cage?
“I cannot really say at the moment. Maybe down the road, I will get the itch to compete. You never know.”