Scott Askham feels KSW are definitely in the big leagues, and is hopeful for a fight with Mamed Khalidov if he gets past Michal Materla this weekend at KSW 49.
One of a number of key European signings for KSW, Scott Askham returns in the main event of this coming weekend’s KSW 49. The former UFC middleweight and ex-BAMMA champ is 2-0 in the Polish promotion, and 3-0 since being cut from the UFC in 2017. The wins have come against strong competition: UFC alum Luke Barnatt, veteran of The Ultimate Fighter: Jones vs. Sonnen, Marcin Wójcik, and Michał Materla, a former KSW middleweight champ.
Not a bad run. While Askham expected to finish his career in the UFC, and feels he was shown the door a little soon, he’s found new life in his new home.
It is Materla who will once again be in Askham’s sights at KSW 49 in Gdansk, Poland on Saturday. The pair top the card in a middleweight fight that will have the vacant title on the line. That’s after Mamed Khadilov vacated the belt to pursue a rematch with light heavyweight champ Tomasz Narkun. Which led to a brief tournament, the final of which pits Askham against Materla for the second time in just over a year.
Cageside Press caught up with Askham as he was heading to Poland from Florida, where he’s been training with ATT. “It’s three flights, this one. I’m flying from Fort Lauderdale to Newark, from Newark to Munich, and then Munich to Warsaw,” he told us. By the time you’ll be reading this, Askham will already be in Poland for the KSW 49 fight week. But before that, he put in nine weeks at American Top Team in Florida.
“Preparation’s been great,” he said, noting that his family was able to visit him for a few weeks mid-camp. “Everything’s been good. Training’s been great. It’s been a great camp.”
Despite training stateside, Askham’s never actually fought in America. “I actually had a fight scheduled in Las Vegas, but I had some visa issues,” Askham revealed. “A foolish mistake, I let the travel agent fill the rest [of the application] out.” His work visa application was denied, and Askham was pulled from that card.
His last five fights have been split between England and Poland, including KSW 49. Working with the Polish promotion has been great, Askham told us.
“Honestly you need to go to a KSW event. The production and everything’s amazing. I’ve never been to a show like it,” he said. Every part of KSW’s presentation feels big. “The weigh ins, they have like bands on, and a really good atmosphere. They have fan zones where fans go and meet the fighters. It’s not ideal, I did that fight day in my debut, it’s not ideal for the fighters, but for the fans and their experience, it’s unbelievable.”
Touching on something many fans have noticed, “the opening ceremony, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Askham added. “The atmosphere, it’s like Pride, all the fighters are out on the stage, looking out into the arena. It’s a great feeling.”
When KSW’s “big league feel” was mentioned, Askham made a gentle correction. “They definitely are the big leagues. It’s not a big league feel,” he said, “they definitely are a big league. They sell out arenas every show.”
And they’re getting bigger. “They’re expanding into Europe. They’ve got some good European signings now fighting for them, and a few Brazilian fighters. Maybe they’ll start signing a few Americans.” They’ve also got that big stage at home, of course. “The way they’re building the brand, they obviously know what they’re doing.”
“The way they’re grown their brand inside fifty events is unbelievable,” he added.
All in all, KSW has been a solid landing spot for Askham after his UFC run came to an end. “When I got cut from the UFC, I was disappointed, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he recalled. “I was thinking about getting a job. But pretty soon, within weeks of leaving, I had a big fight signed with Luke Barnett.”
That came at ACB 70, at a time that particular promotion was pushing toward global expansion. Giving credit to his management and ATT as well, Askham added that “the ball just kept rolling from there.”
And now, here he is in a title fight for KSW, one of the biggest outfits operating in Europe these days. Askham actually thought he might have already competed for the belt. “I thought the way I beat Materla, I’d go straight to the title fight with [Mamed] Khalidov,” he admitted. “Materla being a former champion with a three fight win streak against good guys as well. I thought that lined up for the title shot, but obviously, complications [arose] with Khalidov wanting to fight Narkun again.”
Mamed Khalidov had gone undefeated from 2010 to 2017, and was the reigning KSW champion. However, his pursuit of champ vs. champ bouts cost him. While he defeated Borys Mańkowski at KSW 39, the promotion’s biggest show to date, he fell to Tomasz Narkun, KSW’s light heavyweight champ. Pursuing a rematch, he vacated his middleweight title, leading to the ongoing middleweight tournament. “Materla got his chance for a rematch, a lot of people doubted him against [Damian] Janikowski, but here we are in the final,” said Askham. “It’s time for the belt. But make no mistake about it, I’m not underestimating Materla from the first fight or anything like that.”
“The confidence I’ve got from the team around me and everything like that, I feel amazing,” Askham told us. He’s kept an eye on his opponent heading in. “I know he’s been down to AKA this camp. It was quite short camp down there [for him],” he pointed out. “I don’t know if he went for four weeks, he didn’t seem to be out there a long time, anyway.”
As to what he needs to watch out for from Materla this time around, “he’s openly said in interviews he thinks he’s got a better ground game and better wrestling, but we’ll see about that.” Askham believes he matches up better than some might think in those areas. “Honestly I’ve got an underrated ground game. I won’t even say underrated, it’s just pretty much an unseen ground game. Whenever you see me, look at my fights, when you do see me on the ground, I’m winning the transitions and scrambles. I’m a black belt myself. But he’s got to get me there in the first place.”
Adding that he believes in his wrestling and his game plan, Askham told us that “I’m going to in there to take him out. I’m going in there, I’m going to put the pressure on him early, I’m going to move him back, and look to land them big strikes.”
He wouldn’t quite call his shot, however. “I never make predictions, it’s the fight game. What I will say, I’m going in there, I’m starting fast, I’m coming out of the gate quick. I’m looking to land them big shots, if I get him out of there, I get him out of there.” If he doesn’t, and it goes five rounds, “I’ll be there til the end.”
With a win, Askham isn’t looking to follow the likes of Khalidov and Narkun, who both looked for fights in higher weight classes. “I believe I’ll be a middleweight fighter my whole career,” he said. “I don’t make the weight comfortably, but I do make the weight.”
Having said that, however, he allowed that “money talks. Wherever that money fight’s at, that’s where I’ll go. I’ve still got my eye on Khalidov. I know he’s retired, but I hear in interviews he says he’s still training. I feel me winning that title, it could be perfect for him to come back.”
“Maybe we’ll have another stadium show. Who knows.”
KSW 49 takes place Saturday, May 18 live at the Ergo Arena in Gdansk/Sopot, Poland. The event can be ordered via KSW TV.