The first time I heard the name Ben Askren was exactly two years ago, this month. He was scheduled to square off against Ryan Thomas in Bellator’s Welterweight tournament at Bellator 14. I’d heard of Thomas, the former UFC veteran, whose resume’ looked great on paper and who was poised to make a run in that tourney and challenge then Champion, Lyman Good. Add to that the fact that Askren only had three pro fights to his credit and we were looking at a sure-fire mismatch.
A funny thing happened, though. They didn’t fight the fight on paper. They fought the fight in the ring and Ben Askren won that fight, via 1st round stoppage, his 4th stoppage in 4 fights, albeit in controversial fashion. The stoppage was so controversial, in fact, that Bellator decided to grant Thomas a rematch against Askren at Bellator 19, a fight that Askren won by decision, in three rounds. Askren went on to close out that Bellator season with a 3 round decision win over prospect Dan Hornbuckle and move on to dominate the Champion, Good, by 5 round decision to secure the Bellator 170-lb. strap.
There is an adage that says it takes 3 weeks to make a habit. Well, the former U. of Missouri and Olympic wrestler they call Funky, made a habit of finishes in 3 fights. Those finishes were all, what he is now notorious for, decisions. Fast forward, if you will, to 2011. He bested tough and crafty veteran Nick “The Goat” Thompson and always tough Jay Hieron, both by decision. Then, this past Friday night at Bellator 64, he bested well-rounded prospect Douglas Lima by decision. That’s six straight fights to go to a decision.
The most impressive thing; if you can use decision and impressive in the same sentence, is that he beat six top fighters, not a bunch of tomato cans. He beat strikers, he beat grapplers, and he beat all around killers and with the exception of Hieron, rendered them all helpless to his world-class wrestling ability and fight control.
Askren has accomplished all this success by being simply a one-dimensional fighter. His opponents must see him as Major League Baseball pitchers saw Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth when they stepped up to the plate. They were there for one thing, home runs. When Ben steps in that cage, he’s there to do one thing, take you down, control you and defeat you.
Ironic is the fact that Ben trains with one of the best striking coaches in MMA, Duke Roufus. Roufus brought up young prospects Erik Koch, Danny Downes and Anthony Pettis and has also coached Heavyweights Pat Barry, Matt Mitrione and Ben Rothwell, to name a few. The striking may come along in time, but don’t think Ben will be mistaken for a K-1 kick boxer anytime soon.
Think that’s okay, however. His counterpart in the UFC, Georges St. Pierre is cleaning out his Welterweight division in the same fashion, with better striking, but with the same results. Georges is ultimately using his wrestling to control his opponents and grind out decisions. GSP has found the recipe for success and it has turned him into one of the most popular and recognizable MMA fighters in the world.
If you are an MMA purist, you have to respect Askren’s wins and the way in which he has dominated virtually every opponent he has faced. If you are bored by his style of fighting, then I’m sure Ben would tell you what he told the fans of Windsor, Ontario on Friday night. “If you don’t like the ground work, there’s a sport they call boxing. That’s not as fun, though. I suggest you keep on coming here and watch my ass whippings.” Either way, Ben “Funky” Askren is going to be on the scene for the very foreseeable future and will be a force to be reckoned with.