For years, Ben Askren wanted nothing more than the chance to prove that he can compete with the best welterweights in the world. To do so, however, would require Askren to compete in the UFC, something that has evaded him for the majority of his career.
A decorated wrestler with an undefeated MMA record, Askren clashed with UFC President Dana White over the years. Both Askren and White haven’t always had the nicest of things to say about each other and whenever a deal between the two sides seemed to be inching closer towards becoming a reality, things always fizzled out.
A standout wrestler at the University of Missouri, Askren gained recognition for not only his unorthodox style that earned him the nickname “Funky”, but for his success on the mats as well.
Wrestling alongside current UFC champion Tyron Woodley, Askren was an NCCA Division 1 runner-up in both 2004 and 2005. In his junior season, Askren went 45-0 with 25 pins and won the NCAA Division 1 championship. He followed that up with a successful senior season, once again going undefeated and winning a national championship.
He also received the Dan Hodge Trophy, wrestling’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy, in both of those years. Overall, Askren finished his collegiate career as a four-time All-American with a 153-8 record. He then qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics but failed to medal.
Mixed Martial Arts Career
After coming up short at the Olympics, “Funky” decided to focus on mixed martial arts, making his professional debut in 2009.
He then signed on with Bellator in 2010 and competed in the promotion’s Season Two Welterweight Tournament, a tournament he would ultimately win. Following his tournament victory, Askren scored a decision victory over Lyman Good at Bellator 33. The victory earned him the promotion’s 170-pound title.
Using his decorated wrestling background and stifling ground game, Askren defended his Bellator title four times. He picked up notable victories over Jay Hieron, Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov in the process.
It’s important to note, however, that both Lima and Koreshkov were relatively young at the time in which Askren beat them. They were also far less developed than they are now.
In 2014, “Funky”, who continues to train with Woodley under Duke Roufus, had amassed a 13-0 professional record. He then inked a deal with ONE Championship and would go onto win the promotion’s welterweight title as well.
Retirement and UFC “Trade”
Under the ONE Championship banner, Askren defended his title four times. Following a victory over Shinya Aoki in 2017, however, he announced his retirement from the sport. He did, though, leave the door open for a potential return should an opportunity present itself.
And late last year, that opportunity did indeed present itself. To the surprise of many, news broke this past November that Askren had essentially been “traded” to the UFC in exchange for Demetrious Johnson, who would be moving to ONE.
Following the announcement, “Funky” quickly and repeatedly took to social media to call out a plethora of UFC welterweights. He was then booked to take on Lawler at UFC 235.
What’s At Stake
For Askren, there’s no denying that his UFC debut represents the most important fight of his career. An outspoken fighter, Askren has always said that he’s one of the best 170 pounders in the world. That, however, was a claim that many had trouble believing.
Despite his decorated wrestling background and undefeated professional MMA record, many have questioned the caliber of competition Askren faced. Now competing in the UFC, however, that will no longer be the case.
By matching him up against Lawler, the UFC is immediately throwing Askren into the deep end. And while some feel as if “Ruthless” is at the tail end of his career, he still has some fight left in him.
In addition to being a former champion and ranking amongst the division’s elite, Lawler appears to have the perfect style to derail Askren. He possesses strong takedown defense and a dangerous striking game.
In other words, this will be no easy fight for “Funky”. But, that’s what Askren has always wanted. On Saturday night, he’ll finally have the chance to validate all of his claims and all of his trash talk.
Should he come up short against Lawler, many will be quick to say that he was always a step below the elite. If he puts together another dominant performance, however, it will be hard to deny that Askren belonged in the UFC all along.
Simply put, “Funky” will be putting it all on the line when enters the cage this weekend in Las Vegas.