A Cloudy Future: What’s Next For Ben Askren After UFC 239

Ben Askren
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 05: Ben Askren poses on the scale during the UFC 235 weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena on July 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

After signing with the UFC in November 2018, Ben Askren had clear plans. After compiling an undefeated record and winning titles in organizations like Bellator and ONE, “Funky” was finally going to have the chance to prove that he could compete against the best in the world at 170 pounds.

Upon his arrival in the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, the former high-level collegiate wrestler quickly began taking verbal shots at essentially the entire division. By doing so, he hoped to land big fights and find himself in a title fight sooner rather than later.

UFC Debut

A highly decorated amateur wrestler, the now 34-year-old Askren was scheduled to make his UFC debut at UFC 235 this past March against former champion Robbie Lawler. Given Lawler’s skill set and his history of success, it was clear that Askren was being thrown to the wolves.

On fight night, Lawler proved to be just as tough of a test for Funky as many had thought he would. Early on, Askren looked to grab a hold of Lawler and take the fight to the ground. Lawler surprised some, however, by landing a slam of his own. He then unleashed a brutal barrage of strikes to a grounded Askren that nearly stopped the fight.

Somehow, Askren absorbed the damage, rose back to his feet, and once again began searching for a takedown. He eventually landed the takedown and then locked in a bulldog choke as Lawler looked to get back to his feet.

With the choke seemingly locked in and Lawler appearing to go unconscious, referee Herb Dean stepped in to stopped the fight. Lawler, however, quickly sprung back to his feet and protested the stoppage, leading the outcome to be seen as incredibly controversial.

Regardless, however, the fight ended in another win for Askren, improving his record to a near perfect 19-0-1.

UFC 239

Following the win over Lawler, Askren quickly got back to taking verbal shots at his fellow 170 pounders. He was gaining attention at a rapid rate and was booked against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239. That fight took place this past weekend during International Fight Week.

Despite the stacked nature of UFC 239, the bout between Askren and Masvidal seemed to be the one fans were most interested in. There was bad blood and a built-in rivalry. The winner would also undoubtedly be in the running for the next title shot given the current state of the division.

Because of this, the fight marked the most important of Askren’s career. Should he have won, he would have been one step closer to proving what he’s always set out to prove.

Things couldn’t have gone worse for Ben Askren, though. As the bell sounded to begin the fight, Masvidal took a side step before sprinting forward and landing a vicious flying knee on Askren’s head. Funky was knocked out upon contact. Masvidal then connected with two more unanswered strikes on the ground to score the fastest knockout in UFC history.

With a loss like this, it’s difficult to determine whether or not to look too much into things. Not that the win was a fluke or that Masvidal got lucky, but Askren simply got caught. That happens quite a bit in a sport like MMA.

This loss doesn’t exactly prove that Askren is incapable of competing at a high level. It certainly sends him back down the welterweight ladder, though.

What Lies Ahead for Ben Askren

Prior to the fight with “Gamebred”, Askren was talking about title fights and fights with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Georges St. Pierre. That all gets put on the back burner now.

In regards to the welterweight division specifically, Masvidal could potentially receive the next shot at champion Kamaru Usman. The winner of next month’s bout between Colby Covington and Lawler could as well. Askren, however, is no longer in that discussion and will have some work to do before he re-enters it.

At this point, the question arises of whether or not he’ll be able to get back to that point. At 34 years of age, his best days are likely behind him. And at this point, his UFC career consists of a highly controversial win and a brutal loss that occurred in five seconds.

That isn’t exactly a great look for a fighter hell-bent on proving he’s the best. Given that he’s taken damage in both of his UFC fights thus far, perhaps there are holes in his game that are just finally being exploited. Or, perhaps he’s just finally facing elite level competition and simply got caught this past weekend.

Although it’ll be tough, Askren could certainly turn things around. At the same time, it’s possible that he just may not have what it takes to reach the top of the UFC mountain top.

Where he goes next from here, however, is incredibly unclear at the moment.

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