This month marks Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren’s two-year reign with the belt. Since winning the strap in 2010 against Lyman Good, who is in this season’s welterweight semi-finals and looking to earn a rematch with the champ, the closest anyone has come to topping the decorated wrestler is one judge scoring a decision in the way of Jay Hieron. In three championship fights, Askren has been declared the victor by the judges in a big part due to his wrestle-heavy grinding approach.
Askren is like the lesser-known step brother of Jon Fitch. He’s a fighter with a fine wrestling pedigree whose grinding game plan is a frequent source of complaint for fans that view it as a “boring” approach to MMA. The flipside of that declaration is that it is up to Askren’s opponents to negate his proficiency in any one area or overwhelm him with their own.
If you read any of Askren’s thoughts on the subject of his wins, you will find that he apologizes for nothing. With a perfect 10-0 record, what is there to be sorry for at the end of the day?
The four fighters remaining in this seventh welterweight tournament have the most stake in hoping to give Askren something to regret. The question is, do any of them have what it takes to fare any differently than his seven previous opponents in Bellator have?
First up, we have Bellator’s inaugural welterweight champion Lyman Good competing in his third welterweight tournament in the promotion. He’s faced Askren before, losing by decision. Good knows better than anyone what he will need to do if he can face Askren again, and this may be his last attempt.
Good showed great composure with his striking, inside and outside of range, to punch his ticket into the semi-finals against Jim Wallhead. The fight was a tough grind—an excellent practice run for what he will be in for if he can make his way to the champion for a rematch. Tack on an additional two rounds and add one of the sport’s top grinders in Askren, and that’s when I’m not so sure about his chances.
Good’s only losses are to former Olympic judoka Rick Hawn and, of course, Askren. Sure, the competition in Bellator is tough and hungry, but I’d need to see Good do well over high-level grapplers to believe that another fight with Askren would be significantly different. We haven’t seen his defense rise to a level where Askren would have much trouble finding his rhythm. Winning the tournament and fighting for a belt that was once his—and against the man who took it from him—would make for a great story, but I wouldn’t say his chances are the best of the four.
Good will be facing Michail “The Lonely Wolf” Tsarev for a spot in the finals. I think Tsarev has the best chance out of the four semi-finalists to stop Askren’s reign due to his competency in submissions and working them off his back.
We saw this in his last match against Tim Welch. Tsarev looked for the takedown, but settled for the clinch when he couldn’t get it. He showed great trips from the clinch and kept active by continually looking for submissions off his back. Over time, Welch began to fade and Tsarev forced a rear-naked choke in round two.
The fight showed that Tsarev wouldn’t have to adjust much in the way of his game plan against Askren since he is comfortable fighting off his back. He will offer an offense against Askren’s greatest weapon, and I like his chances at dethroning the champion more than any of the other tournament competitors.
The other two candidates facing each other in the tournament are the globetrotting Marius Zaromskis and Russian import Andrey Koreshkov. From what we have seen from each in the tournament, we know that Zaromskis is a hard hitter that likes to throw deceptive strikes like spinning backfists and head kicks, and that Koreshkov has a good grappling defense.
It’s understood that anything can happen in a fight, and for that reason, I like Zaromskis’ chances to upset Askren due to his 68-percent finishing rate with knockouts or TKO’s. But I wouldn’t put big money on him, because he hasn’t beaten any great fighters on American soil.
Koreshkov was threatened with multiple submissions by Jordan Smith in their quarterfinal match and he defended well, but he didn’t show an offense to be feared. Like Good, I see him hitting the ceiling against someone with Askren’s skills.
Say what you will about Bellator’s most popular champion, Ben Askren, but he remains to be defeated. The last two men to attempt that feat were Douglas Lima and Jay Hieron, who are two very good and dangerous fighters. Yet Askren trumped them both by decision, and here we are with four lesser-known competitors trying to do what the other guys couldn’t.
I’m with the hungry former champion in Good and Russian submission specialist Tsarev leading the pack as having a legitimate chance at topping Askren.
Photo: Lyman Good (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)