As a day of competition winds down, the mats are glowing. Friends, family and teammates congregate at the bottom of the stands, recollecting the excitement of the day’s events. Some teams stand tall, while others try to think about how things could have been different. There are winners and losers. It doesn’t get much simpler.

The sport of wrestling shows competition in its purest form. It pits one person against another. When it comes to competition time, there is nobody else that has an influence. There are no excuses. It’s just about who is better on the day.

Askren (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Askren (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Wrestling is something that has shaped Ben Askren’s life. His passion for competing goes hand-in-hand with being successful.

“Well, my dad wrestled in high school, and I played all the sports when I was a kid. I did football and basketball and baseball and soccer; I did everything. It just so happened that wrestling was the one I liked the most,” Askren explained to The MMA Corner. “I really loved wrestling. I enjoyed the fact that you controlled your own destiny and you weren’t at the will of your teammates to determine the outcome of the contest. You could win or lose on your own merits.

“I had quite a few teammates and people I competed against competing in MMA by the time I decided to get into it. It was something that I watched all the way through college. That was kinda when it started getting popular. I saw all these guys I wrestled with or beat or whatever—they were having all this success—so it seemed like a natural fit for me, and really, like the combat sports, the contact, I enjoy that a lot.”

Contact was something that Askren would become quite familiar with, especially in 2009 when he made his mixed martial arts debut. It was his first taste of true combat sports. When that opening bell rang, he found a new sport that he could excel at.

“I don’t know why, [but] I just I walked over to the guy without my hands up and he punched me twice, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s gonna hit me!’” Askren recalled. “I took him down right away, mounted him, he turned over and [I] took his back and the fight was over in like a minute. He hit me with two right hands right off the bat, and I kinda was like, ‘Duh, what am I doing in here? I gotta freakin beat this guy up!’ I don’t know what I was thinking.”

To coincide with Askren’s ONE FC debut, which comes on May 30 against Bakhtiyar Abbasov, the organization embarked on a media tour like no other to showcase its marquee signing. Traveling across Asia to meet with fans and media, Askren was surprised with how everything transpired. It certainly gave him a taste of Asian MMA that will have him coming back for more.

“I was very impressed,” Askren admitted. “I knew that they were gonna plan to take me on a press tour, but you never know what you’re gonna get with those kinds of things. I was very impressed with the fact that they had so many people at each outing. I mean, literally, I wanna say there were 30 to 40 media people at every place I stopped at, so I was pretty impressed. I enjoy Singapore a lot, and I stayed with coach Heath Sims this time. It’s clean, it’s easy to get around, there’s always good food—it’s everything you need. All the gyms are awesome to train at.”

Askren (Will Fox/Sherdog)

Askren (Will Fox/Sherdog)

Askren is often criticized for the six-fight stretch between between May 2010 and January 2013 in which all of his victories came by way of decision. He fought a total of 24 rounds, or 120 minutes. Contrary to his outspoken critics, it wasn’t because of his lack of desire to finish the fight. In Askren’s eyes, it was his lack of ability to do so.

“I try to make a statement with every fight,” Askren explained. “So, this fight [against Abbasov] is gonna be no different to any of my other fights. I’ve tried to finish every opponent. No one goes into the cage—well, at least no one I know goes into the cage—and says, ‘I wanna see if I can make this last 15 minutes, or the entire fight.’ No one does that. I was just ill equipped coming from wrestling to MMA. I didn’t have the skills necessary to make the finishes happen in the beginning of my career. In my first couple of fights, I was way better than the people, so it was a different story.

“People don’t realize that I won the Bellator title after 18 months of fighting. Literally, I’d been fighting for a year and a half. And I wasn’t even a full-time fighter at that point, I was a part-time wrestling coach in college, as well. I didn’t really start fighting full-time until almost the end of 2011. For a handful of those fights, I wasn’t equipped to finish people. I didn’t have the moves, flat out. I wasn’t a high enough level of jiu-jitsu. I didn’t have the striking. In my last few fights, you’ve seen me grow and build into new places to the point where I’m dominant. I’ve always been dominant from the wrestling front, but now I’m adding in the other things to finish the fight.”

A simple love of wrestling is what has led Askren to his main-event opportunity on the world stage of mixed martial arts. No matter how you look at it, what he achieved in Bellator, with his limited experience in the sport, is nothing short of remarkable. With all the right tools that Askren now has, there isn’t a welterweight in Asia that can stop him.

Ben would like to thank ONE FC, Roufusport, Evolve MMA and Cage Fighter. Follow Askren on Twitter: @Benaskren

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.