Ben Askren retires from UFC: The MMA fighter who almost wrestled his way to the top
There are some people who enter an Octagon and change the world through their careers. There are others, who enter angry, ready to fight and prove that they are the best. There are those, who enter an Octagon hungry, heading back to the most primal art form known to man to put food on the plates of their family. Then there are those, who enter an Octagon calmly, knowing only their love for the business.
UFC and Mixed Martial Arts have seen each and every one of the above types of fighters and many more. But there are some, who simply cannot be slotted into a category. They stand outside the crowd. One such man was none other than Ben Askren.
Ben Askren has now declared that his career in Mixed Martial Arts is at an end. The doctors have told him that he needs a hip replacement and such a surgery will not allow him to compete athletically again.
Ben Askren - The Olympic Wrestler
When Ben Askren started his career, it was in wrestling, the art-form that he knew and loved. A two-time State Champion, Askren was a four-time All American for his time in collegiate wrestling. He was unstoppable and it seemed that he was born to excel on the mat.
He then headed to the 2008 Olympic Games. Unfortunately for him, he lost his second fight in the Olympics and his chance at getting a medal in the games. While he continued to wrestle in his post-Olympic career, the time had come for a change.
Ben Askren's professional MMA career and Bellator
Ben Askren was not one of those fighters who was immediately picked up by top promotions following his Olympic career. Instead, he fought for Headhunter Promotions and for Max Fights. In all three of his early fights, he showed the potential to become one of the best MMA fighters in the world, finishing each of his opponents in the 1st round.
This was when he was spotted and picked up by Bellator MMA. Between 2010 and 2013 he fought a total of nine times, and on each of those occasions, he was able to pick up a win. Somewhere in there, he became the Bellator Welterweight Champion and defended the Championship against anyone who tried to take him on. Ben Askren had arrived, and he had done so in style.
Ben Askren moves to ONE Championship
Soon in 2013, Bellator announced that they had released Askren. He was immediately picked up by then-fledgling international MMA promotion, ONE Championship.
There too, Askren made it a habit to find success. Here, he fought a total of seven times, became the ONE FC Welterweight Champion and successfully defended the title.
All was going well for him until the trade that would change his life.
Ben Askren vs Robbie Lawler - debut in UFC
On 3rd November 2018, it was announced that UFC had signed Ben Askren in a trade agreement, in exchange of the record-holding former UFC Champion Demetrious Johnson. The trade was extremely controversial and it was under these circumstances that Askren arrived at UFC.
From the very beginning, Askren's career in UFC was marked by controversy. He was set to make his debut at UFC 233, but the entire card was canceled due to other fights not taking place. Instead, he made his debut at UFC 235 against Robbie Lawler.
Lawler took him to his limit, but Ben Askren managed to get the win via a Bulldog Choke. The decision that he had won was one called into question by everyone who watched, including Lawler who immediately protested the decision, saying that he had not passed out. As a result, Ben Askren's first win was a doubtful one, which no one was quite happy with. However, Askren was not blamed for getting that win. What he was blamed for, was deciding that he would not clear the air afterwards by offering Lawler a rematch.
Many felt that a rematch between the two would have put proceedings beyond doubt. Instead, Askren moved on, keeping his eyes focused on his next fight. Perhaps, he would have done better to have taken that rematch.
Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal - Lightning strikes
Finally, Ben Askren was going to be able to take part in the fight that would define his run in the UFC. If he won here, no one would remember that iffy win he got against Robbie Lawler. If he lost, then that win would come all-the-more into question.
But this was Ben Askren. There was no way that he would lose his fight. He was fighting a man who had been in the UFC for years and had somehow choked at the big stage each time. What was the chance of him not choking again when they entered the Octagon?
The moment the fight started, Jorge Masvidal ran up and hit Ben Askren in the head with a knee which had such force and intensity, that it could be compared to Zeus' lightning bolt. It certainly had the effect that Zeus' might weapon might have had.
Ben Askren was knocked out immediately and fell to the floor, while his opponent, who would later in the year be crowned the 'BMF' Champion, gloated over his fallen foe. Masvidal had done the impossible and knocked out Ben Askren in five seconds, handing him his first-ever career defeat in the sport of MMA, in his second fight in the UFC. The world was shocked.
Ben Askren vs Demian Maia
Lightning cannot strike in the same place twice. This is a well-known phrase, and it was what was on everyone's mind when Askren entered the Octagon for the first time after his devastating defeat to Jorge Masvidal only months before.
They were right. Lightning cannot strike in the same place twice, and it did not. Instead, the continuous storm that comes along with the lightning, the incessant rain, and the incredibly strong gusts of wind were too much for Askren. This time his fight against Demian Maia did not end in the first round, within five seconds of having started.
No, this time the fight lasted far longer as it went on into the 3rd round and was more than half-way complete when Askren's defense gave way, and he found himself in a rear-naked chokehold - ironically a move that he had never used in the 6 fights that he had won via submission - and submitted.
It was the end, the final straw that broke the camel's back. Ben Askren had not only lost, but he had also lost by submission.
Ben Askren retires - the wrestler, the MMA fighter, the Champion
The man that stood up before the crowd was no longer the proud man who was a four-time All American, an Olympic athlete, a proud Champion of two top-tier international MMA promotion.
Instead, he was Ben Askren, father of three children, and tired athlete whose hip had been giving him issues for a while. It was written on his face - he was not sure if he could continue.
Yesterday, Ben Askren announced his retirement from the sport of MMA. He talked about how the decision was practically made for him with his doctors telling him that he needed a hip replacement, but this was a decision that he had been considering either way.
“That’s it for me. I’ve been thinking about this for a week and kind of what I was going to say. Really I’ve just been filled with gratitude for how great of a career I’ve been able to have, even though in the end it did not turn out to go my way.”
These were the final words of a man bidding farewell to the sport that he had fallen in love with, and that had helped him to become a household name. Ben Askren might not have had the best run of his career in the UFC, but he emerged from it, with his legacy unscathed. After all he had done, his two losses only proved his mortality and the fact that MMA is always going to be an unpredictable sport. No one is untouchable.
What he has achieved can never be looked down upon for the results of his last two fights.
We at Sportskeeda, wish Ben Askren a happy and healthy life post-retirement.
Published 19 Nov 2019, 08:51 IST