Ben Askren reminds us what MMA is and isn't, even in retirement

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

As retirement fights go, Ben Askren’s couldn’t have been much more fitting. On the other side of the world, against an opponent who had no business being in there with him, he worked a can opener to a suffocating ground-and-pound attack, earning the quickest stoppage of his nearly nine-year career.

And now it’s over. You know, unless …

Unless he gets what he’s always wanted, which is the chance to prove he’s the best.

According to Askren’s immediate post-retirement callout, that opportunity would have to come in a fight with current UFC middleweight champion Georges St-Pierre. The bruises on Shinya Aoki’s face from ONE Championship 65 were still fresh and already Askren was throwing out the invite in GSP’s direction, which is telling in its own way.

First of all, Askren’s a welterweight. If he’s going to challenge someone to prove he’s the best in his weight class, why not challenge UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, who also happens to be a friend and training partner? Actually, you know what, think I just answered my own question there.

So then fine, it’s up a division to talk some smack to St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC), who’s still known as the greatest welterweight in MMA history, not to mention one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters of all time. And if he also has the distinction of being one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in the sport, hey, even better.

But the UFC’s not about to even consider that, right? You’ve got a cash cow like GSP just sitting there with a title around his waist, and you’re going to feed him to a human cement mixer like Askren (18-0), one who’s been off fighting for ONE in Southeast Asia these last few years, where he is effectively invisible to all but the hardest core of MMA fans? It’s madness.

That right there tells you something about this sport, doesn’t it? The reason Askren stands so little chance of getting a fight with GSP isn’t because he’s not good enough. Skill doesn’t even enter into the conversation. Style certainly does, but that’s not the same as skill, and it’s skill that most sports purport to measure with their competitions.

As you probably already know, MMA is not most sports. It doesn’t function the same, doesn’t follow any of the usual rules. You could conceivably be the best, and it could simply not matter. The career arc of Askren is proof of that.

Remember when he exited Bellator as the undefeated champion back in 2013? Then, as now, no one could say they’d seen the ceiling for Askren, because no one could say they’d seen him beaten. It’s the simplest calculus there is. As long as you’re still undefeated, hey, for all we know you might be the best. That is, at least in theory, why we keep giving you tougher competition as you progress, in order to find out if there’s anyone who can beat you.

Askren didn’t get the chance, because the UFC refused to sign him. It wanted him to get some more experience, preferably in the organization now known as PFL, which at the time was WSOF. Nevermind that he was a highly decorated amateur wrestler who was unbeaten in 12 pro MMA fights. (Side note: Of the 24 fighters to compete at UFC Fight Night 122 in Shanghai this past weekend, 10 of them had 12 pro bouts or fewer when they showed up.)

So Askren took his talents across the globe and spent the next four years beating people you never heard of at events you probably didn’t watch. Some of that was Askren being stubbornly independent, but some of it was necessity.

Having done more than what is typically required to get a shot in the UFC, and having finagled his release from the UFC’s main competitor, he was denied the chance he had clearly earned. And, vague promises about WSOF aside, there was nothing he could do that would guarantee an opportunity to compete in the UFC. So he followed the money elsewhere, which was an entirely reasonable decision.

Now here we are, nearing the end of 2017. At 33, Askren is still undefeated and without a ton of miles on his body’s odometer, and he’s willing to reconsider retirement for a shot at GSP. Of course he is. And the UFC likely won’t even consider it, because of course it won’t.

This isn’t that kind of sport, where being really good is good enough. It never really has been. It’s just that we forget sometimes, either because we want to or because we get tricked by talk of rankings and wins and the earning of title shots, those little things promoters feed us to make us believe that the game is driven by sense and not just dollars.

Every once in a while, we need to be reminded how it really works – and how it doesn’t. For the last few years, Askren’s been a walking, talking reminder that, while MMA takes place as a series of athletic competitions, it’s still not exactly a sport.

Now he’s leaving, or so he says. Let the circumstances of his withdrawal be one last reminder. Unless …

For complete coverage of “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit,” visit the MMA Events section of the site.

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Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

How good was Ben Askren? The sad part is, we'll probably never know

For the moment, let’s take Ben Askren at his word. Let’s say he really will retire after facing Shinya Aoki in November. Let’s say he walks away from active MMA competition forever at the age of 33, never to be seen in a cage or ring again.

Assuming he beats Aoki, which he should, he’ll finish his pro career with a record of 18-0 with one no-contest. Normally any unbeaten career would be impressive, but in Askren’s case the absence of losses is also a sign of the absence of meaningful competition.

He never discovered the limit of his own abilities, mostly because he never got the chance, which is perhaps a necessary reminder of how MMA differs from more traditional pro sports, and not always in the best ways.

To hear Askren tell it, he finagled his release from Bellator in 2013, despite being the reigning welterweight champion, because he was under the impression he’d then be signed by the UFC.

But once he was a free agent, suddenly the UFC decided it wasn’t interested. He should go somewhere else first, UFC President Dana White said. Let him sign with WSOF (which has since changed its name to the Professional Fighters League), and get some more experience. Then they’d talk.

This didn’t sit well with Askren. As anyone who’s met him knows, he doesn’t have the disposition for being bossed around. So instead of kissing the ring and waiting his turn, he signed with ONE Championship, opting to be the big fish in Southeast Asian MMA pond.

Now, after a little over three years of that, he’s had enough. So he says, anyway, though we all know how subject to revision these things can be.

But Askren’s reasons for retiring are all good ones. As he said on “The MMA Hour” this week, his body is feeling the effects of this demanding career, as is his personal life. So few fighters retire in time, he said, and he’d really rather not be one of the ones who hangs on too long.

The only thing that might get him to change his mind, according to Askren, would be if he were offered the fight he’s so far been denied.

“If it was for the No. 1 spot in the world,” Askren said. “Not two, not three, not four, not five – none of those spots. Against the No. 1 guy in the world.”

There’s something disheartening about the fact that a guy who’s never lost a fight has still never even come close to getting that opportunity. It reminds you that simply being good and winning all your fights isn’t enough. If your style isn’t exciting enough, or if the powers that be just don’t like your attitude, you might never get a shot. You could actually be the best in the world but never get a chance to prove it.

If that bothers Askren, he’s done a good job of hiding it. He’s always seemed to value his independence more than he values the opinions of others, so maybe the trade-off was worth it. He didn’t dance to the UFC’s tune, so he didn’t get to join the UFC’s party. There are worse ways for a career to unfold, I guess.

For those of us watching, however, it does make it harder to continue thinking of this sport as some sort of final martial arts proving ground, which was the promise of the early UFC events. Even now, the appeal of all those gold belts on the posters is that they ostensibly mean something. They tell us: This is to determine the best in the world.

Usually, that’s true, or at least as close to true as it can realistically be. But sometimes, as in the case of Askren, the world doesn’t seem to include absolutely everybody. And then all we can do is wonder.

For more on ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie

ONE Championship 65 set for Nov. 24 with Angela Lee title defense, Ben Askren retirement fight

Singapore’s ONE Championship has scheduled a home game for Nov. 24, and a pair of title fights top the bill.

Promotion officials recently announced that “ONE Championship 65: Immortal Pursuit” takes place at Singapore Indoor Stadium and features atomweight champ Angela Lee (8-0) vs. Japanese veteran Mei Yamaguchi (16-10-1), as well as welterweight champ Ben Askren (17-0) – in what is expected to serve as his final professional fight – against grappling legend Shinya Aoki (39-7).

As with all ONE Championship events, “Immortal Pursuit” streams live via online pay-per-view.

“Unstoppable” Lee, the 21-year-old rising star, captured ONE’s inaugural atomweight title with a thrilling May 2016 win over Yamaguchi and has since registered defenses over Jenny Huang and Istela Nunes. Yamaguchi was in action most recently in June, submitting Huang to earn an opportunity to relive the epic clash with Lee.

Askren is currently ranked No. 6 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings. A decorated collegiate wrestler and U.S. Olympian, Askren also earned the Bellator welterweight belt before moving on to ONE Championship. Just 33, Askren has elected to call an early end to his undefeated professional career and will now face former ONE Championship lightweight title holder Aoki, who moves up in weight for the contest.

For more on ONE Championship 65, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie