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.
Filed under: News
Source: MMA Junkie