weather icon Clear

Ben Askren finally making UFC debut at age 34

Updated February 27, 2019 - 11:51 pm

When he was in middle school, Ben Askren would pick up youth wrestling magazines to find out where elite wrestlers were fighting and beg his dad to drive him halfway across the country so he could challenge them.

That attitude is part of what has led the now 34-year-old undefeated fighter to finally take his shot in the UFC.

The polarizing former Bellator MMA and ONE Championship titleholder will make his UFC debut against former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 235 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

“I love competition,” Askren said. “I have since I was a kid. In wrestling, it’s simple. You think you’re the best in America, you show up at the U.S. Open. Everybody is there. If you win, you go to the world championships. and if you think you’re the best, you wrestle everyone there. Everyone knows that every year, we’re all going to show up. It’s very simple. The competitive architecture in MMA makes that a little tougher to figure out.”

Askren knows all about that structure. Within 20 months of making his professional MMA debut less than a year removed from a disappointing finish in the 2008 Olympics in freestyle wrestling, Askren was the Bellator welterweight champion despite being raw in the sport.

“I didn’t have (MMA) skills,” said Askren, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Missouri. “My skills were I could get in there and compete hard and take people down. But I didn’t know how to punch or elbow. I didn’t really know how to choke that well.”

Askren made rapid progress until he became a free agent as champion in 2013 and it was assumed he was headed to the UFC. But he never was offered a UFC contract and signed with Singapore-based ONE Championship.

He dominated in the organization until deciding late last year that he had accomplished all he could and announced his retirement.

That’s when he learned he would be involved in a trade from ONE to the UFC for former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.

“When I retired, I meant it,” Askren said. “But I also said if I get the chance to prove I’m the best, I’m going to do it. That opportunity came, and I’m taking it.”

It always seemed that the biggest obstacle to Askren fighting in the UFC was his publicly contentious relationship with Dana White, the organization’s president. White said the tension between them was overblown by the media, but the outspoken Askren said he thinks it had a lot to do with keeping him out of the UFC.

“It was a handful of things,” Askren said of why he didn’t get a UFC contract in 2013. “He thought I could win a title, and he didn’t want a Bellator champ coming in and being UFC champ. I think he realized I wasn’t going to be a subservient minion, and I don’t think he liked that. I don’t think he liked the comments I made on Twitter, I think he believed I was a boring fighter.”

Some of those same reasons made Askren a favorite target of fans on the internet, but he thinks those same fans are now invested in his journey.

“People want a story, and, for me, the story where I’m 18-0 without ever fighting the best of the best, that’s a (expletive) ending,” said Askren, who last fought in November 2017. “Nobody wants that to be the end of the story. They want to turn the page and for there to be another chapter.”

More MMA: Follow at CoveringTheCage.com and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Covering The Cage Videos
Dana White on Contender Series contracts: "I'm looking for killers."
On opening night at the UFC's newest facility, the UFC Apex, the promotion signed Punahele Soriano and Yorgan De Castro to contracts after their performances on Dana White's Contender Series. UFC president Dana White explains why he signed the fighters he did.
UFC Apex is the promotion's newest cutting-edge facility
The UFC Apex will officially open as Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series kicks off on June 19. Here's a look at what the promotion's newest facility in Las Vegas has to offer.
UFC President Dana White on the UFC Apex, ESPN deal, when Conor McGregor could return and more
UFC President Dana White gave the Review-Journal an exclusive interview where he spoke about the promotion's new facility, the UFC Apex, their new deal with ESPN, when Conor McGregor may return to the octagon and more.
Shevchenko says defending the UFC flyweight belt is her number one challenge
UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko claimed the vacant title when she defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 231 last December. She will put the belt on the line for the first time in Chicago, Ill., when she faces Jessica Eye at UFC 238 on June 8.
UFC title contender Jessica Eye says her move to Las Vegas gives her an edge
Ohio native Jessica Eye says she moved to Las Vegas to get an edge in performance ahead of facing UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 238 in Chicago, Ill., on June 8.
Greg Hardy, former NFL star, on MMA knockout
The former NFL star needed just 17 seconds to score a knockout on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series (Adam Hill/Review-Journal)
Marlon Moraes says Henry Cejudo will regret stepping up to bantamweight - VIDEO
UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo is coming up to the bantamweight division to battle Marlon Moraes for the vacant belt on June 8 at UFC 238. Moraes said Cejudo will regret going after a second title in a new division and added that he thinks his path will cross with former champion TJ Dillashaw in the future.
Paige VanZant details her arm injury, when she can return - VIDEO
UFC strawweight Paige VanZant was briefly linked to fight at UFC 236, but had to withdraw from the bout due to a broken arm. As a guest on the RJ Ringside Podcast, she detailed the injury and also spoke about joining the M-1 Global booth as a color commentator.
Tony Ferguson beats Donald Cerrone by TKO at UFC 238

Tony Ferguson’s path to the lightweight title is becoming clear. Ferguson won by technical knockout after a medical stoppage in a lightweight fight against Donald Cerrone at UFC 238 on Saturday night.