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 and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

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

Covering The Cage Videos
UFC 236 Press Conference Highlights
UFC 236 will feature a pair of interim title fights. In the main event, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway will face lightweight contender Dustin Poirier and middleweights Israel Adesanya and Kelvin Gastelum will collide in the co-main event. UFC 236 will take place in Atlanta, Ga., on Apr. 13.
Jon Jones retains light heavyweight belt at UFC 235 - VIDEO
Jon Jones retained the UFC light heavyweight belt when he earned a decision over Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235.
Kamaru Usman crowned new champ at UFC 235 — VIDEO
Kamaru Usman became the first African-born fighter to claim a UFC belt when he defeated Tyron Woodley to become the promotion's new welterweight champion.
UFC 235 Official Weigh-in Results - VIDEO
All 24 fighters competing at UFC 235 at the T-Mobile Arena on March 2 stepped on the scale prior for the official fight card weigh-ins. All four fighters competing in the title bouts slated for the event made weight.
UFC's Jones says he has no shame after recent drug test results are released - VIDEO
Though recent drug test results still show trace amounts of Turinabol in his system, UFC light heayvweight champion Jon Jones says he has no shame and is hiding nothing as he prepares for his UFC 235 title bout against Anthony Smith.
Anthony Smith stays level-headed prior to UFC 235 title fight - VIDEO
Despite UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones being in the spotlight for drug test discrepancies and other outside the cage struggles, Anthony Smith says he is tuning out the noise and remaining focused on the challenge of beating the reigning champion in the cage.
UFC 235 Media Day Highlights
Highlights and staredowns from the top three fights on the UFC 235 fight card taking place at the T-Mobile Arena on March 2.
UFC 235 press conference highlights
UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman have a heated exchange and Ben Askren enjoys his time on the stage by interacting with UFC president Dana White.
UFC president Dana White talks UFC 235 and more
UFC president Dana White joined Heidi Fang and Adam Hill to discuss the UFC 235 card set for Las Vegas on Mar. 2 at the T-Mobile Arena and also spoke on Colby Covington and Khabib Nurmagomedov's and Conor McGregor's disciplinary measures given by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Full version available on Facebook at Review-Journal Sports
Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman Have Heated Exchange At UFC 235 Presser - VIDEO
UFC 235 opened with Jon Jones returning after his meeting at the Nevada Athletic commission, Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman arguing on stage and Ben Askren making his UFC debut.
NAC Chairman says it's time to tone down MMA smack talk ahead of fights
After announcing the fines and suspensions given to Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov for their involvement in a melee at UFC 229 in Las Vegas, Nevada Athletic Commission Chairman Anthony Marnell said it may be time to address "mouthy fighters" smack talk and conduct leading up to a fight.
Jones, NAC Chairman issue statements following Jones' licensing approval for UFC 235
The Nevada Athletic Commission issued UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones a conditional one-fight license to compete at UFC 235 taking place at the T-Mobile Arena on Mar. 2. Jones had to reapply for a license in Nevada after failing a drug test which led to UFC 232 being moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, California.
UFC donates $240,000 to Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada
UFC presents Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada with $240,000 donation and promises to grant more wishes as the partnership goes forward.
Benavidez on his new contract, future of the UFC flyweight division
UFC flyweight Joseph Benavidez, who is booked to fight Dustin Ortiz at UFC Fight Night 143 on ESPN Plus, discusses his role as an alternate for the title fight between T.J. Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo, his new 4-fight contract and the future of the 125-pound division.
Covering the Cage: Jones, Nunes win at UFC 232
Amanda Nunes defeats Cyborg in the women's featherweight division and Jon Jones returns to UFC as the light heavyweight champion. Covering the Cage host Heidi Fang and Adam Hill recap the UFC 232 main and co main events.
Home Front Page Footer Listing