The schadenfreude of Ben Askren

Bellator

"Schadenfreude" is a German word that has no direct English equivalent, but generally means taking pleasure in the misery of others. A 2002 scientific study found those who experienced schadenfreude were more likely to have lower self-esteem while those with high self-esteem didn't usually partake in it.

The word "usually" is the operative one in play, however.

The case of Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren is the perfect example. Askren isn't short on self-confidence or self-awareness even by the tiniest of margins. He knows who he is and is quite content with it. Yet, he openly admits when fans boo his top game-centric style of offense in his fights, a smile creeps across his face. If they're booing, Askren believes, they're admitting they don't understand technique and that his unstoppable offense is doing exactly what it's supposed to do.

And that won't change. While Askren admits finishing opponents is a greater priority in his career now as a means of reducing risk, he's perfectly content to carry on as he has. He's the champ, no one can stop him, he's using the skills he's built up over a life time, so why change? In fact, by not changing, there's an extra bonus: Askren gets to enjoy the very vocal frustration and discontent of those who know there's nothing any other welterweight in Bellator can do to stop him.

As the champion prepares for his first title defense of 2013, this time against Karl Amoussou on Spike TV on Thursday, he explains the difference between his reception as an athlete in wrestling versus mixed martial arts, why other fighters are reluctant to be as candid as he and how he takes pleasure in the boos and jeers of those who can't stand the way he wins.

Star-divide

You fought four times in 2010, twice in 2011 and once in 2012. Talk to me, in 2013, an ideal competition schedule would look like what?

Shoot, I hope I get to stay busy. If it keeps decreasing like that, I'll have no fights. (laughs) Three times would probably be ideal. Three times a year would be a pretty nice schedule.

If it came to it, I'm sure it's not your first choice, but a catchweight fight between someone at middleweight, maybe you meet them halfway there between middleweight and welterweight, would you take it?

I guess it depends on who and why. I don't see a reason to fight at middleweight seeing as I'm not the No. 1 welterweight in the world. I've got two guys waiting for me in Amoussou and Koreshkov plus there's another tournament that's starting on Thursday. Hopefully, I won't be in a situation where I'll have to move up or move down in weight to find fights.

How did you stay athletically active in the space between your last fight and now and even prior to your April fight? What were you doing, just training or were you doing anything else to supplement that?


No, just training and coaching some wrestling camps, helping and working with young people and just training besides that.

I want to play devil's advocate if I can. Every time you get asked a question about not finishing, I feel it's the wrong question so I'm gonna it from a different way. It's not a matter of whether you should or shouldn't finish them except to say, is there an argument that can be made that in a sport like MMA, which is chaotic, from a risk management standpoint, isn't there a case to be made that you want to put somebody away if only for the reason that you take away the chance that something could go in the favor of the underdog in a sport where chaotic things happen all the time?

Of course, definitely. In MMA, it totally could, wearing four-ounce gloves and nothing else. Anything really can happen in MMA. I'd love to put people away, and hopefully I'll start a streak like that come Thursday.

Are you tired of all the questions?

No, I've got a new a fresh answer every time you guys ask one.

You have an interesting relationship with the fans. There's pretty clearly a strong fanbase for you in MMA but there's also obviously a chorus where you're not their favorite cup of tea. What's interesting to me, sort of looking back in college, maybe I'm romanticizing but it was almost exactly the opposite. You almost had a cult-like following. People showing up to your wrestling matches with fake afros and T-shirts. What is the difference in fanbase in your judgement in wrestling and MMA?

I was at the pinnacle of my career in wrestling as opposed to MMA right now. When you're talking about finishing, I had 91 pins, the third highest total ever in college wrestling and I think I had the best finishing percentage my last two years than anyone in history. I was entertaining. My argument for entertainment in MMA is you can win and entertain people, but if you've got to pick one, you gotta win.

Do you think the fact that in the wrestling community, many people who watch are wrestlers or sons of wrestlers or whatever and in MMA, there's a real disconnect there. They don't really have any mat experience.

Yeah, that's definitely a good observation. When you're talking about subtleties of wrestling and jiu-jitsu in MMA, a lot of people don't understand. If you haven't seen wrestling before and are just watching it, you won't understand all the subtleties and I think the people who know a lot about wrestling are really appreciative of the things I've been doing the last couple years because I was doing things that are new and people hadn't really seen before.

Like what?

A lot of scrambling stuff, like moves and new scenarios that my brother and I came up with.


Specifically for MMA or stuff you adapted from wrestling?

No, no, no, wrestling stuff. We made up new wrestling moves and wrestling has been out since 1930 and it was 80 years after the sport started. Wrestling has been around for thousands of years. American folkstyle wrestling has been around since the '30s and when they're seeing stuff they've never seen before, they think that's pretty awesome.

I read some comments you made in response to the fans saying, "Listen, if you don't like me, you're going to be disappointed on Thursday and you're very outspoken on Thursday." Obviously to the people that like you, this isn't relevant to them, but for those who don't, and I mean this in the most direct way, do you take pleasure in pissing them off?


Oh of course, yeah. The people who don't understand what's going on, why would I care if they only want to see some blood and guts? I definitely enjoy pushing their buttons.

Does it ever cross your mind during the fight itself?

No, I haven't got to that level yet where I can direct my attention away from who I'm fighting. Maybe eventually I'll get to that point where I can talk to people and fight at the same time. (laughs)

I saw your tweet on Saturday about Vitor Belfort and you're generally outspoken post-fight after a match you've won. It sounds like a silly question but maybe you have insight. Why do you think other fighters are reluctant to go down that road?

I have no idea. I've been speaking my mind since I've been a fan since I've been a fan favorite at some points. I dislike, as far as that, I was just saying what everyone was thinking. No one would really be surprised if that was the outcome. I don't know what they're really worried about. I just try to say what's on my mind, what's truthful and what I think is right and wrong.

Are you worried there are any long-term costs to doing that?

Yeah, of course. You never know what people will think and maybe somebody you slander, you need that person to do something for you. As long as I feel I'm saying things that I believe in, then I think I'll be okay.

I'm sure you saw the show on Thursday, the debut on Spike. How different did that feel compared to the other shows you've been in on Fox Sports Net and MTV 2. How different was it?

It was great seeing Bellator make that jump because they're now in front of so many viewers. I've been around a while, Bellator 13 I think was my first fight and I've come up from nowhere. Bellator 13 was in the Chicago Theater and there were probably 230 people in there, and we were getting low ratings on TV. Bjorn has done a great job building Bellator up as an organization.

Any favorites you see in the upcoming welterweight tourney?

Yeah, I think Douglas Lima is probably the favorite. He's a good fighter.

Let's talk about Karl Amoussou for a moment. If you had to give a scouting report on him, what would it be?

Fast starter, dies fast and goes for heel hooks and armbars.

Competitively, I haven't seen the odds for this and I don't know if you have either. Competitively, where do you think he stacks up compared to previous opponents?

I don't think he's as much of a threat as at least my last two. Jay Hieron and Lima were tougher than he is.

If I can, I want to circle back to wrestling for just a second. From your Olympic wrestling team, correct me if I'm wrong, it was you, Daniel Cormier, Steve Mocco and Randi Miller who all went to MMA. Apparently, Henry Cejudo came close. Why was that class of Olympic wrestlers, why did they more than any class come to MMA?

We don't know what the future groups of wrestlers are going to do. Definitely, MMA was getting really popular and it was the right time in our careers for all of us and we made that jump.

I don't know if you would need a clause for it, Mo Lawal has a clause for boxing in his contract, but do you have one for ultimate frisbee?

I wouldn't need a clause for that (laughs) but I do have one for wrestling. I was thinking of Olympic wrestling when I signed my contract but it's not gonna happen.

Does it allow you to say if you wanted, does it allow you to coach wrestling at a Division I level?

Oh yeah, I did coach wrestling at a Division I level until after my Nick Thompson fight.

If you signed another contract, would you be insistent upon it?

I don't think it bars you from doing anything on a coaching level.

And I assume there are no other sports outside of MMA, coaching wrestling and disk golf that you have your eye on?

Nope, just disk golf and when I'm done with MMA, I'll probably do some competitive jiu-jitsu or something.

Being on Spike, there's a risk and reward. On the one hand, there's a much larger audience, fan sentiment aside, but putting away tough guys is difficult. With the ratings being what they are, and the ratings game being what they are, any semblance there where it's you being on top and winning scrambles and it's a fight round decision, any worry there that the pressure might come down from executive brass that they want you to step on the gas in your next fight?

Well I would tell the executive brass to go check out what the past ratings of my fights have been because they're always in the top couple of every season.

Any predictions, Karl Amoussou, does he make it to a decision with you?

No, this will be my first stoppage in a long time.

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