Ben Askren has his second fight of the year on Wednesday at Bellator 97 where he faces Bellator season 7 welterweight tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov. Despite the prodigious Russian's talent, vaunted striking prowess and undefeated record, Askren seems non-plussed about the challenge.
The former Olympian is happy to be competing again, but doesn't view Koreshkov as a talented opponent nor does he believe a win over the RusFighter welterweight moves him up in the rankings at all.
Yet, the bout is extremely important. It is widely believed Wednesday's title fight on Spike TV is the last of Askren's current Bellator contract. He'll need a victory to help secure his leveraging power for any future negotiations either with Bellator or the UFC, should they be interested. Askren has had his run-ins with UFC President Dana White, but could still prove to be a valuable acquisition to the world's leader in mixed martial arts.
In this interview with MMA Fighting, Askren explains his dismissal of Koreshkov as any kind of threat, why his brother Max never got into MMA, whether he believes wrestling will be reinstated in the Olympics, the problem of wrestling in modern MMA, where his future lies as a professional fighter and so much more.
Partial transcription and full audio below:
September 8th is the final vote to see if wrestling will be included back into the Olympic Games. How confident are you it'll be reinstated?
I've been pretty positive after the last vote. We're in there with baseball, softball, and squash. If you really look at all the Olympic Committee's criteria, I think wrestling's far and above both of those just as an international sport. Squash, definitely a rich's person sport and it's only played in a handful of countries. Baseball/softball, there's not a huge amount of countries that play that either. It's not played at all in Europe, barely at all in Asia, not at all in Africa.
Wrestling is a worldwide sport. It's totally international. I do feel good about wrestling getting through.
Let's say the worst happens and it doesn't go through. Do you feel the collective effort has enough momentum going to push through for future Olympic cycles?
Yeah, baseball and softball took one off and now they're trying to get back in, so it's a definite possibility. I can't say I'm 100 percent educated in the process of that, but I would think, yes, wrestling is so national for people all over the world. In the United States, it's huge. In Russia, it's huge. Iran, it's huge. In Europe, it's big. South America is starting to get better at wrestling. People all over the world wrestle. It's a really worldwide sport, so I think there will be a push everywhere to get it back in.
A selfish question, what did you make of Kyle Dake's run against Jordan Burroughs at the World Team Trials? What I mean is, how long do you think it will be before Dake beats Burroughs?
I think there's a good chance of that happening, for sure. Dake and David Taylor will both beat Burroughs at least one time. Now, I'm not saying they're going to beat him every time, but they'll beat him at least one time by 2016. Whether they overtake him or not, obviously I'm not sure. But America is going to have the pleasure of having possibly three of the better guys in the world because Dake's right there with Burroughs. Burroughs hammers all of his international guys at this point. Taylor's not far behind and he's working on closing the gap as well.
You've stated you believe you're the best wrestler in MMA. What are you implying that means: the best wrestler to move into MMA and is an active competitor now or the person using wrestling the best in MMA? Or both?
I think it could be both and actually I'm releasing a wrestling for MMA DVD series this week and the website for it is bestmmawrestler.com. I think I could take claim to either of those categories.
Who would be a really good freestyle wrestler who came to MMA and doesn't use their wrestling well?
Yoel Romero, we're actually having him do a wrestling clinic at our wrestling academy after his UFC 164 fight. From what I saw out of him, he doesn't use his wrestling that great and he was amazing back in his prime in wrestling.
I spoke to Ryan Hall when he was still scheduled to compete at Metamoris 2. He said now that he's mostly training MMA, his jiu-jitsu is more functional because he has to be more defensive and opposition aren't obligated to grapple with him. How would you say your wrestling has changed since moving to MMA?
No, it's gotten worse, for sure. I don't feel the same way.
I don't mean from a competitive standpoint for a tournament. I mean in terms of wider application or use.
It's worse, period. Before that Jay Hieron fight, I did zero wrestling. Like, absolutely zero and I definitely felt rusty in that fight with my wrestling, so I was back to doing it. I try to wrestle one time a week with good, solid people. I'm not staying as highly competitive, but I'm still keeping it pretty good.
And I haven't dropped off a long ways. I still wrestle with some pretty good guys here and there. I know I haven't dropped off a long ways, but as far as just my timing being there, if I went back and wrestled next week, I wouldn't be nearly as competitive as I was five years ago.
What would you say are still some of the hang ups or errors that people do with wrestling in MMA today?
Well, I don't want to shamelessly self-promote too much, but on that DVD series that's coming out, I talk about it a lot. I spend a huge amount of time talking about the difference between wrestling and the difference between wrestling MMA. There's a huge difference. They're two very different things and you got to really understand MMA to understand how to wrestle in MMA.
My view on wrestling in MMA is changed a lot since I started really doing it. A lot of people are bringing in real, just true wrestling people to teach wrestling and they don't get the bigger picture of what you should and shouldn't do.
The other thing is, there's a lot of college wrestling coaches, so the best wrestlers are coaching college because they're getting paid. Head coach of Division I college is getting paid around $100,000. There's just not that much money for a coach in MMA yet, so you're not seeing the best wrestlers be coaches of MMA, which may eventually happen in the future. You're seeing kind of the second and third tier guys are going to coach [MMA].
I always laugh sometimes when they say, 'Oh, this is my wrestling coach' and they show this guy. I'm like, 'What? That's one of the best MMA fighters in the world and they're bringing him in?' And I kind of just chuckle because the guy, I don't want to be dick, but they're just not that good at wrestling, period.
So, is the decision by the Blackzilians to bring in Kenny Monday a benefit or a little bit of smoke and mirrors?
Oh, well, Kenny Monday would actually be one of the really good wrestlers. He was one of the best Americans of all time. He obviously wouldn't fit that second category of 'not that good a wrestler', but whether he actually knows how to use wrestling in MMA, I'm not sure. And whether he's actually going to take the time to learn how to use wrestling in MMA, I'm not sure.
I have to figure out how to use my wrestling in MMA because I've got to do it, right? I can't just be theories and messing around. I actually have to execute what I'm talking about and I execute it all the time. That's why the guys at Roufus Sport have so much faith in me, because they see me do everything I'm talking about on a daily basis. They see it work so they don't have to question, does it work or not? They know it works.
You last competed in January against Karl Amoussou. This will be the second time this year, but only once in 2012. What would be ideal in terms of a competitive schedule?
Hopefully, three times a year or so.
I know you have a background in submission grappling. If Metamoris came to you and offered an opportunity to compete at a time not in conflict with a fight camp, would you be interested?
Yeah, I would 100 percent love to do that. Obviously I would like to train a little more jiu-jitsu, before I did an event like that, but yeah, that's something I would 100 percent be interested in. I love challenging myself in that way. I think jiu-jitsu is an awesome sport.
I don't know the exact rules because every BJJ competition has a little bit different rules, but yeah, I would love to do something like that.
Did you watch the last Metamoris event?
I caught one or two matches, but I did not see the whole thing. I didn't get to read the rules. I just quickly glanced at a few videos of it.
Any thoughts on the Brendan Schaub-Cyborg Abreu match?
I didn't see that one. I heard Schaub ran away from him or something. I heard it was totally ridiculous.
That seems kind of stupid to me because it's like, he can't be getting paid that much compared to what he makes in the UFC. If he wanted to go run away from someone like a chicken, why would he even have accepted that bout in the first place?
That was my thought on it. Well, if you know you suck at jiu-jitsu and you're just going to run away the whole time, why are you even accepting the challenge? I would rather go in there and get choked out by Marcelo Garcia in a minute than try to run away from him for the whole time.
You're facing Andrey Koreshkov. How unique of an opponent is he relative to guys you've previously fought?
Not unique in the slightest bit.
Explain that to me. Tell me why you think he's non-descript in that way.
He's a striker. He has power, so does Douglas Lima, so did Karl Amoussou, so did Lyman Good. So, what's the difference? The difference to me is his grappling stuff. That's the difference to me.
Specifically, how would you evaluate his guard?
It sucks. His grappling sucks. It's embarrassing.
How would you rate it, though? Blue belt level? Intermediate?
I rate it...is it a possibility, can I rate it 'it sucks'?
In your mind, then, there's nothing particularly dangerous about this opponent?
Lyman sucked at grappling, too, but Lyman out grappled Koreshkov in their fight, so I would venture to guess if Lyman out grappled him, he sucks. He more than sucks. He sucks real bad.
I would say definitely less of a challenge than Amoussou and Douglas Lima. Amoussou had the judo background and Lima has a strong jiu-jitsu background, so they at least had some grappling.
If you beat Koreshkov, where do you think that should place you among the top welterweights in the sport?
I don't think it moves me up at all. I don't think it proves anything at all. I know where I stand against the UFC welterweights because I've practiced with a lot of UFC welterweights, so that's why I know where I stand.
So fighting Koreshkov is like paying a tax?
Yeah, but whatever. I get paid to fight and so I'm not going to bitch and moan about my opponents. I'm just going into the cage and beat somebody up.
Let's talk about one of your teammates Anthony Pettis. How much has his takedown defense improved?
Yeah, it's improved a lot. It's definitely improved a lot. We do a lot of work with the wrestling. I'm the coach. Specifically for this fight, I got a college wrestler who wrestled at my academy working with him three times a week just because we know that's the only way Ben's going to win the fight is if he takes him down. He's not going to out strike him. I mean, that's just laughable.
If Anthony keeps this fight on the feet, he wins it super easy and that's what he's going to do
Has your brother Max ever expressed any interest in MMA?
No, I don't think he'll compete at all.
Any reason why it doesn't click for him?
I don't know, there's just no huge attraction, I don't think. I guess I can't say for sure why it doesn't click for him. He competed in wrestling up until this year. Pretty sure he's going to retire with that and I think he's going to coach full time at one of our academies.
Does he ever come out and train with you guys in your MMA camps?
He's been in there a few times. He's never trained jiu-jitsu in his life, but he's a f--king Klingon. I mean, he's a really good grappler. If he put any serious time into it, he would be a black belt. He's never trained legitimately, but I'm telling you, if he trained he'd be a black belt in two years. I have zero doubts about that.
He's been in there a few times and kind of rolled with us, but just up until recently that he was competitive himself in wrestling, so he was training for that. I would guess in the next year or two he'll get bored and come in work out at least the grappling sessions with us.
Chandler or Rickels? Who do you like in that fight?
Oh, Chandler is going to make Rickels look like an amateur.
Georges St-Pierre or Johny Hendricks?
I don't know. Because I don't know who is going to win and I don't really like either of them, so I don't know who to pick.
There are rumors everywhere, so please help clarify them. Is it true this is the remaining fight on your Bellator contract?
Um, it's definitely possible.