With his perfect record still intact, Bellator's Ben Askren hasn't had a problem winning. But finishing? That's been a bit of an issue. Since putting Ryan Thomas to sleep with a guillotine in his Bellator debut in 2010, he's been to five straight decisions. That's enough to make him the promotion's welterweight champion, but not enough to satisfy his own expectations.
In hopes of improving that finishing rate, Askren began working with renowned striking coach Duke Roufus about one year ago. The changes weren't readily apparent in his first two bouts since the change, but Askren -- who faces Douglas Lima on Friday night at Bellator 64 -- says they're coming.
"I’m not a person who really cares what other people think," he said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "At the same time, for myself, for a lot of different reasons, I want to finish. I haven’t done that my last two fights, but I’m excited to give it a shot, and I think I can finish."
To do that, it will have to come against challenger in Lima (21-4) who has won nine straight and knocked out three of his last four opponents. That recent run has fueled a growing belief that Lima can win, something that makes the bout more interesting for Askren.
"Some people even call him the favorite, so I’m definitely excited to get in there and prove my mettle," he said.
Askren said he's not the type to watch much video on his opponent, but he did enough to get a peak at Lima. His biggest takeaway was about Lima's wrestling, which he says is "not very good."
Askren should know. He is one of the most decorated collegiate amateur wrestlers to transition to MMA, having won two national championships and earned four All-America selections. He also ended his NCAA career with 87 straight wins before wrestling internationally, including representing the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics.
Though he was known for an unorthodox style that often incorporated risk into it, Askren has been accused of being conservative in MMA, falling back on his wrestling roots to control opponents on the ground. That's a charge he dismisses, saying the critics are off-base.
"I haven’t tried to recklessly go for the finish like some people do," he said. "Some people think going for a finish is more important than winning itself. I’m not totally reckless in my approach. But I feel like I’ve worked towards a finish in every single fight I’ve been in."
The problem, he's felt, is he simply didn't have enough weapons to make him dangerous everywhere. He says his striking has improved by "dramatic amounts" and thinks fans will be "pleasantly surprised" with the advancements he's made.
"I didn’t know what I was doing, period," he said. "So I was doing a lot wrong. I wasn’t putting a lot of force into my punches, I didn’t move on my feet well, I didn’t have good head movement. I can go over and over all the things I did wrong."
In the past, he says, he only had one way to win: by taking his foe to the ground and trying to choke him out. But now, there are options aside from that. That fills him with confidence that he may one day soon be known as a finisher. Maybe as soon as Friday, against another finisher in Lima.
In all probability, if he does get a stoppage win, it will be on the ground. That is his forte, and it probably always will be. But you never know. He's confident now in what he can do when he's standing up, and maybe, just maybe, he thinks, we could even see an Askren knockout.
"That would be outstanding," he said.