After a ten-month transition period, Bellator’s former welterweight champion Ben Askren will finally make his promotional debut with One FC in Kallang, Singapore, on May 30. His opponent: Bakhtiyar Abbasov, a guy he’d never heard of before signing the contract to fight him.
And judging from the dozen fights Askren’s had in MMA, Abbasov (11-2) better have solid takedown defense. Otherwise he may end up like Andrey Koreshkov, whom Askren outstruck by a 248-3 margin in his Bellator swan song.
Askren (12-0) appeared on last Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour, Skyping from Singapore after wrapping up a promotional tour through the southeastern Asian cities of Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Pehn. Among the topics he hit on was Bellator PPV, his upcoming fight with Abbasov, and the big free agent that got away (Jake Shields, who recently signed with the World Series of Fighting after being cut by the UFC).
"Man, I was hoping Jake Shields was going to sign over here in One FC, but I guess they didn’t get to call him fast enough or something," he told host Ariel Helwani. "I mean, I want to fight good people, and obviously Jake’s been one of the best for years and years and years. He’s had a couple of losses lately, but Jake was ranked No. 2 in the world forever."
The 29-year-old Askren was supposed to go against the Japanese fighter Nobutatsu Suzuki, who won the welterweight title against Brock Larson in March. Suzuki injured himself in the bout, and rather than prolong his inactivity, Askren opted to face Abbasov in the interstice. When asked where the Aserbaijan fighter might rank among the people Askren has faced, he said he wasn’t sure.
"Hard to say, there’s not a huge amount of film out there on him," he said. "I’ve got to go in the cage and be careful and go execute and dominate my game plan like I want to. Then after I’m done beating him up, I’ll tell you how good he was."
To the surprise of some, Askren signed a six-fight contract with One FC after negotiating with the UFC (who never ended up offering him a contract) and WSOF (who did). The contract with the Singapore-based promotion will take a couple of years to play out, and Askren, who is one of MMA’s most dominant wrestlers with his collegiate pedigree going back to the University of Missouri, has hinted that he may retire when it does.
When he was asked if that might still be a possibility, Askren nodded.
"Yeah definitely, it’s definitely a possibility," he said. "My two things I always said is, No. 1 I’d be retired by the time I had my first kid, and No. 2 I’d be retired by the time I was 30. I had my first kid [one-year old Alex] and I’m not done yet, and I’m turning 30 this year so, those two landmarks I kind of set for myself, I’m passing by.
"I still train at a very high level, I compete at a very high level. Obviously like everyone it’s very hard to hang it up, but I’m definitely going to try and do it the right way, not like a lot of combat athletes have done and kind of hold on too long just for every last fleeting moment. I don’t want to be one of those people."
As Bellator’s former welterweight champion, Askren went on Twitter asking if anybody knew how he might be able to watch the promotion’s inaugural pay-per-view event, which went down in Memphis. Askren said he ended up watching the card, and thought -- aside from the slow pacing -- it was overall fun.
Except that Michael Chandler, who also wrestled at Mizzou, didn’t live up to expectations, losing a narrow split decision to Will Brooks for the 155-pound interim belt.
"Michael’s fight -- obviously, I thought Michael was going to steamroll him, so I was really disappointed," he said. "Nevertheless, I had it 48-47 Michael. I thought he won the fifth round, which was the deciding round, because he knocked him down at the end and ended in the mount position. So I thought he won that fight."
Asked if there was a side of him that longed to be a part of Bellator’s biggest event to date, Askren said he was more than content where he’s at with One FC.
"No, not really, in that context," he said. "It would have been great to obviously do [that type of event] then but I got my own fight coming up here and getting a lot of promotion, and I’m excited for it, so no, I guess not."
On the hot topic of Muhammed Lawal’s fight night antics -- the outbursts towards Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and Quinton Jackson, whom he referred to essentially as bed-fellows -- Askren shook his head.
"I laughed, obviously, like most of us did," he said. "I mean, I think every promoter’s job is to pump their athletes up. Like you see Dana White did it all the time with branding people, all of a sudden they’re the best thing since sliced bread, just because that’s the promoter’s job. Mo got pushed pretty hard by Bellator also for a certain point in time.
"Mo says some crazy things sometimes. I don’t know, but I think he might be trying to get fired, really. I don’t know what else you can say about that."
Asked if that were the case, if he’d like to see Lawal come to One FC, Askren wondered how tarnished his name might be for future employment.
"I’m friends with Mo, and I’ve never had him call me any names like that," he laughed. "We’ve always gotten along. But I think any future bosses are going to look at that and go, wow, really? That’s going to be tough for a future boss to sign a guy that’s talking about his current boss like that."
Askren fights Abbasov at One FC: Honor and Glory on May 30 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, and can be viewed via live stream on the One FC website in the States. bbbb