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Ben Askren thinks about his MMA legacy more than you'd expect

Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images

Ben Askren's main vehicle of promotion in the United States is social media. And he's pretty good at it.

Askren is the guy with a quick quip every time significant news breaks in MMA. He's the guy poking fun of Johny Hendricks when he can't make weight, and the one taking slaps at Ken Shamrock's age. "Funky" has branded himself as something of a crap-talking court jester on Twitter.

It works for him. But it's also worth remembering he's one of the best welterweights on Earth even if he doesn't necessarily get the chance to prove it often.

If Askren faces Luis Santos at ONE Championship: Pride of Lions on Friday in Singapore, it'll be a compelling matchup, though it might not happen because Santos missed weight Thursday. Santos is not ranked among the top 20 or 30 best welterweights in the world. But the Brazilian was actually posing somewhat of a threat to Askren in a fight that ended up a no-contest (accidental eye poke by Askren) in April.

Opponents posed very little resistance in his previous two fights in ONE and it's unclear who would be next if Askren gets by Santos as expected. As successful as ONE has been in Asia since its inception in 2011, it just doesn't have the roster quality that someone like Askren needs to be tested on a consistent basis.

Askren (14-0, 1 NC), a former Olympic and NCAA national champion wrestler, is one of MMA's great mysteries. He ran the table in Bellator as welterweight champion in dominant fashion, save for a disputed split decision win over Jay Hieron in 2011. But when it was clearly time for him to face the Georges St-Pierres, Robbie Lawlers, Rory MacDonalds and Hendrickses of the world when his Bellator deal was up in 2013, the UFC spurned him.

Dana White, the UFC president, said at the time that Askren should go to then-embryotic World Series of Fighting to gain more experience, a silly notion for someone who dispatched former, current and future UFC fighters with relative ease in Bellator. Askren, partly out of spite and mostly for financial gain, chose instead to sign with ONE in Asia.

"I looked at all the other offers, I thought about what was best and I liked ONE FC," Askren said. "I felt comfortable with who was in charge, I liked their business plan and I liked their vision of where they were going to go. A lot of things came together."

Who could blame him, right? This is prizefighting, after all.

As it turns out, a lot of people could and still do. The biggest knock on Askren today is he didn't choose the promotion with the highest level of competition. And maybe there is some validity to that, considering Jake Shields, Rousimar Palhares, Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami -- all fairly relevant welterweights -- reside in WSOF.

But, in Askren's case, don't confuse doing what's best for his family with a lack of competitive drive.

"Fighting is more of a business than wrestling is," Askren said. "So that makes that competitive part hard at times. If all of the business barriers were cleared and the only question was, 'Do I want to compete against the numbers one, two, three, four in the world?' Obviously the answer is yes. No doubt about it. But the realistic part of me sees a lot of barriers between me and that happening."

The question of whether Askren will ever be in the UFC has been posed to him and White dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of times. There is a resent there, as well as two very strong, very stubborn personalities. Both men have bashed each other publicly. Neither man forgives so easily.

Then again, Askren wants to fight the best and White wants the best fighters. There is common ground there. Of course, Askren is locked into a deal with ONE and isn't comfortable discussing the length. There's also the probability of a champion's clause.

Defending the ONE belt in front of sold out arenas in Singapore and Manila and being compensated handsomely for it is amazing. Fighting for the UFC belt would be pretty great, too. Askren, 31, considers that often. His legacy, too.

"Everyone thinks about that," he said. "They say they never think about their legacies, they're lying to you. I think everyone thinks about that.

"You can only control what you can control and there's a lot of things that I can't control as much as I'd like to. In my perfect world, I'd be able to pull the strings on everything, but that's just not the way it goes. I can't stay worried about the things that didn't happen."

Askren doesn't want to fight for that many more years. He once said he wouldn't fight after the birth of his first child; now, he and his wife have two. There won't be any more artificial deadlines, but the Wisconsin native doesn't want to do this forever, either. You won't see him fighting Hieron at a Bellator tentpole event in 10 years.

In his mind, his legacy in wrestling as an all-time great is set. He's in the University of Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame. He was the best college wrestler in the country for two years. He was in the Olympics.

MMA? That's a little more fluid. But Askren is comfortable with where he's at. Now and wherever he might end up.

"I've practiced with most of those guys, so I understand perfectly where I stand amongst everyone in mixed martial arts," he said. "I get it. I know where I stand. I know how good I am. So, for me, I know. For a lot of the other people, they don't know, so they're curious. They want to see me fight them. That's where it all comes from. But I won't be the one making the decision on whether that happens or not. I guess we'll have to wait and see."

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