Four years ago, Santos promised to steal a different belt away from Askren -- the Bellator welterweight title -- with a run through the promotion's season-five tournament. Santos ultimately fell well short of his goal, losing to a Ben Saunders Americana in bracket's second round, but Askren hasn't forgotten the myriad of empty threats "Sapo" threw his way in the tourney's lead-up.
"I'm excited to beat him up," Askren said. "Because the funny way that Bellator worked, every season there was eight new welterweights and they were trying to get one of them to fight me, right? So every season eight welterweights would say, ‘Ben Askren sucks, I'm going to kick his ass.' And then every season, seven of them would look like idiots because they wouldn't even get to fight me because they weren't good enough. Luis Santos is one of those guys.
"So you know, I'm going to have to go put the hammer on him and make him look stupid for the comments he made in the past."
Askren (14-0) and Santos are slated to meet on April 24 in the headlining bout of ONE Championship's latest foray into the Philippines, and Santos is already picking up where he left off four years ago, chirping at Askren and vowing to steal away his ONE title. With 35 career knockouts and a jiu-jitsu black belt to his credit, Santos dismissed Askren's wrestling as a threat in media reports while maintaining that the former Olympian has "never felt power" like his own -- a statement to which Askren couldn't help but laugh.
"That's silly. He don't hit as hard as Douglas Lima. Give me a freaking break," Askren said. "I mean, he probably doesn't his as hard as (Andrey) Koreshkov either. That's just silly. Though I mean, Koreshkov didn't hit me, so I guess he does have a valid point that I never felt that, because he didn't touch me."
Despite his past Bellator struggles, Santos (61-9-1) is an experienced and talented fighter who may very well be the most formidable challenge currently available to Askren in ONE Championship. Aside from being an accomplished jiu-jitsu player, the 35-year-old is also a black belt judoka who's gone nearly three years without tasting defeat. Over that streak, six of Santos' seven straight wins ended inside of three minutes, including a 53-second mauling of Bakhtiyar Abbasov in Santos' ONE Championship debut.
So while Askren admits that he expects to have his way with Santos -- Funky Style, just like he likes it -- he's conscious of making sure that his confidence doesn't overstep into foolishness.
"If you get bored, that's when you start getting into danger," Askren said. "MMA is a dangerous sport, no matter who your challenge is, you've got to be on top of your game. I think that's one of the fun things about MMA. Because, say it was a wrestling match, I could be really lax and give up a few takedowns and then come back and it'd be no big deal. But an MMA fight, it only takes one strike and the fight could be over. If you get hit in the eye once, it's a completely different fight.
"I don't want to say you have to be perfect, but you've really got to be on top of your game and make sure nothing happens to let the fight go the other way. So I think that's the fun challenge of this, being as good as you can be every single time you walk into the cage."