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Ben Askren eyeing retirement at conclusion of ONE contract

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Ben Askren is one of the best fighters in the world. And we may never get to see him match up with his elite peers.

The ONE Championship welterweight champ said he will likely retire at the end of his current contract, which has six fights remaining. Askren will defend his belt against Nikolay Aleksakhin in the main event of ONE: Global Rivals on Friday in the Philippines.

"I've got six fights left with ONE," Askren told MMA Fighting. "Then I told them, it's not a guarantee I'll be done, but I think there's a high likelihood that after those six fights I'll be calling it a day."

Askren, 31, said he'd like to fight three times this year and there's a possibility he could fight three times next year. So, the former Bellator champion's career could come to a close in late 2017 or early 2018.

"You never know what life is going to throw your way and I would never say never, but I think that's definitely the way I'm learning," Askren said. "I did say I wanted to be retired by 30, whether it was wrestling or mixed martial arts."

Askren (14-0, 1 NC) was a free agent in 2013 after a dominant run in Bellator when UFC president Dana White infamously told him to go get more experience in World Series of Fighting before the UFC would sign him. That ignited a feud between Askren and White and led the former Olympic wrestler to ONE.

"Funky" won't put a guarantee on it, but he's leaning toward hanging up the gloves rather than testing the open market again. Askren coaches youth wrestling and also has a growing family.

"When you're competing, you need to be selfish," he said. "You need to think of yourself first. You need to take care of yourself first and you can't think of others quite as much if you want to be a successful competitor. Fighting is good for my family, but I also think I have to be selfish sometimes in that area, too. So if I get away from fighting, I can be a little selfish there also."

Of course, a lot can happen in six fights and two years. Askren has only fought three times for ONE, the last a no contest due to an eye poke against Luis Santos in April 2015. Askren was supposed to face Santos again in November, but Santos missed weight.

Since then and the death of fighter Yang Jian Bing in December, ONE has instituted a new policy to curtail weight cutting. All of their fighters moved up a weight class, so although Askren is the welterweight champion he'll be fighting at 185. The weight classes are called the same thing, but the actual weight is higher. Askren doesn't foresee any issue, since everyone is essentially fighting at their walking weight and he's not going up against someone cutting to make 185.

"It's 185, but it's not really 185," Askren said.

Aleksakhin (17-3) is not a name many people know, but he's a pupil of Fedor Emelianenko and a combat sambo expert. He has won four of his last five fights via finish. Askren will not be taking him lightly, just like he hasn't taken any past ONE opponents lightly even though they are not well known.

"No, for two reasons," Askren said. "No. 1, my paycheck is the same. No. 2 would be, I'm a real professional. People who are great at what they do, they do it the same way no matter who the opponent is.

"That's a huge reason why people fail when they shouldn't or when they're not supposed to. If you look across my career, whether it be mixed martial arts or wrestling, it's very, very, very rare that I lose to someone that I'm not supposed to."

Askren has never lost in MMA and he plans on keeping that streak going. The unfortunate part is that he has never tested himself against the very elite fighters of his division, most of whom are in the UFC. Fans criticize Askren for that, but it's out of his hands.

"Anyone who says that, I know they're just uneducated about what happened," Askren said. "Frankly, it wasn't my decision at all and there's nothing I can do about it. I take that as either uneducated or they're just trying to annoy me."

The former two-time NCAA champion cut a parody video for the Fighters Only World MMA Awards in February. The song parodied Adele's "Hello" and was kind of a mea culpa to the UFC. Askren even used the word "sorry" in the song.

But, Askren said, he's not sorry. And it was just a parody video. He didn't mean any of it.

"I didn't do sh*t," Askren said. "They owe me an apology. ... The bald jokes will continue, yes sir."

We're probably as far away as we have ever been from seeing Askren in the UFC. And it's looking more and more like it will never happen, especially if he retires at the end of his ONE contract.

"I love competing still," Askren said. "I always think that it's going to be hard for me to totally step away from competition. I know it will be. I know it'll be very difficult for me. But you have to call it a day at some point, right?"

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