These days, it feels like Ben Askren’s in-cage appearances are as rare as an eclipse.
Saturday’s defense of his welterweight title against Zebaztian Kadestam (9-3) at ONE Championship 60 at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China will mark Askren’s second fight this year, which already matches his combined output from 2015 and 2016. The 33-year-old has only logged one official title defense in the past three years, though it wasn’t for lack of trying.
A 2015 fight vs. Luis “Sapo” Santos ended in a no-contest when Santos was rendered unable to continue by an Askren eye poke. ONE officials booked a rematch for later that year, but Santos missed weight and the bout was changed to a non-title affair and then scrapped altogether when Santos refused to weigh in again on fight day to ensure that he was still within a reasonable size limit.
Askren’s only 2016 appearance was against Nikolay Aleksakhin, another fight that was removed of title implications after Askren’s opponent missed weight. Askren (16-0, 1 NC) defeated Aleksakhin by unanimous decision and was expecting to fight again later that year, only to see a booking in Thailand fall through when the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October led to all sporting events in the following months to be canceled.
He finally managed to pick up his first official defense of the welterweight championship when he defeated Agilan Thangalapani by first-round submission this past May. After Saturday, Askren is hoping he can get a third fight soon, making this his busiest year since 2010.
“They booked me in May, they booked me again in September, and I’m going to push to get on another one as soon as possible,” Askren told MMA Fighting. “In November, they have three different cards and maybe I can get on either Manila or Singapore again.”
Askren had been angling to settle the score with Santos, only to see his rival fall to Kadestam on the same night that Askren topped Thangalapani. He also considered a superfight with former middleweight champion Vitaly Bigdash, but with the Russian having recently lost his belt, that matchup lost its luster.
“Yeah, I was going to call him and Bigdash out, and then obviously (Santos’s) stupid ass lost, he got knocked out,” said Askren. “So I ended up calling Kadestam out, because he was the one who won that bout. And then Bigdash lost his title the following month, so I couldn’t really fight him either.”
When asked whether he thought his career would be different in terms of quantity and quality of opponents if he were competing for a major North American promotion, Askren was dismissive of the suggestion. He made the jump to the Singapore-based ONE promotion in 2014 after being released by Bellator and rebuffed by UFC president Dana White.
Askren has often made light of White passing him over in favor of other fighters with less impressive credentials, and it doesn’t sound like he’s regretted the decision to take his talents to Asia given his feelings on how White handles his business.
“He’s always been a loudmouth liar. Anyone who can’t see through that just hasn’t been paying attention enough,” said Askren. “This guy will throw anyone under the bus when he has to, he’ll do anything to save his own butt and never wants to take responsibility. Never does what’s best for fighters, always what’s best for him at that time. I feel like the more people see him, the more people understand how scummy he really is.”
“I think a lot of the UFC guys really enjoy that I kind of gave the middle finger to Dana and said, ‘I’m going to do this my way’ because a lot of them would like to, but maybe they don’t have the opportunity to,” Askren continued.
In his off-time, Askren has occupied himself with training at the Evolve MMA gym in Singapore and managing the Askren Wrestling Academy locations in Wisconsin. He sees these opportunities as more than enough to keep him sharp even when actual competition time has been limited.
“The whole ring rust and the thing that you have to compete to stay in tip-top shape, that’s bulls**t,” said Askren. “I’ve been competing at a high level since I was 15 years old and as long as you’re professional about it, then you’re going to get ready and as you’ve seen in my performances after a long layoff, I’ve never had any rust, I go out there and get it done. That’s what I’m supposed to do.”