Askren and Maia clashed in the welterweight main event of UFC Singapore, a bout that was expected to be a true test of their respective grappling accolades. A two-time UFC title challenger, Maia is one of the most successful Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners ever to make the move to MMA, while Askren won his first 19 pro fights (excluding one no contest) and captured belts in the Bellator and ONE Championship promotions following a storied collegiate wrestling career.
It took some time for their encounter to go to the ground, but eventually it was Maia who came out on top in the grappling exchanges as he coaxed a tap-out from Askren in the third round.
Post-fight, Askren spoke to ESPN’s Laura Sanko on about what went wrong for him.
“There was a couple of positions I would have liked to get to a Muay Thai clinch more often, but he was able to stay out of that,” Askren said. “I was landing the punches I wanted to land. I was landing my uppercut really well. I was getting takedowns—I think I ended with four, five takedowns, I believe.
“And then I made a really bad decision. I remember thinking I won the first two rounds—who knows what judges say, right? They’re crazy—I felt like I won the first two rounds, and when I got reversed in the third round, I looked at the clock and there was a little over a minute left, and I thought, ‘Okay, I got to get the reversal to win this round.’”
After a first round in which Maia appeared to consistently beat Askren to the punch on the feet, a determined Askren kept a high pace in round two and the fight was a competitive one until he fell into the fateful submission.
Askren himself is known for his ground expertise, having picked up 12 wins by knockout or submission relying primarily on his relentless wrestling style. He pointed to his faith in his own capabilities as one reason why he may have wound up in a bad position against Maia.
“We had obviously trained so much back in camp, and I have a really good jiu-jitsu guy, and I guess I was overconfident,” Askren said. “There’s a reason why he’s the best grappler in the division and possibly in MMA ever. I was fairly confident when I went for that I was going to get the reversal, and I didn’t, I failed, and obviously that was the outcome.”
“I think he knew he couldn’t get the takedown,” Askren continued. “That’s his strategy everywhere. I think he also knew if he went for the takedown, I was going to suck all the energy out of him and I was going to probably end up in some advantageous positions. So no, I was kind of prepared for that. I would have liked to have been able to get my Thai clinch, which he was able to keep me off of him. I was happy with my striking, I cut him two or three times. I landed some really hard punches. When I did go for the takedowns, I got all the takedowns pretty successfully.
“One bad decision, and at this level, one bad decision is enough for a failed outcome.”
The loss makes it two in a row now for Askren, who began his UFC career this past March with a technical submission win over former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler that was steeped in controversy when there was a dispute over whether a choke applied by Askren had actually rendered Lawler unconscious or if the stoppage was premature.
Regardless, the win vaulted Askren into a high-profile bout at UFC 239 with Jorge Masvidal that ended in just five seconds when Masvidal connected with a flying knee. With mixed results against a trio of top-10 contenders on his record, Askren couldn’t say for sure what is next for him.
“I had a really busy year, it was fantastic, even coming into this fight, obviously I’m thinking, ‘Okay, who am I going to go after next? Who am I going to call out?’ And when I looked at the division I was like, ‘S*it, everybody’s busy,” Askren said. “That call-out tonight was going to be hard because there’s no one that makes a whole lot of sense right away. So with that being said, I’ll probably sit and wait for a second and see what happens.”