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Ben Askren refuses to play ‘what if’ game with his UFC career, details year-long recovery from upcoming hip surgery

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Ben Askren isn’t interested in hypotheticals when it comes to his UFC career.

The 19-2 welterweight, who just recently announced his retirement from mixed martial arts, appreciates the kind words from his longtime head coach Duke Roufus who said if Askren had gotten to the UFC a few years earlier, he would have been champion.

Instead, the 2008 Olympian went 1-2 in a brief stint inside the Octagon after he was part of a historic, first of its kind trade that sent him from ONE Championship to the UFC in exchange for Demetrious Johnson.

While the results didn’t go his way in the UFC, Askren doesn’t want to look back and think about what could have been when he actually accomplished a lot of great things during his career.

“I’m not playing the what if game any time. I hate the what if game,” Askren told MMA Fighting. “You sound like a dick whenever you play that. I was a champion for two major organizations. I beat a lot of really good guys. That’s probably where I would leave it.”

Askren had actually retired from active competition previously but he always left the door open for a potential return if he had a chance to prove he was the best fighter in the world. When the chance came to join the UFC roster with that specific goal in mind, he was more than happy to resume his career.

A pair of losses to Jorge Masvidal and Demian Maia slammed the brakes on Askren’s aspirations along with a debilitating hip injury that had to be addressed whether he kept fighting or not.

“I think I was headed that direction,” Askren said about retiring after the Maia fight regardless of the hip surgery. “I had already retired once and then I had the plan with my doctor to do the scope after the fight. Then he said you need the hip resurfacing and that was kind of like I don’t want to keep training like I am because it’s not that fun. It kind of sucked.

“I don’t want to say give me 15 months while I do my hip surgery and I’ll come back. There’s a better option to get on with my life.”

Askren had originally stated that he was having a full hip replacement surgery but it turns out he’s actually undergoing a different kind of procedure that won’t actually prevent him from getting back on the mats in the future.

“Just to be specific, it’s a hip resurfacing, not a full, total hip replacement,” Askren said. “The surgery’s called the Birmingham Hip, that’s the surgery that I’m doing. So I might actually try to put it off for a few more months if I can because it would be a little better timing for my life for it to get done.

“Because once you do it, I’ve got to not be doing anything, off the mats totally. With me coaching wrestling, that could create some problems. So we’ll see. I’m working on scheduling it right now.”

Askren says the earliest doctors could schedule him for the surgery would be in February but he might try to push it back a little further until wrestling season is finished.

Once he undergoes the procedure, he will be sidelined for the better part of a year but he spoke to a pair of wrestling coaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, who shared that they were able to become active again after recovering with no restrictions on their physical activities.

“I was pretty excited to hear that,” Askren said. “I was getting sad that I was going to be all the way off the mats, no wrestling for the rest of my life and that would be almost impossible for me.

“Knowing that it is a year recovering but then I could have no restrictions is kind of a big deal for me.”

Just because he’ll be able to wrestle again doesn’t mean Askren is suddenly walking back his retirement because that’s not going to happen.

“For me, it just means I get to do whatever the hell I want. I feel like my competitive doors are closed,” Askren said. “I said I was retired. I said I’m done. I don’t feel like that’s a chapter in my life that will reopen.”

Of course, athletes across all sports have retired and then staged a comeback months or even years later but Askren promises he’s not going to fall into that trap.

He didn’t come to the decision to call it a career without contemplating all the possible scenarios for the future plus Askren really doesn’t want to become a cautionary tale of a fighter who just didn’t know when to walk away.

“When I was reading all these topics about athletes, cause that was my favorite subject when I was a kid, it was always just like why don’t these dudes just hang it up? They’re obviously not as good as they were,” Askren explained. “So there’s a lot of things that tie in there.

“Obviously one of the things is because you’re with yourself every, single day you don’t see the decline that’s happening. You see this really, slow gradual thing and you can never really remember how good you were before. So while you’ve gotten much worse, it’s hard for you to notice you’ve gotten much worse.”

Another factor is the competitive spirit that lives inside almost every athlete that’s nearly impossible to extinguish. Toss in a healthy dose of celebrity that comes along with great achievements in sports and it’s an addiction that’s really tough to kick.

“You enjoy competing and you enjoy the spotlight. That’s always hard for everyone to give up,” Askren said. “Now being in that position where I retired twice, obviously there’s things about it where I’m like that’s awesome, I’m going to miss that a whole lot but you also have to realize father time is undefeated against everybody.

“Whether you like it or not, your time is going to be up at some point. It might as well be when you say it is.”

As far as the future goes, Askren has plenty to keep him busy even with fighting no longer on the table for him.

He’s a dedicated wrestling coach with several facilities already open and he plans to continue working with up and coming flyweight contender Maycee Barber, although he promises that’s the only fighter he’ll be working with anytime soon.

“I will not be coaching MMA,” Askren said. “As far as Maycee’s case, I didn’t ever think I was going to be coaching fighting. I didn’t think that was in the cards. They talked me into it so I am. She’s a lot of fun to work with but I don’t really foresee that too much in the future.

“I have more than enough to keep me busy. I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I’m figuring out how to prioritize.”

With a lot of plans for the future, Askren is ready for the next chapter in his life and he’s moving forward because he doesn’t feel the need to live in the past.

He’s happy with what he accomplished in his fighting career and now he’s onto the next thing.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Askren said. “I had a fun career. I had a really good career and I don’t have any regrets.”

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