There are levels to wrestling, and while Ben Askren once excelled in that realm, Jordan Burroughs showed him how time away from the sport can cost you.
The pair of multiple-time NCAA wrestling champions recently faced off at a Beat the Streets charity event at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden and unsurprisingly, it was Burroughs—a younger, active wrestler with an Olympic gold medal to his name—who came out victorious. It was a one-sided drubbing that saw Burroughs toss Askren all over the mat and at one point dump him into the crowd as Askren attempted to escape his aggressive opponent.
Because the event was to raise funds for inner city grassroots wrestling programs, the build-up to the competition and the match itself were mostly light-hearted. That doesn’t mean Burroughs intended to take things easy on Askren, an unbeaten MMA fighter currently competing in the UFC.
Burroughs told host Luke Thomas on a recent episode of The MMA Hour that exhibition or not, he wanted to make a statement.
“I think that Ben Askren when he competed as a wrestler, he was an amazing athlete,” Burroughs said. “He still is an amazing athlete, but just has transitioned to a completely different sport and I imagine that he doesn’t train his wrestling as often, so there are just particular positions in the sport that he hasn’t felt in such a long period of time that his timing’s a bit off. But my timing’s extremely sharp because this is what I do pretty much daily. This is the only discipline I train in. So I think that the advantage was weighed and tipped heavily in my favor and he was just out there hoping for something good to happen.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Ben and what he was able to do and the fact that he even accepted the challenge was pretty cool as well, but for sure, anything less than a tech fall I would have been disappointed in myself.”
As members of the U.S. Olympic wrestling program, Burroughs and Askren had trained together before, but never had they hit the mats in such a competitive setting. Burroughs described Askren’s infamous “Funky” wrestling style as “incredible” and pointed out that the former Bellator and ONE Championship titleholder had over 90 pins in college, which is twice as many as recent Penn State NCAA champions Bo Nickal or Jason Nolf had in their careers.
Despite the respect and praise that Burroughs has for Askren, his goal was to terminate on sight when the two locked up in New York City.
“Going into the match, as soon as the whistle blows, when I step on the mat side, I wanted to win,” Burroughs said. “Wrestling is different than MMA or boxing or really any other contact sport in that you can’t really draw along an opponent. You watch Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather fight, Floyd can just throw a few punches or he can do a lot of defense, he can slip a few punches, let Conor get a few shots in. You can’t really do that in wrestling without getting scored on or putting yourself at risk.
“So for me, going into that match I was like, listen, I love you Ben, you’ve done a tremendous in the sport of wrestling, you’re doing a tremendous job in MMA, but I’m not letting you score on me.”
Askren, known for his big hair and even bigger personality, tried to convince Burroughs that they could work together to create a more entertaining matchup. Whether Askren was attempting to get a mental edge or a just manufacture excitement, Burroughs wasn’t having any of it.
Burroughs went on to win 11-0, earning a technical fall to remind everyone that as much as Askren has accomplished, it’s Burroughs who rules the wrestling roost now.
“The first thing he said when we first came out and shook hands, he was like, ‘Wow, can you believe sold out the Hulu Theater on a Monday night?’ And I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty dope.’ It was kind of that moment where you stop and you reflect. And then two, once I double-legged him for the second time, 9 to 0, he was like, ‘I thought you said you were going to give me a chance.’ He was like, ‘Listen, let’s entertain the crowd. Don’t just crush me. Let’s put on a show for these people. Let’s let them get their money’s worth.’
“I’m like, ‘I’m not that type of guy.’ … The show is in the point scoring for me. 11-0 is the show, not ‘throw the guy a bone.’”