Ben Askren has officially been signed to the UFC for less than a year but he’s already one of the most talked about fighters on the roster.
The undefeated former Olympic wrestler came into the organization with a lot of hype behind him already but Askren has definitely done his part to stay relevant through interviews and media obligations where he has no problem stealing the spotlight from other athletes.
Earlier this year after winning his UFC debut against Robbie Lawler, Askren traveled across the pond to England to essentially challenge the winner of the main event fight between Darren Till and Jorge Masvidal. In fact, Askren’s constant chatter eventually led to Till coming out from backstage and shouting at him while he was conducting a Q&A before the ceremonial weigh-ins.
Truth be told, Askren thought Till was going to win his fight, which is why most of his attention was centered on that particular opponent but he was more than happy to get the call to face Masvidal instead at UFC 239 this weekend.
“Going in to the fight with Masvidal, I thought Till was going to win,” Askren said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Masvidal was already making excuses so I didn’t really think it was a good possibility of me fighting Masvidal but then when he won, they started looking around at opponents for me and “Wonderboy” [Stephen Thompson] lost and Masvidal was the one that made the most sense.
“I just had to goad him into saying yes, which I did, and here we are.”
When it comes to the actual fight, Askren isn’t looking past Masvidal but he also believes he matches up very well against the American Top Team welterweight.
Masvidal has definitely found success since moving to 170-pounds after previously competing at lightweight, but Askren doesn’t see anything dangerous about him when pitted against him skill for skill.
“I think it’s pretty easy,” Askren explained. “He’s simple right? He’s got good hands but his wrestling’s not great. His jiu-jitsu’s not great. His strength is not great. His cardio’s not great. So when you break it down like that, it becomes pretty simple.”
A win over Masvidal could put Askren exactly where he wanted when inking a contract with the UFC, which is very close to a title shot against reigning welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
Askren has engaged in a back-and-forth war of words with Usman ever since arriving in the UFC so the rivalry is already ingrained into the potential title fight.
“To prove I’m the best in the world is the one goal I came back for because I was retired. I think this puts me closer to that,” Askren said about his fight against Masvidal.
Askren’s climb to the top also comes at a time when two of his closest friends and teammates are also inching closer to title contention as well.
Tyron Woodley was the welterweight champion until UFC 235, when he lost his title to Usman, while Anthony Pettis is now cemented in the 170-pound rankings as well after earning a high profile knockout win over former two-time title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
While Woodley is still on the mend from a nagging thumb injury, Pettis is set up for another spotlight showcase in August when he faces Nate Diaz in a welterweight bout at UFC 241 from Anaheim. The fight may be taking place at 170 pounds but Askren doesn’t see any conflict with Pettis happening regardless of his upcoming match against Diaz.
“I don’t really see it as a big deal. We’ll figure it when we get there,” Askren said. “I don’t think Anthony’s permanent home is 170. I think obviously him beating “Wonderboy” was fantastic, I loved that.
“When it gets down to it, I know Nate Diaz said he’s not a 155 pounder anymore or whatever bulls—t he says but at the end of the day, Nate Diaz is 1-3 at 170 [pounds]. Nate Diaz is a terrible 170-pounder and that’s all there is to it. Anthony versus Nate is going to be fun. I think Anthony is going to kick Nate’s ass and I don’t know that will really affect me that much.”
Askren gives Diaz credit for staying relevant after his last fight happened in 2016 but ultimately he doesn’t see him as a legitimate threat to the top contenders in the welterweight division including his teammate in Pettis.
“For what it’s worth, he does a great job making people interested in him. It’s a funny thing because to me he comes off as fairly unintelligent and he says some crazy s—t,” Askren said about Diaz. “Like where he said he’s the king of lightweights. It’s kind of funny. In a little demented way, he believes it even though there’s no way it’s close to actually being true. In the same way that a lot of people do, I find it entertaining and in another way it’s like holy s—t this guy is out of his damn mind.
“He is not a threat in the slightest bit to the welterweight division. I think we’re getting down to the point where he’s just delusional.”