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Duke Roufus expects loss to make Ben Askren better, possible return by end of year

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting


That’s how Ben Askren’s coach Duke Roufus described his immediate reaction to seeing his fighter dropped to the mat in less time than it took Bruce Buffer to announce Askren’s name. Not only did Askren suffer his first MMA defeat at the hands of heated rival Jorge Masvidal, the finish made UFC history as the fastest knockout ever recorded in the Octagon.

Speaking to MMA Fighting, Roufus lamented the missed opportunity for the previously unbeaten Askren to cement himself as a UFC welterweight title contender, but he’s been encouraged by how Askren has handled the loss and how he expects him to bounce back from it.

“Ben’s my friend, you see him hurt like that,” Roufus said. “But I gotta take my hat off to Jorge. I know Ben and Jorge don’t get along, I get along well with Jorge, I like Jorge a lot. So fair play, it was a great move, high risk, high reward. It was a very risky move, it paid off for him. I’m that type of guy that believes in ‘fortune favors the bold’ and he was quite bold on that move and it’s going to go down in history as one of the best moves ever in the UFC.

“It could have happened differently. He could have missed and Ben could have been wrestling and on top of Jorge, so we’re all gonna some days hate the fight game. Winning is awesome and losing you want to cry your eyes out, but Ben is a very resilient person. He has a special, special mindset and you saw the way he owns everything. That’s what I really like about Ben. He’s 100 percent transparent, I’ve never worked with someone like him, he’s just a special breed and this is only going to make him better.”

In addition to beating Askren in just five seconds, Masvidal also performed a memorable post-fight celebration in which he mimicked Askren’s crumpled form. “Gamebred” made no apologies for his antics and Roufus isn’t giving them a second thought either.

“They’re fighters,” Roufus said. “There’s things that go on among those guys, I don’t get caught up in it. I’m just a coach. Not that I condone bad behavior or anything—not saying it is bad—it’s just those moments are among the fighters and I try not to get emotionally connected in these fights because I’m not a fighter, so I don’t like it when fighters and managers get all involved in the beefs.”

Even with Askren being knocked out in such violent fashion, the 34-year-old fighter received a relatively brief suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission. According to the NSAC, Askren will be okay to compete again as early as September.

Mindful of the cerebral health of all of his fighters, Roufus is hoping that Askren will consider waiting a few more months before returning to action.

“Maybe by the end of the year. But I’m not a doctor either,” Roufus said. “The other thing, I looked at the video, he got caught more on the neck, which I’ve been told by physicians is the safest place—kind of when I used to fight I used to kick at the neck, it’s almost like choking someone. When you kick them on the neck there’s not as much damage, it’s almost like a choke-out, but I think that’s much less than when you get rattled in the head.

“They’re all dangerous, of course, but I think where the blow was, it’s not—When Ben was moving, I was really scared, I couldn’t see his face. I didn’t see the blow clearly, I thought he had received the knee directly to the face. That’s what I was most worried about when he was moving real bad, I was very concerned. But there’s not a mark on his face at all, which is really fortunate.”

Roufus praised the UFC medical staff for their treatment of Askren, saying they were able to rapidly get Askren out of the building, to the hospital, and back in his hotel room later that evening.

Having guided several top UFC fighters through dramatic highs and lows, including former champions Anthony Pettis and Tyron Woodley, Roufus said that a quick loss like this can be easier for a fighter to deal with than a prolonged battle that can raise all kinds of questions when it comes time to assess the damage.

“One of the toughest things to do as a coach, one of the most horrifying things I had to do was—and I had to grow better as a coach—the fight we had with (Rafael) dos Anjos and Anthony. He got injured in the first round and he had to go through five rounds of beating like that.

“Even Tyron’s last fight was pretty tough to bear as a coach. It’s not that Kamaru (Usman) was beating the brakes off of Tyron, he just was out-working him and Tyron was really flat. Those are ones that really hurt in a different way.”

Given Askren’s combat sports experience, which stretches back to his days as a two-time NCAA wrestling champion and Olympian, one might wonder what advice his coach can offer in regards to dealing with such a devastating loss.

Roufus credited Askren’s success to his work ethic and while he’s not sure exactly what he’ll tell Askren when it’s time to get back in the gym, he’s predicting that the former ONE and Bellator titleholder could take his game to another level.

“He’s one of those guys, he’s gonna be fine,” Roufus said. “If anything, it might put a little bit more chip on his shoulder to work even harder than he’s ever worked before, which is pretty scary.”